Friday, October 29, 2021

Digital Printed Fabric on Off the Wall Friday


 So it's gettin' to be that time of year when my family asks me to fill in my Giftster list on what I want for Christmas.  This year it's harder than most since I really don't need anything.  I started looking through my studio and noticed how much digital fabric I bought this year.  Something about the vibrant colors and the funky abstract designs really appealed to me.  In the last 5 years, I haven't bought  much commercial fabric since #1 It's so Godawful expensive and #2 that midcentury "modern" design is not my jam!  Now that digital printed fabrics are becoming more main mainstream, it's captured my interest and my fabric budget!

When digital printed fabric was first introduced to the average quilter, most balked at the higher price and odd designs.  She wasn't used to the idea that with digital fabric, basically you can print any image that can be put into a digital file.  I mean really, how do you work some of those designs into a traditional quilt?

Screen Printing
Traditionally, quilting fabric is screen printed in Japan and Korea.  Due to the screen printing process it
is  limited to about 2 dozen colors in a design.  The screens need to be cleaned and the process is NOT environmentally friendly.  The fabric produced is high quality and color fast, but due to the process, it's time consuming.  The industry norm is an 8 month turn-around from when a design is submitted till when it's delivered back here in the States.  That means that re-runs of a certain designs is not the norm.  So once your favorite design is gone it's gone. 

Digital printing is much more environmentally friendly.   The printing process is continually evolving so that the quality of the prints are photo realistic.  Because of the process, there is no need for a large run size of specific print.  Design amounts can be order as needed. The designs are also not limited the repeat of the screen process.  So if you want a very big design repeat you can have it!

Robert Kaufman Fabric...Effervescence


That said, the industry is still slowly investing in quality equipment to produce enough fabric to meet  the demand.  As this is happening prices on digital fabric have come down.  (I can attest to that.  I bought all of mine for under $9/yd).

Over the years, I've heard concerns from quilters about color fastness of their digital fabric.  I  think that all the fabric that I've bought in the last 3 years has held its color fine (but I haven't tested it in continual direct sunlight).  I might or might not prewash my quilt fabric but haven't had any big difference in the hand of the fabric.  What I have noticed is that I find the digital fabric dyes intense so they need to be carefully worked in with my traditional screen printed fabrics.  Their designs have a crisp strong look to them.



From what I've read, the digital printing of fabric is definitely where the industry is headed.  Michael Miller  Fabrics has already switched all their fabrics to digital.  Hoffman (gasp!) and Robert Kaufman both  have  invested in several collections.  Both companies are touting the environmental concerns, but it also makes better business sense.  With digital printing, a manufacturer has better control of the quantities needed to meet sales.  This eliminates overstock of prints that would end up being put on clearance.  

I found this whole foray into the world of fabric design interesting.  I have tried spoon flower with lack luster results.  Although I thought it was great that I could get any design I wanted, I thought the cost was too high for everyday quilting and the fabric quality not up to par.  But the Hoffman and RJR digital prints I bought this year were fabulous and I definitely can see myself buying more.  

So what are your thoughts on digital fabrics?   Let me know  your opinions and experiences!


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Allison said...

Interesting blog. I didn't know about digital fabrics. Thank you.

Norma Schlager said...

Such an interesting post. I guess I never gave much thought as to how commercial fabric was printed. I have used Spoonflower successfully, but yes it is expensive.

Exuberantcolor/Wanda S Hanson said...

I have the same reaction that the photo quality of some of the digital prints doesn't work into my vast stash all that well. Also the quality seems to vary a little by manufacturer and some is so slippery it is like working with satin. I make a point of not buying any that is advertised as digital print online because it is sometimes even brighter than the picture online. I'm sad to see some favorite designers have gone digital.

About half of my stash is at least 15-20 years old and I still love the fabric. That makes it even harder to mix in some of the new lines.

Margaret said...

I've never sent a fabric design idea to Spoonflower or other service; never been interested, really. I use my photos as inspiration for my artwork, but I'm not a "panel" person -- as in, I don't want to quilt a pre-printed picture, even if it's one I took myself. I'd rather play with commercial fabrics. And I get older (69 in September this year) I am very invested in using up what I have. A fabric has to be a) exceptional; or b) needed for a commission before I will by it. I'm not actively going after new/more fabric unless there is a specific purpose for it. I do dye some of my own fabric, but not often, and in limited quantities.