How To/Keywords: Know your print no.2

Laura steps up from the traditional to the hi-tech or machine made with our second guide to print techniques.


Digital textile printing

Digital textile printing is sometimes described as direct-to-garment printing. It is the method of printing from a digital-based image directly to a range of media [including textiles]. It usually refers to professional printing where small-run jobs from desktop publishing and other digital sources are printed using large format and/or high-volume laser or inkjet printers.
This technique is good for putting together a small collection and is really useful for student designers.

  1. Starting with a file provided by the designer, an exact design can be immediately printed with a wide range of colours, using a large printer controlled by a computer.
  2. The machine reads the computer file and prints the drawing with an ink jet printing head with six colours or more, which are then mixed together.

The technique is popular due to the speed of preparation and production, which helps individuals or companies working to short deadlines.

You can also achieve this type of print with a regular inkjet printer you might have at home or college by using fabric sheets with a removable paper backing. Inkjet technology manufacturers offer specialist products designed for direct printing on textiles, not only for sampling but also for mass production.


Heat transfer printing or sublimation printing

What you will need; ink impregnated colour infused paper, which can be cut up, collaged and used for decorative effect or used as a resist for objects to create negative images on fabric in the heat press, scissors, fabric.
TIP: The fabric needs to be at least 60% synthetic for the correct reaction of the ink, heat and the textile to fuse together and so create the best colour and print.


This is the process of applying heat-applied materials to different types of surfaces and fabric with a heat press.

  1. Create the motif by hand or on the computer where it can be resized. The colour space that you use for this process is RGB. The fabric that you choose needs to be brilliant white. Using RGB means that your design should come out looking as close as possible to the image that you see on the computer screen.
  2. An inkjet printer loaded with dye sublimation or disperse dye ink is used to print the design on to a specialist heat transfer paper. The image printed needs to be in reverse. The paper print out of the design is then transferred on to a preshrunk [i.e pre ironed, so that it does not shrink or move around when you print] fabric in the heat press for just 60 seconds at 200 degrees centigrade.

You can also use a heat transfer press for techniques such as foiling, flocking, puff binder, garment vinyls and pleating.

Word of warning, creases made on the press always stay in place!

There are other heat transfer papers that you can buy – like t-shirt transfer kits – where you can use regular ink with either inkjet or laser printers, but the print sits on the surface of the fabric and is not absorbed into the textile in the same way as the sublimation process above. With this process, however you can use 100% natural fabrics and print on to light or dark fabric.

Placement or engineered print

Credit: Martin Hanly. An example of an engineered print, cut out onto fabric.
A placement or engineered print, is the controlled position of an artwork within a product. It is different to a repeat print, which features continuous tiling of artwork. A placement print relies on artwork done to the scale of a product and then being cut in a particular position to control the placement of a print.

Pattern Tiling/Repeat

Credit: Sally Cheung.
In visual art and design a pattern generally exists in a regularity, which in some way arranges surfaces or structures in a consistent, regular way. At its most simple, a pattern in art or design could be a geometric or other form of repeating shape in a painting, drawing, tapestry, ceramic tiling system or carpet for example, but a pattern doesn’t necessarily need to repeat exactly as long as it uses some form or organising structure in the artwork. Common examples of regular repeat patterns in textile printing include block, brick, half drop, and seamless or allover patterns.

Inspired? Check out our ‘Know Your Print’ pinboard for more examples of different print techniques.

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