What is Digital Textile Printing?

Here at Emma Burton all of the fabrics for our clothes, scarf and handbag collections are created using digital textile/fabric printing. 

Digital textile printing is a process that takes an image from a computer and prints it directly onto fabric using a large scale printing machine that is set up to print fabric.  This image can be created on any computer software program for example Illustrator or Photoshop or alternatively it can simply be some scanned paper artwork or a photograph that has been saved as a tiff or a jpeg file. 

Once the design has been created it is sent to a large scale printing machine that is set up with specially coated fabric.  The printer then prints the design onto the fabric in very similar way to how you would print a piece of paper using your home printer.  Most fabrics then need to be steamed and washed in order to fix the dyes.  Digitally printed fabric will then wash and wear the same as any other fabric.

Without this advancement in digital textile printing technology our fashion collection wouldn't exist as traditional methods of textile printing such as screen printing wouldn't be able to deal with the vast amount of colours that exist in our photographic designs. 

Each of our fabric designs are made up of layers of detailed life like imagery that is photographed by Emma.  It is a process that Emma first started to explore when she was studying at the Royal College of Art in London (find out more about that here). 


The digital textile printing process in detail

The inkjet printing technology used in digital printing was first patented in 1968.  In the 1990s, inkjet printers became widely available for paper printing applications just like the desktop printer you possibly own yourself.  The technology has continued to develop and there are now specialized wide-format printers which can handle a variety of substrates from paper and canvas to vinyl and fabric and where the printing element is only one part of a larger process

The inks used in digital printing are formulated specifically for each type of fiber and there are a vast number of fabrics that can be printed on from Cotton to Viscose, Organic fabrics to Polyester.

Unlike with traditional screen printing where the thick ink fixer is incorporated into the ink itself with digitally printing this fixer would clog up a printers ink heads so the fixer must be applied to the fabric before it is printed.

Each new pre-treated fabric is print tested and the printer is calibrated to the amount of ink that fabric can hold to achieve the right effect. Too much ink and a print will not be crisp, too little and the colour accuracy/brightness may be lost.

When the fabric is placed on the printer, the ink head is set to the correct height for the fabric, there is only a few millimetre clearance over the fabric so the height for a silk will be quite different to that of a upholstery weight linen. This head height is important not least to protect the ink heads but it also affects the crispness of the printing.

All of our fabrics at Emma Burton are printed using reactive dyes which is the most versatile of the high end digital printing technologies, with its ability to print onto both silks and plant based materials (eg cotton, linen and bamboo) and where the print has no effect on the handle of the fabric as the dye bonds directly with the fabric fibres. This also means that reactive printing has a greater light and rub fastness than other print technologies making it perfect for our fashion products.

In order to fix the fabric it must be steamed so that the printed ink can bond to the fibres of the fabric and remover any excess ink. Each fabric requires a different length and quantity of steam depending on a number of variables including fabric type and length of print.