All About Textile Printing

Printing may bring to mind the image of inkjet or laser printers, whether large or small, and paper is the most popular method of printing. But the world of printing is varied and versatile and one of the many other methods of printing is textile printing.

This is the process of printing directly onto fabrics to provide them with colourful designs or patterns. We’ve taken a closer look at some of the various methods that textile printing offers that are often still in use today.

Traditional Block Printing

As discussed in a previous article on FMS Blog, woodblock printing was originally developed and used in East Asia and printed onto textiles, before later being used to print on paper. The process for printing here is that the dye would be firmly pressed onto the fabric using a block that was carved with a specific design.

The traditional form of block printing still exists today though this is seen as a slow process that can take a long time to complete.  This is because each colour requires a separate block which in turn needs to be carved individually, a time consuming process if there are many colours and patterns needed.

After this, the colour is applied by pressing firmly onto the cloth and then striking the back of the block. Each block is required to line up perfectly to create a distinct pattern that has no breaks to ensure that it looks visually pleasing. This means that a single mistake could potentially ruin the textile.

Roller Printing

The process of roller printing, often called machine printing or even cylinder printing, began in the 18th century when Thomas Bell patented the process in 1783. Roller printing requires fabric to pass through a central cylinder that rotates and then be pressed onto by a series of rollers. These rollers are carved with designs that will produce patterned textiles and different colours.

It was further improved in the 19th century to allow roller prints to produce more vibrant and vivid colours that would brighten up clothing. The process of roller printing was far quicker than block printing as it would allow large amounts of textiles to be printed in a day by a single colour machine. Roller printing is still used today as it can allow large quantities of textiles to be printed, but its popularity is slowing waning due to the popularity of modern printing techniques.

Screen Printing

One of the most popular ways of printing onto textiles today is screen printing. It is so popular that it can often be found on the high street as a way to print onto t-shirts or other items of clothing. A quick description of how to print this way is that a screen is created by stretching a piece of mesh over a frame and the design created by blocking parts of the screen.

The screen is placed on top of the textile that is to be printed and ink is pushed through the mesh. A squeegee is used to  push the mesh down and squeeze the ink out onto the fabric.  Screen printing requires one colour per screen so the more colours that are required can lead to higher costs.

Though it may seem like a modern way of printing, screen printing actually has its origins in China over a thousand years ago. It slowly spread through to other Asian countries before arriving in Western Europe in the 18th century. A famous screen printer is artist Andy Warhol who popularised screen printing with his famous prints with an artistic technique called serigraphy, creating images that are iconic today such as his Marilyn Monroe print.

Digital Printing

The constant advance of digital in today’s world means that it has also moved into the world of textile printing. Digital textile printing can print onto textiles or clothes by using inkjet technology that has been specifically created for this or modified to meet the role.

Digital textile printing is often able to print onto a wide variety of textile fabrics including nylon, polyester fabric, silk and much more. It allows users to create very detailed prints onto textiles at a fairly fast pace, though it is often an expensive process due to having to buy specialised inkjet cartridges.

Sarah Jubb