The process of printing digital colorants onto a fabric in order to form custom designs is known as digital fabric printing. There are several types of technologies used in digital fabric printing, and only the printing aspect works similar to how an inkjet printer will operate.
Two of the most popular printing technologies involve the use of reactive dyes and pigment inks. Unlike traditional screen printing applications that incorporate the thick ink fixer into the pigment, the fixer shall be applied on the fabric prior to printing the pattern in order to avoid it from clogging up the ink head of the printer. It is often referred to as pretreatment or padding, which is done using a fabric finisher.
Each of the pretreated fabric will be tested after padding and the printer will be calibrated to a volume of ink the fabric can adhere in order to produce a bright and crisp pattern on its surface. While using very little ink for digital fabric printing will lead to a loss of accurate colors or brightness, excessive amount of ink to print a pattern will not give crisp results. That is why test printing is important after pretreatment in order to calibrate the ink levels the fabric can adhere.
Based on the test results, printing applicants calculate an average shrinkage and give an ink ‘profile’, which the print will use each time the device prints a given pattern on the fabric. To print the design, the applicants place the fabric flat on a printer belt, sets the ink head to a right height in line with the fabric. Since there is little clearance over the fabric, the ink head height for upholstery weight linen will be different to the height one can adjust for a silk.
It is important to set the ink head height correctly, since it affects the crispness level of the printing and to protect the ink head. The patterns emerge just as the print head makes a pass from right to left, back and forth across the fabric, laying colorants onto the fabric in several layers, and over numerous passes. This is the most volatile phase for a fabric in digital fabric printing since the print is yet to be fixed.
Note that it is important to steam the fabric for the ink to clear any excess ink on the cloth’s fibers, and then wash and iron it as a quality control measurement.