Today, Debbie McKeegan shares her third exclusive article with us. A pioneer in digital print, Debbie discusses the increasing demand on designers in our, and other, industries. She advocates for the importance of student education, and calls for the design and print community to collaborate and share knowledge.

Why do we crave that unique item? Something nobody else has, our own look and personalized design statement. Is this the kickback from the Primark generation, no longer happy with mass produced items offered at low price points?

Luxury goods have long since been personalised, but previously only afforded by the elite. In today’s market, customized manufacture is now the fast growing sector of the marketplace.

Early on perhaps it started with a phone case or a pair of Nike’s trainers, but there is no doubt that today’s consumers now have the confidence to create both Fashion, Interior and lifestyle accessories for their own use. What’s more, they will mix luxury items with high street purchases alongside customized products, forging an eclectic style that applies to both fashion and homewares.

The design community has expanded across multiple markets and, with it, the creative opportunities for surface pattern designers, once pigeon holed to their own industry. A textile designer, for instance, would be a specialist in one field: fashion or home furnishings. This no longer applies; a print designer could be working on projects for apparel, swimwear, wallpaper, Interiors or even car decoration simultaneously.

Pattern now stimulates our visual life at every level. Graphics and surface pattern are now entwined.

Vikki Gibson - Digetex

Marketing has reached new technical heights

Instant branding, zero words, equals creative marketing! Instagram probably offers the best example here – visual ‘likes’ grow a massive online following based purely on visual integrity and design content, implying authority on a platform where success is measured by the number of likes, and not the technical detail of the product featured.

Our every online click is now measured and tracked by sophisticated software that predicts our next step(s) and ultimately our next purchase(s). I’m talking smart tags, ingenious product placement, the Internet of Things …the list is endless. By using Facebook for example, shopping on Amazon, or searching in Google, you have unknowingly consented to this data being shared and analyzed in real time. Your feed is no longer your own. Products articles, images appear all targeted at your unique character and purchase history.

Brand engagement and subliminal marketing is a diverse field and one that we must all be aware of if we are to create successful products.

Designers are now highly skilled marketers; communicating online via creative hubs and print resources is a daily necessity if you are to increase your exposure.

At one time, a blog would suffice to connect with the outside world, but now we all have multiple accounts – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and LinkedIn. Creating content is both time consuming and exhausting, but must be targeted and achieved daily to be current. It’s not just sufficient to have these accounts, your activity is also measured. The balance of the working day has never been more complicated.

Image is everything! After all, as in real life you only get one opportunity to make a great first impression. Engaging with your clients requires highly skilled technical software and time. As we surf through a visual world where lifestyle branding is a snap shot of just one image, often no words are needed!

As designers and manufacturers how do we comply?

The customized market demands Lean product manufacture alongside design diversity and speed of service. Utilizing multiple digital software programs alongside digital print technology is the only possible solution for both designers and the manufacturer.

A demand for design has grown; freelance design markets flourish in many sectors.

Design finally reigns supreme.

So, what skills do designers need? Unfortunately, students do not usually graduate with the necessary skillset and cannot easily gain employment. It has become the norm for students to seek internships to gain the necessary commercial experience. Education is an issue. With little access to the commercial world, how is the next generation to be trained? All industries must move to collaborate with the education sector.

As a designer myself I’m passionate about training, having built an online community, for our brand SurfacePatternPrint, which offers help, advice and tutorials, and free marketing plus PR for emerging brands. The Digetex group also offers much needed internships and industry placements. Over the years we have built close links with local universities and seek to improve resources for education. But it’s an all too slow process.

Creatives, manufacturers and educators must make a targeted effort to assist our design community. I recently became a board member for Fespa_UK with this as my primary goal.

How do designers best control colour for print?

In today’s digital design world, all artwork created, even using hand drawn techniques, will ultimately become a digital file at some point. Where the artwork is to be printed using analogue rotary screens, the separations needed for each colour used will be created using software, as will the plotting of those screens and exposure onto copper rollers. But these techniques are not used where the client demands speed of manufacture. The file will be transferred direct to the print source.

The problem with this is there is often no hard copy original artwork as such; a hand painted design with colour chips or drawdowns rarely exists. The client has purchased the product as interpreted by their own computer screen.

Or where the artwork is supplied as a design generated by a computer, then printed onto a paper printer thus relying on Rip software.

Unless all components are calibrated then none are an accurate reproduction of the digital file.

Therefore, the designer relies 100% on the digital manufacturers output, and this is where there are huge knowledge gaps to be bridged. The expectations of both the designer and client must be achieved by the manufacturer.

Designers creating for digital print must understand many things, for example RGB or CMYK, Pantone, printable colour grammat and colour space. Colour yield across different fabrics and the print process itself be that paper or fabric.

Colour management is critical, and designers and manufacturers must work together to achieve best practice – such as embedding colour profiles to assist the manufacturer with colour reproduction across varied substrates.

Colour is a huge topic, from the creation of the artwork all the way through to the photography of the final product. Visual products and designs viewed on screens in countless different light sources all create a different impression and must be controlled.

But for many products there is no time for sampling – direct to manufacture for short orders is demanded.

Controlling colour consistency is an ongoing issue for the digital supply chain and demands tight controls throughout manufacture in order to minimize the problem. Batch production colour issues are not new, they existed in analogue print long ago but are not tolerated by many clients, many of which do not understand the technical issues.

Every print supplier uses different components in their process. Different print machines, heads, inks, fabrics, preparation, finishing etc. and so printing the same design across multiple suppliers will give multiple results. Even if it’s the same fabric you’ll get a different colour yield and printed mark.

Where spot colour is used for matching to a specified Pantone colour this is simple and easy to achieve within the digital process. However, designs created for print in Photoshop, Illustrator or other such programs are often not separated by colour. They can only be printed to a calibrated average setting and then adjusted by eye.

Thus, when designs are transferred to an alternate printer or substrate it’s impossible to match colours exactly to a previous print without adjustment.

In the past, painted colour chips and production drawdowns were read by spectrometers – all of which seems very old fashioned but the process worked. All designs were colour separated.

Today, every print provider has a different set of tools. As designers, how do we best address the minefield of print profiles, RIP software, DPI & file resolution for artwork files and the choices offered by the printer?

The next chapter for the manufacturer?

Problems remain but in the future technology will help address many of these issues. Automated colour will be read by magic eyes even on the simplest digital print machines.

Modern machinery brings improved efficiency with the tools to meet the demands of the consumer, designer and emerging marketplace.

Customised manufacturing is a huge growth area in our business today. It encompasses small, medium & large scale volume. Even at the large volume the content of the print run is vastly changed, no longer made up of one design printing thousands of metres. Each print run will contain many designs across multiple options and for customized manufacture the run may contain hundreds if not thousands of bespoke prints each to be delivered to a single end user.

Of course mass manufacturing is still the largest proportion of volume print. However, as the need for bespoke goods and design diversity grows small scale markets have evolved to feed demand. Fashion, Interiors, even the automotive industry now creating tailor made vehicle wraps.

The manufacturing of multiple mixed orders, smaller meterage, multiple designs and colourways carries with it many pitfalls. And must be highly organized if it is to reach the client efficiently.

Even for the small, bespoke manufacture the process must be automated to achieve the price point and delivery in such a short manufacturing time frame.

At all points the supplier must now engage advanced content management systems alongside perfect colour management to fulfil the clients needs.

So how must the industry change to become efficient?

Creative Manufacturing will continue to bridge the gap between

new technologies and old and as the market evolves the software and technical advances will naturally follow as demand increases.

Machinery manufacturers, print suppliers, universities and software designers must collaborate with the design and manufacturing communities if their products are to fulfil the needs of the Industry.

Vikki Gibson Digetex2

What would we like to see for the future?

Can the digital Industry standardize colour and best practice?

The technology for auto colour correction and colour management is already present in many high end print machines – let’s hope that’s available for all soon.

QC will also soon be automated, removing the need for the human eye to scan 1000s of metres of cloth daily for print faults, soon becoming partially automated.

Can print providers communicate effectively with their industry to facilitate education and nurture the next generation? Software synergy across multiple design programs, content management systems, varied data profiles – can these be integrated and standardized?

Let’s hope so. But for now, the design and print community must collaborate to share knowledge.

And as a lasting point: how many times have you posted to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pinterest today…?

* All image credits: Vikki Gibson, Surface Pattern Designer

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