Why is digital printing such a big deal? First of all, there a big practical aspect to it. Regular fabric patterns are created through rotary or flatbed screen printing that required individual screens for every colour used and large yardage. Simply put, you needed to print a lot of fabric and waste a lot of time, so whether you were a small backstreet designer or an incredible exclusive limited edition high-end design house, you would still be restricted in your choices. Digital sublimation printing doesn’t have those issues, because just like your printer back home, it can create how many yards of fabric you want, even just one. You can print a small piece for a skirt then change the design for the next.
But fashion is about creativity, what’s with all the technicalities, right? Digital methods improve on that too, by giving unrivaled creative freedom to the designer. The patterns don’t have to be repetitive or make sense for the machine to accept them; any design combination works, which means you can sketch your dress in the finest of details. A printed flower over your shoulder and three silver stripes an inch over your waistline? Done. As long as you understand structure and tailoring that is (which, if you’re like me, you’re better off not trying – it’s an expensive hobby to get wrong).
While digital printing makes it easier than ever to put your imagination into fabric, it also has a very sustainable component. Printing uses 95% less water in the production process, 75% less energy and much less fabric goes to waste since you can print the exact number of meters you will need. So if this is such a perfect method, why doesn’t everyone use it? I suspect that cost is the main pain here. You need different inks for different fabrics and special printer services that might be more expensive the less you print. For mass retail outlets, it’s probably much cheaper to use traditional large yardage methods employed somewhere in China, but the potential for the luxury market is enormous.