• Hannah

Textile Printing Methods and Dye Types Explained

The Printd. Collective is made up of a group of printed textile designers and fashion designers. After completing our degrees, its left us with first hand experience in printing with traditional and non-traditional methods. This has led us to make informed choices about the print methods which we use, and really question their environmental impact. In this blog post we will explain the print methods we use and some of the most common found in the industry.

Sublimation Transfer Printing

Sublimation printing was a very popular choice at our university due to its low cost, and instant results. Here designs are printed onto specialist papers which are then applied to the fabric using a heat press. Papers can be recycled afterwards or upcycled and used for other projects. For this process there is virtually no waste as designs are cured during the heat transfer process, so no wash off process is required . This technique uses disperse dyes. This method can also be done by hand by painting the dyes onto papers rather than printing them. Unfortunately this method can only be used on synthetic fabrics such as polyester.

Digital Print

Similarly to sublimation, digital print can create photograph quality designs. This is the most common method we use as a collective when creating our products due to its high quality results and environmental benefits. This method creates designs using an inkjet printer to print dyes directly onto the surface of pre-treated fabrics . The fabric is then steamed to fix the dye and then washed. Reactive dyes are used in digital inkjet printers to create designs on natural fabrics and some forms of polyesters . Water consumption is a big problem for the textile industry. Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, Inc stated that “in 2017 alone, the fashion industry consumed 79 billion cubic meters of fresh water ” Digital print is much more conservative compared to traditional methods. FESPA tells us that “digital textile printing saved over 40 billion liters of water worldwide in 2018.” Digital print also uses less dye – around 10% of the amount needed for screen printing.

Screen Printing

Screen Printing is one of the most common traditional print methods currently used in fabric A stencil is applied to a mesh screen using acetate and emulsion. Fabric is placed under the screen, the dye is applied to the screen and then pushed through the screen using a tool called a squeegee. The dye falls through the gaps in the stencil creating a design. Each screen can only be used for one color at a time, making it a very labor-intensive process . The screen must be washed after being used producing wastewater. A variety of different dyes can be used with this method – some fabrics requiring a wash off and fixing process, however traditional printing using pigment inks only needs to be fixed using a heat press or iron. The main disadvantage of screen printing is the waste produced. Here there is water waste created during screen washing, waste ink, waste acetates used when applying stencils and misprints are easily produced as everything is printed by hand . Plastisol ink is the industry standard of screen printing pigment ink, it is made of PVC and PVC resin which contain nasty chemicals but also when it is produced it creates polychlorinated biphenyl and dioxin. These are both highly toxic according to the World Health Organization . Water based inks are now increasing in popularity, as these contain no toxic chemicals and are composed of natural substances. Due to this, no specialist chemicals are required to treat wastewater and harmful chemicals are kept out of the water supply.


Dyes used in GOTS certified materials must be vetted to ensure that they do not contain any harmful chemicals. There are also social responsibilities associated with this certification so when purchasing you know that workers are being paid fairly and working in safe conditions .

Vegetable Dyes

Vegetable dyes can be used for dyebaths where materials are submerged in dyes for long periods of time or also in certain types of digital printers (Direct to Garment Printers). Vegetable dyes can also be created using food waste, saving it from landfill . The dyes contain no nasty chemicals and are certified as a vegan ink from certain manufacturers. This process is also safer for workers as well as the environment .

Thanks for reading our breakdown on of print methods and dyes, this post contains some of the many methods used in the industry. What would you like to see us write about next? Let us know in the comments below!














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