Printing Course: Comprehensive Introduction to 6 Fabric Printing Methods

As economy develops, people have a higher pursuit of clothing style, in order to meet diverse needs of customers, printing business owners are always looking for new fabric printing methods to follow the trend.

In the market, the 6 most popular printing methods are: screen printing, heat transfer printing, DTG printing, embroidery printing, emboss printing and stamp printing. As a business owner wants to develop, expand T-shirt printing and all apparel printing market, well prepare for upcoming seasons and year, the first lesson is to quick learn the most popular printing methods and choose a better one.

Screen Printing

Screen printing, also known as porous printing, is a printing method that utilizes silk mesh made of synthetic fiber like polyester and stainless steel to produce the screen version for printing. Firstly, pour the ink into one end of the screen plate. Secondly, put pressure to the ink on screen plate with the help of scraper. Meanwhile, move the scraper to the other end of the screen plate at regular speed. In this process, ink will be squeegeed from the pattern part to the fabrics.

Screen printing can be classified into water based printing, plastisol printing, high density printing, puff printing, metallic gold/silver process and flocking printing.

water based printing

Water based Printing

Water based printing, one of the most basic and cheap printing processes of screen printing, can print on cotton, polyester and many other types of fabrics. Its working principle is similar to dyeing. But different from dyeing, water based printing is to dye one specific part of fabrics into needed color. Printed pattern is of great breathable ability and will not fade easily. Water based printing can be applied to on light color fabrics.

Plastisol Printing

Plastisol printing uses special chemical gel to mix with dyes seamlessly. Thanks to the substrate effect of gel, dyes are firmly adhered to the fabrics, this breaking the limitation of water slurry printing-unable to print on dark color fabrics.

Plastisol printing is suitable for printing on various fabrics and dark color fabrics, not only on cotton, hemp, adhesive, polyester, nylon, pallon and more, but also on leather and artificial leather. It can also be utilized for fluorescent printing, ink-jet printing, blue flower printing, electrostatic flocking printing and other printing processes. 

High Density Printing

High density printing develops from glue printing, giving printed pattern a three-dimension (3D) visual effect. Usually, this technology is more suitable for use on sports and casual style of clothing. The pattern tends to be numbers, letters, geometric patterns or lines. Printed logo is very exquisite and beautiful. There are also businessmen using high density printing to print flower patterns, which are more seen on autumn-winter leather or thicker fabrics. High density printing has wide applications and is of high reduction. However, it is more complicated and costs more than water slurry printing.

Puff Printing

Puff printing is a fabric printing technique that can create a raised and 3D effect, which is widely applied to cotton and nylon cloth. Its working principle is that add a certain proportion of chemicals with a certain percentage of high expansion coefficients to glue dyes. After curing the pattern, foam the pattern under temperature of 200-300℃. The biggest advantage of this technique is that printed patterns are of strong three-dimensional effect.

Metallic Gold / Silver Process

Metallic gold/silver process is traditional decorate and beautifying model, mostly used in paper packaging. Silk screen hot gold/silver process is a new fabric printing technique. This technique needs to add special chemical to dyes to show a beautiful gold or silver color. Color of pattern is enduring and will not fade. Metallic gold/silver process is extensively used in various fabrics and costs less than traditional printing techniques.

Flocking Printing

Flocking printing is an innovative technique that involves applying short fibers of various materials, such as rayon, cotton, or wool, onto a surface coated with adhesive. This process not only adds a luxurious velvet or suede-like texture to the material but also allows for vibrant and customize colors through dyeing. By incorporating flocking printing into your designs, you can effortlessly enhance the visual appeal and tactile experience of the printed items.

Pros & Cons of Screen Printing

Pros of Screen Printing

  • Screen printing can realize printing not only on flat surface, but also on calling surface, spherical and turbidal surfaces.
  • The ink layer thickness of screen printing can reach 1300 microns, which brings strong sense of three-dimensional effect to printed pattern.
  • The gloss of the print pattern will not change as temperature and light changes. So screen printing is ideal for producing outdoor advertising and signs.
  • Printing area is larger, which can reach 3 meters x 4 meters and even bigger.

Cons of Screen Printing

  • Color limitation. Screen printing can only print one color at one time.
  • Not suitable for personalized design. Because of the high cost, usually companies will not undertake small-scale personalized custom printing services.

Heat Transfer Printing

Heat transfer printing is one of the most widely applied printing techniques in garment industry, this technique firstly prints the patterns to specially designed paper or pet film, then transfer the patterns to fabrics with the help of heat press machine. 3 key types of heat transfer printing are: Heat transfer vinyl printing, direct-to-film printing (DTF printing) and sublimation transfer printing.

Direct to Fabric (DTF) Printing

DTF printing is one of the most popular fabric printing methods in market, according to Google Trends, the search trend has significantly increasing since 2021. Process of DTF printing is easy to learn and operate. Use DTF printer to print images to DTF PET film, spray, shake and cure powder with the help of powder shaker, finally transfer the images to fabrics. DTF printing is often used to produce T-shirts, hoodies, pullovers, pants, hats, bags, shoes and more. If you are new to DTF printing and want to know more about this new technology, Ultimate Guide to Choose Best T-Shirt Printer [Updated] will help you understand better.

Pros & Cons of DTF printing

Pros

  • Wide application range. Unlike sublimation printing, DTF printing can print on all fabrics such as cotton, silk, polyester and denim.
  • Operating process is easy and do not need too much manual intervention: advance DTF printers from industry leading manufactures (e.g. Sublistar) are equipped with the function that one computer monitors multiple printing situations, greatly decreases labor cost.
  • Printed patterns are of bright colors. Washing fastness can reach above 3 level.

Cons

  • Requirements of maintaining DTF printers are stricter. To ensure high-quality printing results, you need to maintain DTF printers regularly. If you do not take care of DTF printer well, it will go wrong and cost a lot to repair. Check this passage to learn more about maintaining DTF printers, Everything You Must Know about Maintaining DTF Printers
  • The printed pattern has a glue touching feeling, less breathable than that printed by sublimation printers. 
heat transfer vinyl printing

Heat Transfer Vinyl Printing

Heat transfer vinyl printing, short as HTV printing, is also known as heat transfer sticker printing. This technology uses special heat transfer paper to print pattern or text to thermal material and then utilizes heat press machine to transfer the pattern or text to fabrics or other substrates. HTV printing is mainly used in advertising poster, home decoration items, T-shirts and more.

Pros & Cons of Heat Transfer Vinyl Printing

Pros

  • Printed pattern is very clear, of bright color and strong durability.
  • It is environmentally friendly. No harmful substances and harmless to human body.
  • Compared with other printing methods like screen printing and sublimation printing, it is not expensive.
  • Quick turnaround time.

Cons

  • Color limitation. HTV printing is more suitable to print one color at one time. If print multiple colors at one time, the operating process will be more tedious. Also, printed pattern will be thick, causing hard touching feeling.
  • This printing method is more ideal for small amount production. Mass production will consume more working time and manpower, adding production cost.

Sublimation Transfer Printing

Sublimation printing mainly uses specially designed sublimation ink, prints patterns on sublimation paper by making use of special ink and then transfers the patterns to fabrics. The ink dye can sublimate under high temperature. Due to this feature, the ink dye can be diversified to the inside of the fabrics under the environment of high temperature. To finish sublimation printing, sublimation printer, sublimation paper, sublimation ink and heat press machine are required. Application range of sublimation printing is wide such as soft signage, sports apparel, fabric, decor and personalized products. 

Pros & Cons of Sublimation Printing

Pros

  • Durability and longevity. In the sublimation process, the dye particles are embedded to fabrics. They become parts of the fabrics. So the patterns will not fade or fall off until the clothing is worn out.
  • Sublimation printing can print more details on the patterns, leaving high-resolution printing results. The pattern is more clear and colorful.

Cons

  • Sublimation printing is limited by color. It is better to print on white or light color fabrics.
  • Sublimation printing can only print on fabrics of polyester or polyester coating.  

Direct to Garment Digital Printing (DTG)

As the name implies, digital printing means directly printing patterns on fabrics. Digital printing uses DTG printer to finish the whole printing. In the process, specialized DTG printer sprays water ink to fabrics to print the patterns to the clothes like T-shirt. In the printed process, the surface of the fabrics will be colored by ink through printhead, so as to print patterns of high quality and long lasting pattern, looking like a part of the clothes.

Pros & Cons of DTG Printing

Pros:

  • Utilizing digital printing technology, patterns printed by DTG printers are very delicate and bright.
  • Able to print different forms of patterns and meet customer’s needs of personalized design.
  • DTG printer will not use chemical products, no harm to environment.

Cons

  • Digital printing needs to spray a layer of care solution to do pre-treatment firstly. And then use heat press machine to iron the fabrics. After that, spray ink to start printing.
  • Fabrics limitation. Fabrics need to contain more than 60% cotton.
  • High cost. Related printer, ink and other consumables are expensive.

Embroidery Printing

Embroidery technology is also a relatively common printing technique. It uses sewing as making tool. Through the overlap and staggered through multiple color embroidery lines, the color of its color is blended. The rendering effect of Chinese painting is unique, suitable for printing with Chinese style.

Pros & Cons of Embroidery

Pros

  1. Embroidery can provide highly personalized design.
  2. Able to produce patterns with complicated details.

Cons

  1. Since embroidery needs to be finished by experienced man, this technique will cost a lot.

Emboss Printing

Emboss printing is a printing technique that is able to print bumpy patterns on the surface of fabrics. In this process, chemicals which can cause fiber to swell or shrink will be applied to specific parts of fabrics. After special handling, fiber of printed parts and not printed parts will swell or shrink differently, bringing bumpy effect on the surface of fabrics.

Pros & Cons of Shrinking Prinitng

Pros

  • Will not change the original touch feeling of fabrics.

Cons

  • Cost is high.
  • Breathable ability is poor.

Stamp Printing

Stamp printing can be finished in two steps. Firstly, dye the fabric into monochromatic color. Secondly, print the patterns on fabrics. In the second step, printed color paste contains a strong drifting agent that can destroy the background dye. Therefore, this method is used to produce flower cloth with dots pattern on blue bottom. When bleach mixes with dyes that will not work with bleach in the same color pulp, stamp printing can start.

Pros & Cons of Stamp Printing

Pros

  • Touching feeling is relatively soft.
  • Print color is very bright.

Cons

  • Printed fabric is odor. Water wash must be arranged first to eliminate the odor.
  • It is difficult to control the color and the color will fade easily.
  • The sample cycle is relatively long and the cost is high.

In all, each fabric printing method has its own advantages and disadvantages. When you choose one to start your own printing business, you need to consider the following aspects to make a decision.

  • Production amount
  • Cost
  • Touching feeling
  • Working efficiency
  • Fabrics
  • Personalized design
  • Whether it is environmentally friendly

If you are eager to make a decision on taking which fabric printing technique, send an inquiry to experts in the printing industry to assist you make decision.

FAQ

What is the latest method of fabric printing?

DTF (Direct-to-Film) printing is the latest method of fabric printing, breaking the limitation of color and fabrics. What is DTF printing? What need to be prepared? The answers are very well explained by expert.

DTF printing is the most recommended printing method. It is cost-effective and able to print on any fabrics, whether light or dark color. It is also environmentally friendly.

It depends on your specific needs. If you want to produce different fabric clothes, DTF printing is better. This passage makes a details comparison between DTF printing and sublimation printing, What’s The Difference Between DTF Printing And Sublimation Printing?

Yes, you can. DTF printer is able to print on whether light or dark colors. It is not limited by colors.

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