What are digital printed silks and how are they made?
It’s not uncommon to wonder how beautifully patterned silks are created, and this is a question that we are frequently asked by customers. After all, the transformation from a plain base silk to a fabric with a delicate, detailed design is a remarkable one.
Digital printing is the technique used to do exactly that. If you are a designer looking to bring your artwork to life in the form of patterned and colourful fabrics, digital printing is the method that you need to seek out.
Since its introduction, digital printing has become the preferred method for manufacturers creating unique designs and printing them onto t-shirts, silks and other fabrics.
How does digital printing on silk work?
While the mechanics and methodology is essentially the same as standard inkjet printing, there are a lot more stages and techniques involved in printing on fabrics.
The process all starts with the artwork supplied by the customer, which can either be digital artwork or if hand drawn, can be converted to digital format. This opens up endless options for the designer, offering the freedom to work with a broad colour palette, as designs can be printed with as many colours as required. Designs should typically be created to ensure that they can be repeated with a seamless finish, and without any borders or break lines.
Differently to standard inkjet printing on paper, silk needs to be pretreated before it’s time to print. To ensure the best possible outcome, the silk needs to be coated to accept the ink and absorb the colour, which can only be done with the use of an external fabric finisher. The fabric will usually then be print tested in order to calibrate the printer to the correct amount of ink that the fabric can hold. It’s important to get the correct balance here, as with too much ink the print will lose its cripness, and with too little ink the desired colour and brightness may not be achieved.
Once the fabric has been pretreated and the artwork is ready in the printer, the fabric can then be fed through the machine. The ink heads will be adjusted to the correct height before printing commences, in which tiny droplets of ink will be sprayed on to the fabric in order to create the desired design.
The final step of the process is the finishing, a process which is the same whether you’re screen printing or digital printing. It’s important to take great care of the silk at this stage, as it’s freshly printed and in its most vulnerable state. The silk must first be steamed to drive the bond of the ink to the fibres of the fabric, before being washed to remove the coating and any excess ink, then finally dried and ironed out.
The difference between digital printing and screen printing
Before digital printing, we had the more traditional method of screen printing, which still to this day remains to be a firm favourite of manufacturers and designers. The stages involved in screen printing require a high level of skill from the production team, as there is much more involved than in digital printing.
As opposed to designs being processed by a computer, screen printing requires a stencil (screen) to be created in order to transfer the design on to the fabric. Where digital printing can apply several different colours at once, screen printing is done by using a different stencil for each colour, applied one at a time to create the design. It’s a much more time-consuming and meticulous way of printing, but one that creates stunning results.
Screen printing typically produces more vibrant colours as the ink used is applied in a thicker layer than with digital printing, which makes it the perfect solution for manufacturers looking to print bold and bright designs on to darker fabrics.
What are the benefits of digital printing?
There are no restrictions on the amount of colours that can be used in one design, so you can print as many as you like.
Digital printing is more favourable for designs that require a high level of detail, as it has the ability to produce a photographic print resulting in more detail than traditional screen printing.
Minimum set up costs
Unlike screen printing, the set up for digital prints is much easier, quicker and more cost-efficient. As there are no requirements for a number of different screens, this reduces the time taken and manual labour costs needed.
Less time consuming
If timeframes are tight, digital printing is your best bet as the method has the ability to handle a huge order quantity in a short amount of time.
Smaller minimum order quantities
As the digital printing set up is less complicated than screen, manufacturers typically require a much smaller minimum order quantity which lends itself perfectly to smaller businesses and those looking for a one-off design.
In regards to choosing between digital and screen printing, it generally comes down to the individual design itself and the requirements that need to be met. Printers will generally recommend the most appropriate method for each order depending on these factors.
Digital printed silks at Biddle Sawyer Silks
Specialists in the process of digital printing, Biddle Sawyer Silks have been creating and producing luxury printed fabrics for over 50 years. As the UK’s only silk wholesaler to own our very own state-of-the-art digital printer, we have the capabilites to offer customers the full package when it comes to sourcing the finest quality silks and turning their design ideas into reality.
It’s all hands on deck when it comes to our printing process. We have a specialised team of four designers and thirty production staff who carefully ensure that all technical matters are managed seamlessly, from start to finish. With a keen eye for detail, our highly skilled team have the ability to seek out the most minor of imperfections should they ever occur.
In order to guarantee quality finishes each and every time, we control every part of the digital printing process. Having our own machinery means that outsourcing any of the work isn’t necessary, therefore we control everything in-house from pretreatment of the silks to printing, finishing and quality control, right through to despatch.
Looking for a digitally printed scarves specialist? We can help. We have a 25 year old history for printing scarves, and we offer the most beautiful hand rolled hemming service to complement it perfectly. Our vast experience in this sector has seen us accumulate an impressive archive dating back as far as 1722, containing thousands of examples for inspiration for your next design. We are able to print designs sourced from our historic archives, and artwork supplied by customers.
We also offer a traditional screen printing service, which has been one of our core services for many years. Using our own in-house produced colours and dyes, our artisinal production process produces around 60,000 metres of silk every year.
We are one of the leading textile printers in the UK, and with a keen eye for design we are passionate about inspiring the creativity of our customers. We work with a broad spectrum of clients from high-end fashion design houses to students, with a minimum order quantity of 1m.
Want to know how our digital printing order process works? Check out our how to order page.
To find out more about our digital silk printing services, please get in touch with us.