Following the positive reception for her first article with us, Debbie McKeegan, shares her second piece with us here. A pioneer in digital print, Debbie discusses the explosion of digital print, the integrity of design, and Europe’s textile industry, whilst summarizing the variety of ink sets currently available to us (including which set works best with which product or market), as well as fabrics and print partners.

There’s no doubt that the digital reform of conventional textile print has changed a creative’s workflow forever.

That said, with a whole new set of creative tools and manufacturing options how does a designer create and supply the perfect product and choose the correct print solution?

Contemporary designers now design for multiple markets. Creating designs for both fashion and home décor, often the same design adapted for both markets. What’s often overlooked is the product knowledge, commercial discipline and the expectations of both the manufacturer and the end user.

If you’re a pure creative and only produce artwork then delivering a beautiful design utilizing highly versatile software to the manufacturer will be a simple task in today’s world.

Utilizing off the shelf CAD design software, the creation of print has become completely automated over the last ten years. Supplying your design in a digital format is a necessity. Many designers wholly create in Photoshop but as the market becomes bored with an endless sea of “photoshopped” techniques and duplicate design portfolios so the market, thankfully, is returning to traditional hand drawn design – created offline and only scanned into a digital format for resale and digital production.

Finally, designers are back on the drawing board, painting designs by hand and using the computer as a tool and not the author or originator of their work. The integrity of design has returned; colleges and universities are once more encouraging their students to develop their own identity and a signature design style, learning drawing skills from the fine art masters, studying still life and painterly surface techniques. Light, texture, colour theory and, importantly, form and content all play an integral part in good quality finished design.

All are key components of the final vision and eventually finished product for sale.

But beyond design, bridging the gap between the creative’s vision and the final product will need all the expertise of a commercial textile designer and a complex knowledge base of a manufacturing industry.

The global digital print market is growing at 25% per year. Choosing a digital print solution was once only an option for fine couture fashion houses or bespoke Décor but over the last 5 years prices have tumbled, and high speed machines can supply “fast fashion” houses with an endless stream of “See now – Buy now” products. Digital print is now a sustainable choice, which increases both profit and delivers product diversity.

Staying ahead of the pack and offering on trend products throughout the season is now essential. It’s taken over 20 years but, finally, sourcing print through manufacturing routes in Europe and not the cheap offerings of rotary, analogue printers in the far East is once again a viable option.

Europe’s textile industry has been reborn, and is thriving and energized following on from its decimation in the 1990s.

As the digital print market has exploded worldwide, so have the options available. New fabrics and print techniques offer multiple options for both Fashion and Décor designers and retailers.

Understanding Ink Sets and which product or market they suit is vital. But with so many options now available how do you choose the correct print technique for your final product?

Here’s a brief summary of Ink sets available.

Pigment Print 

Historically and importantly pigment is still the biggest sector of the world’s print market output by volume and largely still due to analogue print. It’s main use is in the manufacture of Home Furnishings. However, advances in inks and print head technology now offer a viable digital print solution for certain sectors of this market.

Digital Pigment print is importantly also sustainable, using less energy, water and chemicals during manufacture than its analogue alternative. Pigment allows you to print onto any pre-coated surface, and it is suitable for cottons, textile blends and polyester fabrics. But colour gamut and rub fastness are still an issue. Although greatly improved, these limitations, for now at least, hold back this important sector of the market.

For small / medium volume production Pigment is now a viable option for digital print. But choose wisely. If colour gamut or a high rub fastness is a requirement for your product, pigment is not currently the best option.

Reactive Dye Inks 

Reactive Ink has always been an expensive ink choice, and a labour intensive option. It is typically used for Fashion and Home Furnishings. The reactive dyes become chemically bonded during manufacture offering exceptional rub fastness and colour gamut but not the best light fastness. Colours are vibrant and intense, perfect for fashion but not always the best palette for Home Décor.

Even in digital print reactive inks are labour intensive. Fabrics need to be pre-coated, steamed, washed and finished prior to sale. Each part of the process destabilizes the fabric and textile technology skills are a critical part of the manufactures process. Post production many fabrics can be washed or laundered.

Reactive inks are a good choice for Fashion and Home Décor.

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Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation is the fastest growing digital print category; an exciting category for the print of synthetic fabrics.

New fibre technology has brought innovative new blends, performance sport and décor fabrics to this marketplace. Creative textiles for Fashion, Home Furnishings and Contract, Fire Resistant substrates for Hotels and Public spaces.

Many fashion designers have embraced the creativity offered in this sector and increasingly Interior Designers see the potential to create unique environments and futuristic spaces and products.

Dye sublimation Inks are printed onto paper and then transferred under heat and pressure onto the textile. There is no requirement to pre-treat the fabrics or post wash, making this a fast, efficient and increasingly innovative print set for both Fashion and Home Décor markets. Dye Sublimation offers excellent colour gamat, rub and light fastness and is an excellent choice for many Fashion and Interior designers.

Dispersed Dyes

Often used by the signage industry for speed of print, Dispersed inks are not so popular in Fashion and Home Décor, mainly because the colour gamat is smaller and the print isn’t as sharp as the Dye Sublimation technique.

Dye sublimation is popular for clients who generate print for events, but not typically fashion or Home Décor.

Acid Dyes

Many fabrics, especially silk, previously printed using acid are now printed using a reactive ink set. Acid gives exceptional colour vibrancy and rub fastness but it is still an expensive choice. It’s popular for Wool, Silk and Nylon and all protein based fibres.

Fabrics require pre-treatment, and commercial finishing. A popular choice for Fashion clients but rarely used in Home Décor.

So, having decided the right Ink Set for your Digital Print project, how do you choose your fabric?

Digital Print has revolutionized our industries beyond our wildest expectations, be that Fashion or Home Décor. But it is important to remember that only the print is digital, and whilst small scale manufacturing equipment has replaced older style mass manufacturing machines in the digital factory, Textiles haven’t changed.

Aside from synthetic fabrics many of the bed rock textiles, which we consume in vast meterages – be they Cotton, Silk, Linen, or Polyester – have been of the same composition for hundreds of years. Sourcing the right fabric worldwide for your final garment or Home Décor use is essential.

Many Digital Print suppliers will sell fabrics alongside their print offer, but a new generation of innovative companies, offering a vast selection of fabrics prepared for digital print, have emerged. These companies are important to our industry, as they are not tied to manufacturers. They can develop and offer exciting new substrates to the market. Working alongside the ink suppliers, chemists, textile technologists and digital printers and machine manufacturers a new breed of fabric supplier has emerged to service our ever-expanding marketplace.

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Choosing the right print partner?

Digital print is available to all, and thanks to the internet, with just a small amount of research you can shortlist potential suppliers for your chosen project, whatever the meterage?

Digetex is a specialist digital print bureau, and over the years many more have emerged onto the market, each finding a niche in this relatively new industry. Bureau print shops specialize in small-scale production for both the Fashion and Interior markets, often specializing in one substrate (be it Cotton, Silk or Polyester print).

Some, like us, have a design led production facility, and others simply print your artwork as you supply it onto a choice of fabric and deliver. Many offer a super-fast 5 day service! Unfortunately, clients rarely understand the complexities of digital textile print; you could argue why do they need to? But in this industry the client often sells on the products they create and it’s important that the final sale delivers a product fit for purpose to the consumer.

Low volume manufacture has released a huge wave of creativity into the industry. Independent designers and artisans worldwide are now becoming the next generation of super brands. Establishing themselves online, creating their own websites and building a following using targeting social media campaigns. Innovative crowd funding schemes have encouraged entrepreneurial growth in the design industry. All of which has to be positive. Talent always flourishes with freedom, and with entry-level print providers anybody can print their own fashion fabrics or Interiors furnishings and build a brand.

At the opposite end of the scale for high volume we see the High Street flooding stores with their fast fashion formula, made possible by high output Digital print technology and the speed with which the retailer can replenish their best selling lines and of course the opposite: delete and replace poor sales within weeks, not months, using alternate supply routes.

In order to achieve this the retailer must be highly efficient. Slick inventory and responsive stock control are a must have and highly efficient distribution channels are crucial.

Whilst many fashion houses have embraced this style of retail, many now also seek slow fashion – a trend for eco-friendly products that do not harm the environment. That’s not to say that the product isn’t digitally printed. But there’s something about “fast fashion” that deconstructs and devalues the fashion industry itself.

How has speed of print and “fast fashion” affected the overall market?

Many luxury couture fashion labels are trying new tactics to avoid loosing out on sales to the growing “Fast Fashion” culture, offering VIP previews without social media to protect their designs before they hit the Spring or Fall catwalk. Others offer a ‘Pre-Buy’ so that stores, retail and online have the goods in stock when the collections hit the catwalk, offering the consumer an instant purchase in real-time as the client views the fashion shows. They stream these shows to a select hub of luxury clients worldwide, offering them an exclusive preview and opportunity to purchase ahead of launch, all of which builds brand loyalty.

Rewarding client loyalty is a crucial strategy, not to be overlooked. A brand’s community must be fiercely protected and many companies now spend beyond 20% of their advertising budgets on social media, communicating with their following offering a lifestyle via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Digital social media is now a measure of a brand’s success.

Whatever designers have to do to stay ahead of this explosive market place, there can be no doubt that digital print and both its design and retail capabilities have once again changed the marketplace forever.

This digital chapter and the reform of analogue textiles has been slow to take hold. In fact, it has taken over 15 years to establish Digital print as a viable commercial alternative to the mass production routes of the far East. That’s partly due to the speed with which the print and finishing technology has developed, but also due to the fact that retailers of both Fashion and Home Décor brands were slow to embrace the retail possibilities earlier.

Those that have, and many large fashion brands now print their own fabrics, are storming down the high street. However, Fashion trends and Furnishing trends move ever closer to being a symbiotic offering to the consumer; trends are steadily driven by the Fashion catwalk to Home Décor – a sector which remains an under exposed market for digital print.

The benefits of digital manufacture are vast, but unlike the fashion market where “fast fashion” is a retail must have product, Home Furnishings is a completely different business model.

Home Furnishing brands have a different challenge ahead and the trade faces many changes, both in supply chain and its old fashioned retailing style.

It’s still early days in the world of commercial print and digital online technology. But there can be no doubt that for the designer, retailer, manufacturer and the consumer it’s going to be an inspiring yet challenging, creative decade!

*Image credits: www.debbiemckeegan.com

November 22, 2017 by debbie mckeegan

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