Types of fabric printing

Fabric printing is a versatile technique used to apply patterns, designs, or images onto fabrics. There are several different types of fabric printing techniques, each with its unique characteristics and applications.
In this blog you will find more information about the most common fabric printing techniques and what methods House of U uses for printing textiles.

Digital printing

Digital printing has revolutionized the world of fabric printing, offering endless possibilities and creative freedom. Unlike traditional printing methods, digital printing allows for precise and detailed designs to be printed directly onto fabric using specialized inkjet printers. This innovative technique has transformed the textile industry, making it easier and more efficient to produce customized fabrics with vibrant colors and intricate patterns.

Advantages of digital printing

Digital fabric printing, also known as direct-to-fabric printing or digital textile printing, offers several advantages compared to traditional printing methods. Here are some of the key benefits:

  1. Design flexibility: Digital fabric printing allows for high-quality, intricate designs with virtually unlimited color options.
  2. Faster turnaround times: The digital printing process is quicker compared to conventional methods like screen printing or rotary printing.
  3. Cost-effective for small runs: Unlike traditional printing methods that require costly setup and preparation, digital fabric printing is more cost-effective for small production runs.
  4. Reduced waste: Digital printing produces less waste as it avoids the need for excessive setup materials and color mixing. This is particularly beneficial for environmentally conscious brands and sustainable fashion practices.
  5. Less water and energy consumption: Digital fabric printing uses less water and energy compared to traditional dyeing and printing methods. The printing process can be more eco-friendly, especially when paired with eco-friendly inks and fabrics.
  6. Color variations: Digital printing offers a wide range of color options. With traditional printing methods, the number of colors that can be used is often limited.
  7. Print-on-demand capabilities: Digital fabric printing enables print-on-demand services, where products are manufactured only when an order is received. This reduces the need for inventory storage and minimizes the risk of overproduction.

Disadvantages of digital printing

While digital fabric printing offers several advantages, it also has some disadvantages such as:

  1. Initial setup cost: The initial investment in digital fabric printing equipment can be significant.
  2. Fabric limitations: While digital fabric printing can work with a wide range of fabric types, certain specialty fabrics may not be suitable for this printing method due to their texture, composition, or treatment requirements.
  3. Production speed for large quantities: While digital printing is faster for small runs, it may not be as efficient as traditional methods for large-scale production. When producing a large quantity of fabric, traditional methods like rotary printing might be more time effective.
  4. Limited print size: The size of the digital fabric printer limits the maximum print size. Large-scale or oversized prints may not be feasible with standard digital printers.
  5. Maintenance and technical expertise: Digital fabric printing equipment requires regular maintenance and calibration to ensure optimal performance. Companies using digital printers need to have personnel with technical expertise to troubleshoot and maintain the equipment.

Despite these disadvantages, digital fabric printing continues to advance, and many of these challenges are being addressed through technological innovations and improvements in ink, fabric, and printing equipment. As a result, digital fabric printing remains a popular choice for many designers and manufacturers seeking the advantages it offers.

Digital printing at House of U

At House of U, we print with digital printers specifically designed for direct fabric printing. This combined with years of experience in the textile industry, we can produce high quality prints.

Our natural fabrics are printed by digital printing, including:

View our fabric collection

House of U is focused on sustainability and this can also be seen in our production process. All fabrics are printed with sustainable water-based inks, our energy comes from solar panels, and our digital printing method reduces water consumption by 70% compared to screen printing.

People often think that a fabric is printed and can be shipped immediately, but the production process is a bit more complex. Your ordered fabric goes through several steps before we send it to you, namely: printing, steaming, washing and quality control.

Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing is a popular digital printing method used primarily for synthetic fabrics and textiles. It involves transferring dye directly onto the fabric using heat to create vibrant, high-quality, and long-lasting prints. Unlike traditional printing methods, sublimation printing dyes the fabric's fibers rather than applying the ink on the surface, resulting in a durable and fade-resistant print.

Advantages of sublimation printing

Sublimation printing offers several advantages, making it a popular choice for custom fabric printing. Here are the key advantages of sublimation printing:

  1. Vibrant and durable prints: Sublimation printing produces vibrant, high-resolution prints with excellent color saturation. The dyes used in sublimation become a part of the fabric's fibers, resulting in durable prints that do not fade, crack, or peel over time.
  2. All-over printing: Sublimation printing allows for seamless, all-over printing, covering the entire fabric surface with the design.
  3. Soft and breathable prints: The sublimation process dyes the fabric's fibers, preserving its natural softness and breathability.
  4. Eco-friendly process: Sublimation printing is considered more environmentally friendly compared to some other fabric printing methods. It requires less water usage and does not produce excess ink waste.
  5. Photo-realistic and detailed designs: Sublimation printing can reproduce photo-realistic images and intricate details with exceptional clarity.
  6. Quick production times: Sublimation printing is relatively quick, making it suitable for on-demand and fast-turnaround production.
  7. Excellent color fastness: Sublimation prints have excellent color fastness, ensuring that the colors remain vibrant and intact, even after numerous washings.

Disadvantages of sublimation printing

While sublimation printing has many advantages, it also has some disadvantages that should be considered. Here are the key disadvantages of sublimation printing:

  1. Limited fabric compatibility: Sublimation printing is most effective on synthetic fabrics or fabrics with a high polyester content. It does not work well on natural fibers like cotton or on fabrics with low polyester content, limiting its application on certain fabric types.
  2. Initial setup cost: Sublimation printing requires specialized equipment, including sublimation printers, heat presses, and sublimation inks. The initial setup cost can be higher compared to some other fabric printing methods.
  3. White or light-colored fabric requirement: Sublimation printing relies on the fabric's base color to influence the final print. It is best suited for printing on white or light-colored fabrics, as the base color will affect the print's overall appearance.
  4. Heat press limitations: Sublimation printing requires a heat press to transfer the ink onto the fabric. Depending on the size and capabilities of the heat press, printing larger fabric pieces or all-over designs may be challenging.
  5. Limited color blending: Achieving smooth color blending and gradients can be challenging with sublimation printing. The discrete nature of the ink dots may result in visible color separations in the final print.

Sublimation printing at House of U

Our synthetic fabrics are printed by sublimation. This means that the print is first digitally printed on paper and then heat applied to the fabric. We use sustainable water-based inks and no water is consumed in this process.

We use this printing technique for our U-circular collection. U-circular is a collection of House of U with a base of recycled polyester, also called rPET. RPET is created through a recycling process where PET plastic waste, such as discarded bottles, is collected, cleaned, and processed into small chips or flakes. These chips are then melted and spun into polyester fibers.

Using rPET in the production of fabrics has several environmental benefits. It helps reduce the amount of plastic waste in landfills and oceans, decreases the demand for virgin polyester, and conserves energy and resources since recycling PET requires less energy than producing virgin polyester.

View our U-circular collection

Screen Printing

What is screen printing on fabric? Screen printing is one of the most versatile and widely used methods for fabric printing. It involves transferring ink through a mesh screen onto the fabric, creating a vibrant and long-lasting design. Screen printing is particularly suitable for large-scale productions, as it allows for quick and efficient printing on a variety of fabrics.

The process of screen printing begins with the creation of a stencil, which is then attached to a fine mesh screen. Ink is applied to the screen, and a squeegee is used to push the ink through the stencil and onto the fabric.

Advantages of screen printing

  1. Durability: Screen printing produces durable prints that can withstand repeated washings and extended use.
  2. Vibrant colors: Screen printing can achieve vibrant and opaque colors, especially when printing on dark-colored fabrics. The ability to layer multiple ink colors on top of each other allows for rich, eye-catching designs.
  3. Economical for large runs: Screen printing becomes cost-effective for large production runs.
  4. Versatility on various fabric types: Screen printing can be used on a wide range of fabric materials, including cotton, polyester, nylon, and blends.
  5. Thickness and texture: Screen printing can create textured and raised prints on fabric, providing a tactile element to the design. This can add dimension and depth to the printed artwork.

Disadvantages of screen printing

  1. Limited detail and resolution: Compared to digital fabric printing, screen printing may not be as suitable for intricate designs or patterns with fine details.
  2. Higher initial cost for multi-color prints: The cost of screen printing can increase significantly for designs with multiple colors. Each color requires a separate screen, so designs with numerous colors can lead to higher setup costs.
  3. Limited color blending: While screen printing can produce vibrant colors, achieving smooth color gradients and blends can be challenging compared to digital printing.
  4. Environmental impact: Traditional screen printing often involves the use of chemicals and solvents for screen preparation and ink cleanup. If not managed properly, these chemicals can have environmental consequences.
  5. Not ideal for small runs: While screen printing is cost-effective for large production runs, it may not be economical for small quantities due to the time and effort required for screen setup.

Heat transfer vinyl or Flex Printing

Heat transfer vinyl (HTV) printing, also known as Flex printing, is a popular method for creating custom designs on fabrics and garments. It involves cutting a design or shape from a sheet of vinyl material, which is then applied to the fabric using heat and pressure. The result is a durable and vibrant print that adheres securely to the fabric’s surface.

Advantages of heat transfer vinyl printing:

  1. Easy customization: Heat transfer vinyl fabric printing allows for quick and easy customization of fabrics and apparel. With heat transfer vinyl you can create personalized designs, logos, and text that can be applied to various fabric types with minimal effort.
  2. High detail and complexity: Heat transfer vinyl printing can achieve intricate designs with fine details and complex patterns.
  3. Durable and wash-resistant: High-quality heat transfer vinyl produces long-lasting prints that withstand regular washing and wear.
  4. Versatility on fabrics and apparel: Heat transfer vinyl fabric printing can be used on a wide range of fabrics, including cotton, polyester, blends, and more. It works well on both light and dark-colored fabrics, providing versatility in design options.
  5. Quick application process: Applying heat transfer vinyl designs to fabric is a relatively fast process. With a heat press or household iron, the design adheres securely to the fabric in a matter of seconds, making it suitable for small runs and on-demand production.

Disadvantages of heat transfer vinyl printing

  1. Limited breathability: Heat transfer vinyl creates a thin layer on top of the fabric, which can affect its breathability.
  2. Print feel on fabric: The heat transfer vinyl adds a slightly raised texture to the fabric, which may not be desirable for all applications.
  3. Peeling or cracking over time: Although high-quality heat transfer vinyl is durable, it may still experience wear and tear over time, especially with frequent washing and use. This can lead to the vinyl peeling or cracking, affecting the appearance of the print.
  4. Not suitable for large runs: Heat transfer vinyl fabric printing can be time-consuming and labour-intensive for large-scale production. It may not be as efficient or cost-effective as other printing methods for printing large quantities of fabric.
  5. Color limitations: Heat transfer vinyl comes in a wide range of colors and finishes, but achieving certain color effects, like subtle gradients or metallic sheens, can be challenging with this method.

Block Printing

Block printing is a traditional fabric printing technique that has been used for centuries. It involves carving a design onto a wooden block, which is then dipped in ink and stamped onto the fabric. Block printing offers a unique and handmade look, adding a touch of tradition and authenticity to the fabric.

Advantages of block printing

  1. Artisanal and authentic appeal: Block printing is a manual and labour-intensive process, giving each piece of fabric a distinct and authentic look.
  2. Environmentally friendly: Block printing typically uses natural and eco-friendly dyes, which can be derived from plants or other sustainable sources.
  3. Versatility on fabrics: Block printing can be used on various types of fabrics, including cotton, silk, linen, and more. The technique adapts well to both natural and synthetic fibers, providing versatility in fabric choices.
  4. Ability to layer colors: With block printing, it is possible to layer multiple colors on top of each other to create intricate designs and color combinations. This offers flexibility and complexity in the final print.
  5. Cost-effective for small runs: Block printing can be cost-effective for small production runs, as it does not require expensive machinery or large-scale infrastructure.

Disadvantages of block printing

  1. Limited intricacy: Block printing is not well-suited for intricate and highly detailed designs. The process of carving patterns onto wooden blocks may result in simplified designs with less fine detailing compared to other printing methods.
  2. Time-consuming process: Block printing is a labour-intensive process, requiring time and effort to create and align the blocks correctly for each print. This can slow down production and make it less suitable for large-scale or high-volume printing.
  3. Color limitations: Each wooden block is dedicated to a specific color, meaning that achieving multi-color prints requires using multiple blocks. This can add complexity to the process and increase the time and cost of production.
  4. Print inconsistency: Variations in pressure, ink application, and alignment during the printing process can lead to inconsistent prints across a batch of fabric.
  5. Difficulty with large prints: Block printing has limitations in terms of print size. The size of the wooden block restricts the maximum print area, making it less suitable for oversized or large-scale designs.

Discharge Printing

Discharge printing is a technique that involves removing the color from a dyed fabric to create unique and faded designs. It utilizes a chemical agent that reacts with the fabric's dye, causing it to lose its color. The result is a soft and vintage-like appearance, with the design appearing as if it has been bleached or faded over time.

Advantages of discharge printing

  1. Soft and breathable prints: Discharge printing removes the dye from the fabric, resulting in a print that becomes a part of the fabric rather than sitting on top of it. This creates a soft and breathable print that retains the natural feel of the fabric.
  2. Vibrant and permanent colors: Discharge printing can achieve vibrant and long-lasting colors. By removing the existing dye and replacing it with a new color, the prints can be vivid and durable, even after repeated washings.
  3. Eco-friendly and sustainable: Discharge printing is considered more environmentally friendly compared to some traditional printing methods because it does not require additional dye. It reduces the use of water and chemicals, making it a more sustainable choice.
  4. Suitable for dark-colored fabrics: Discharge printing works particularly well on dark-colored fabrics, where traditional printing methods may require multiple layers of ink to achieve opacity.
  5. Detailed and intricate designs: Discharge printing can achieve high levels of detail and complexity in designs. The technique allows for intricate patterns and fine lines, making it suitable for artistic and detailed artwork.

Disadvantages of discharge printing

  1. Limited color options: Discharge printing is more effective on dark-colored fabrics, but it may have limited color options compared to traditional printing methods.
  2. Requires compatible fabrics: Discharge printing works best on fabrics that are reactive to the discharge agent. Not all fabrics are suitable for this method, and using the wrong fabric can result in unpredictable or unsatisfactory results.
  3. Chemical handling and safety considerations: Discharge printing involves the use of chemical agents to remove the fabric's existing dye. Proper handling and safety precautions are essential when working with these chemicals to avoid any adverse health effects or environmental impact.
  4. Print consistency: Achieving consistent results in discharge printing can be challenging due to variations in fabric composition, dye content, and environmental conditions. This may lead to slight variations in the color or appearance of the prints, particularly in large production runs.
  5. Fading over time: While discharge prints can initially be vibrant and long-lasting, some colors may fade gradually over time, especially when exposed to harsh washing conditions or prolonged sunlight exposure.

Rotary Printing

Rotary printing is a high-speed fabric printing technique that is commonly used for mass production. It involves the use of cylindrical screens, which are engraved with the desired design and rotated continuously to print the fabric. Rotary printing allows for large quantities of fabric to be printed quickly and efficiently, making it a preferred choice for manufacturers.

Advantages of rotary printing

  1. High production speed: Rotary fabric printing is a high-speed printing method, making it ideal for large-scale production.
  2. Excellent color saturation and vibrancy: Rotary printing can achieve vibrant and saturated colors on fabric. The method allows for multiple layers of ink application, resulting in rich and intense hues, especially on dark-colored fabrics.
  3. Precise and intricate designs: Rotary printing can reproduce precise and intricate designs with fine details.
  4. Consistent print quality: The precision and stability of rotary printing machinery ensure consistent print quality across the entire fabric length.
  5. Cost-effective for mass production: Due to its high production speed and consistent output, rotary printing is cost-effective for large-scale fabric production.

Disadvantages of rotary printing

  1. Initial setup and cost: The initial setup and investment required for rotary fabric printing can be substantial. Acquiring the rotary printing equipment, screens, and other necessary machinery can be expensive, making it less viable for smaller businesses or those with limited budgets.
  2. Limited color blending: While rotary printing can achieve vibrant colors, achieving smooth color gradients and blends can be more challenging compared to some other printing methods.
  3. Design limitations: Changing or modifying designs in rotary printing can be time-consuming and may require creating new screens for each design variation.
  4. Longer production turnaround: Compared to some modern digital printing methods, rotary printing may have longer production turnaround times, especially when dealing with intricate designs or multiple colors.
  5. Environmental impact: Rotary fabric printing can use a significant amount of water and chemicals in the printing and cleaning processes, potentially resulting in environmental impact if not managed properly.

Stencil Printing

Stencil printing is a fabric printing technique that involves creating a stencil of the desired design and then applying ink through the stencil onto the fabric. This technique allows for precise and intricate details to be printed, making it ideal for complex patterns and fine artwork.

Advantages of stencil printing

  1. Simple and cost-effective: Stencil fabric printing is a straightforward and cost-effective method, particularly for small-scale production or DIY projects. It requires minimal equipment and can be done with basic tools, making it accessible to a wide range of users.
  2. Versatility in design: Stencils allow for a wide range of design possibilities. You can create custom stencils with various shapes, patterns, and images, giving you the freedom to produce unique and personalized prints.
  3. Durability and opacity: Stencil printing often uses thick and opaque inks, which can result in durable prints with excellent color opacity, especially on dark-colored fabrics. This makes it suitable for printing on a variety of fabric colors.
  4. Handcrafted and artistic appeal: Stencil fabric printing adds a handmade and artistic touch to the printed fabrics.
  5. Eco-friendly options available: Stencil printing can use eco-friendly and water-based inks, reducing the environmental impact compared to some other printing methods.

Disadvantages of stencil printing

  1. Limited detail and complexity: Stencil fabric printing may not be well-suited for intricate and highly detailed designs.
  2. Labor-intensive for large runs: Stencil fabric printing can be time-consuming and labour-intensive, especially for large-scale production.
  3. Color mixing challenges: Achieving precise color blending and gradients can be difficult with stencil printing. The discrete nature of the stencil may result in visible color separations and limited blending options.
  4. Limited color options per print: Each stencil can be used for one specific color. To create multicolored designs, you need separate stencils for each color, increasing the complexity of the printing process.
  5. Print consistency: Achieving consistent results across a batch of fabric can be challenging with stencil printing. Variations in pressure, ink application, and alignment during the printing process may lead to slight differences in the final prints.
  6. Environmental impact: Depending on the inks and cleaning agents used, stencil fabric printing can have an environmental impact, particularly if solvent-based or toxic chemicals are used.

Flock Printing

Flock printing is a fabric printing technique that involves applying tiny fibers, called flock, onto the fabric to create a velvety texture. The flock is typically made of nylon or polyester and is adhered to the fabric using adhesive or heat. Flock printing offers a unique and luxurious look, adding depth and texture to the fabric.

Advantages of flock printing

  1. Unique tactile texture: Flocking creates a unique and tactile texture on the fabric's surface, giving it a soft and velvet-like feel.
  2. High visual impact: Flock fabric printing results in designs with a high visual impact due to the contrast between the raised flock fibers and the fabric's base color. The velvety texture enhances the appearance of the print and makes it stand out.
  3. Excellent color retention: Flock fabric prints maintain their color and texture well, even after repeated washings.
  4. Applicability to various designs: Flocking is suitable for a wide range of designs, including logos, text, and artwork.
  5. Enhanced adhesion and coverage: Flock fibers adhere effectively to the fabric's surface, providing excellent coverage and opacity, even on dark-colored fabrics. This makes flock fabric printing suitable for both light and dark fabric backgrounds.

Disadvantages of flock printing

  1. Limited design complexity: Flock fabric printing may not be well-suited for highly intricate and detailed designs. The flock fibers may not accurately reproduce fine details, resulting in a simplified version of the original artwork.
  2. Higher production cost: Flock fabric printing can be more expensive compared to some other printing methods.
  3. Limited color options: Flock fabric printing is typically limited to single-color designs. While you can use different flock colors, creating multicolored or gradient designs can be challenging and may require additional printing methods.
  4. Environmental considerations: Flock fabric printing may involve the use of adhesives or binders to secure the flock fibers to the fabric. Some of these adhesives may contain chemicals that have environmental implications if not handled and disposed of properly.
  5. Durability concerns: While flock fabric prints are generally durable, excessive friction or abrasion over time may cause the flock fibers to wear down or become less pronounced. This can affect the velvet-like texture and appearance of the print.

The Future of Digital Printing on Fabric

The future of digital printing on fabric looks promising, with continuous advancements in technology and an increasing demand for customized and unique fabrics. This innovative technique has transformed the textile industry, empowering designers to unleash their creativity and create stunning and visually appealing fabrics.

As digital printing technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more precise and efficient printing methods. New ink formulations, improved color management systems, and faster printing speeds will further enhance the capabilities of digital printing on fabric. Additionally, the integration of digital printing with other fabric manufacturing processes, such as weaving and knitting, will result in seamless and fully customizable fabrics.

With its ability to reproduce complex designs, vibrant colors, and intricate details, digital printing on fabric has revolutionized the world of textile design. Whether you are a fashion designer, an interior decorator, or a textile enthusiast, embracing the power of digital printing will undoubtedly open a world of possibilities and take your creations to new heights.

Fabric printing at House of U

Would you also like to have your design printed on fabric? Through our Design Generator you can easily order your fabric personalized fabric.

Not sure yet about which fabric you want your design printed on? Our fabric book includes print samples of all fabrics, so you can see and feel our collection for yourself first. This helps in making the right fabric choice.

Order our fabric book

Would you like to receive more information about our production process or do you have any other questions? For example, if you want to know more on how to print material or how to print on fabric professionally. Then please contact us, because we would be happy to help you!

Tip: read more about types of fabric printing in our blog about reactive printing vs pigment printing

Contact us

Get inspired in your mailbox