Friday, 23 October 2009

Digital Developments in Printed Fabric

Here's a little article I wrote about the new flock (not sure of the correct collective noun) of DIY digitally printed fabric companies. If you're not interested in such things (can you believe that there are some people out there who aren't!), then look away NOW!:

Exciting developments are afoot in the world of printed fabric, which are set to have major potential knock-on effects for emerging fashion designers. It comes in the form of four new companies, the oldest of which is less than 18 months old. Fabric on Demand, Spoonflower, Eye Candey and Karma Kraft offer affordable digital fabric printing over the internet. Anybody can upload an image file, either that they have created themselves, or from public domain materials, and get it printed on a range of base fabrics.

This is made possible due to developments in the word of digital printing, which is changing the face of the textile industry. Digital textile printing is radically different from traditional printing: designs are not limited to the circumference of the mill’s print rollers, nor are they limited to the one-color-per-roller constraints and the associated costs (the more colors, the more it costs to print). Ordering your own designs is nearly impossible for independent and small designers using traditional printing methods because the mills are mostly overseas and require huge minimum orders (usually 3,000 yards, sometimes more). It’s just not worth it for those printing plants to print short runs.

But, to quote from (currently the only blog devoted purely to fabric), ‘digital textile printing — like mp3 technology and digital photography — is a major democratizing force’. Until recently, digital printing on fabric was prohibitively expensive ($50-75 per yard) which was only practical for higher-end interior and fashion designers. I’m assuming the cost of the printers has come down, or simply that the new companies are willing to enjoy less of a profit, but now achieving your own design is possible for as little as $16.75 a yard. What’s more, none of the four companies require a minimum quantity.

From the tiniest repeat print, to a photograph or design that spans two or three yards; an independent designer’s wildest dreams are now attainable. And perhaps more importantly, they are attainable whilst retaining the possibility of making a profit on the finished garment. There are a variety of types and weights of base fabrics, and with swatches easily available, designers are able to manage the outcome of their vision to an impressive degree. Unlimited re-ordering of designs also allows a designer to capitalise should a particular garment prove a great success. Similarly in this vein, experimentation into new directions is possible by the ability to order small quantities of printed fabric.

At present, the technical aspects, like dpi file sizes and colour accuracy, of these services could be quite confusing to some. As with all new businesses, there have been reported flaws that are duly being ironed out. But these companies are all competing to produce the easiest and most satisfactory service and end products. I can see the range of types of fabrics available (including organic options) increasing, and inevitably prices lowering.

Karma Kraft also offers, for additional costs, a cut and sew service to make your fabric into products such as cushions, tablecloths and bags. Imagine the ability for clothing designers to offer a range of garment styles and link to these sites. Then a customer could design their own fabric, pick a clothing designer and garment style, have their fabric sent to that designer/maker, and instead of receiving a bolt of fabric, you receive a finished one-of-a-kind item of clothing!

With these sites offering the ability for individual users to share their designs and admire those of others, this is also an exciting advancement for budding textile designers to create a name for themselves. Spoonflower even hosts Fabric of the Week contests, perhaps for many would-be professional print designers, these sites will stand as an online CV or resume. Also, some of these services either host an online store, or have links (eg, to through which you can sell your amazing self-designed fabric. Potentially you could launch a career as a self-employed textile designer/seller.

Increasingly we’ll be able to see the result the services provided by this new breed of companies is having on, what I believe to be, the most exciting and innovative end of the fashion industry. With so many barriers seemingly being pulled down at once, in terms of the possibilities in raw material and links to custom, these developments should prove to be the most significant to effect new design talent in recent times.


Giulia said...

Thank you for pointing these companies out - I had no idea this was possible!

naughty little pony said...

That is so cool. Excellent article, you is fab.

marLou said...

I learn something every day. Had no idea these companies exist and they can do this for nobodys like me.

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