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Form and Function: Digitally Decorated Textiles

(April 2013) posted on Wed Apr 24, 2013

A variety of unique and lucrative applications await those who print digitally onto fabrics.


By Dan Naumovich

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“With this economy, the cash register should drive a sell and digital allows for that because you don’t have to order 30,000 prints. You can get one, or as many as you want,” she says.

Education is a key component of Expand’s business. Sawchak says determining needs and advising on selection of materials and inks is an important part of helping people embrace printing on textiles.
“With no understanding of what they’ll be making, they’re going to get a bad taste in their mouth about textiles, and that’s not how you’re going to get textile printing back to the United States,” she says. “Every ink has its strengths and weaknesses. If someone is printing fabric for a chair that is going to be sat in all of the time, we tell them to use a reactive dye if it’s a natural blend. So reactive and acid dyes are used with a pre-coated fabric, and after the process you have to steam wash and dry. It’s more tedious and expensive, but on the other end you’re getting more durability.”

Expand’s commitment to education extends beyond the marketplace and into traditional schools. The company has worked with North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles. Sawchak says Expand loves teaching the students the right way to do things.

Custom fabrics
On-demand digital printing has been the cornerstone of success for Spoonflower, an Internet-based, custom-fabric-printing company located in Durham, NC. Founded in 2008, Spoonflower was created for individuals who want to design and sell their own custom-printed fabrics. Today, the company has more than one million registered users whose orders keep its 30 printers humming along.

“The advantages of digital printing are the essence of Spoonflower―no minimum, infinite variety, a manufacturing process that’s plugged directly into the Internet, allowing anyone to access our printers and to use them to create something completely new,” says Stephen Fraser, co-founder of Spoonflower.

The majority of the company’s customers are individuals who use the printed fabric to create dolls, blankets, clothing, or home decor products, for either personal use or to sell at craft malls or on sites such as Etsy.com. In addition to having their custom designs printed, customers can also make their designs available for purchase in Spoonflower’s online marketplace. (Think of it as self-publishing, except for designers instead of authors.)


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