Creative industries and educational sectors are often early adopters of new technology. While digitally printed textiles are typically used for soft signage, students at The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) experiment with digital print to produce the next wave in innovative design.
FIDM is a two year private college headquartered in Los Angeles, CA with additional locations in Orange County, San Diego, and San Francisco. Over the last 35 years FIDM graduated more than 35,000 students, including two time Emmy winning designer Wendy Benbrook; notable designers Randolph Duke and Monique Lhuillier; and Project Runway winner Leanne Marshall.
FIDM’s Chairing Styles 2009 student exhibition utilized digital printing to produce creative textiles and coordinating applications. Textile students created one-of-a-kind fabric designs, which fashion and interior design students used to orchestrate garments and chairs. In its ninth year, Chairing Styles debuts at FIDM’s annual fundraiser event every February.
FIDM students participating in the exhibitions are graded on sketching, drafting, and completing their projects. They also compete for nine scholarships, valued at up to $9,000 and generously furnished by Cotton Incorporated. The primary sponsor of Chairing Styles is Cotton Inc., with additional support from ten chair manufacturers, printers from Mimaki USA, Inc., and fabrics from Pacific Coast Fabrics, Inc.
“Each year we try to give the show something distinctive. We work from a trend report provided by Cotton Inc. One of the big trends of 2009 was B&W graphics with bright colors. We thought it would be dramatic and make a great show,” says Anne Bennion, textile design department chair, FIDM.
“I am honored that Chairing Styles started with Cotton Inc.’s help,” shares Yanira Bugarin, alumni, FIDM and VP, business development, Nano-Tex. “I am even more excited that we were able to bring the three disciplines of the school under one unique and well recognized program in our community.”
Textiles touch many industries—from fashion to furniture, wall coverings, window dressings, artwork, and more. Traditionally textiles used in these applications go through a screenprinting process. Large format digital printing provides color flexibility, on demand turnaround, and short runs.
“Designing for digital is much easier than designing for traditional printing, because when you design for traditional textile there are many restrictions to consider—the cost and size of each screen for starters,” explains Bennion. Although this year Chairing Styles had a limited color palette Bennion notes, “one of the wonderful things about digital printing is you can have as many colors as you want and it isn’t going to change the cost of the product. Printing black on white costs essentially the same as printing something with 500 colors.”
The method and means of digitally printing textiles varies based on fabric type. Each fabric requires different inks or dyes—active, reactive, and disperse—and each ink contains special characteristics.
Polyester is synthetic and requires a disperse dye with dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing. Dye-sub can only be used to print on polyester fabric, not on natural fabrics. This style of printing is achieved through direct printing and paper transfer. The only post-processing required is heat application. Heat turns the ink into a gas state, which fixes the dye and completes the process.
“Polyester is good for signage, but it isn’t suitable for home furnishings and apparel applications. Instead fabrics such as nylon, spandex, wool, cotton, and silk are commonly used,” notes Patti Williams, analyst, I.T. Strategies. Natural fabrics require specific digital print dyes. Cotton, for example, is a fiber product, so it requires a fiber reactive dye. Wool, on the other hand, requires an acid dye.
After printing, natural fabric must be washed to remove pre-treat chemicals and residual ink. “Washing, steaming, and drying creates a real limitation to natural fibers in the wide format graphics market. The requirement for a variety of inks and extreme post-processing limits the printing of natural fibers in print for pay,” explains Williams.
Textiles for Chairing Styles were printed onto directly using a Mimaki TX2-1600 printer at Mimaki’s Westlake Village, CA site. The TX2-1600 uses piezoelectric drop on demand technology at 720x720 dpi. It can print up to 64 inches wide and seven millimeters thick using reactive or acid dye. Reactive dye was used for this project because cotton was the main textile.
FIDM students were able to visit Mimaki to see their work in production. “We gave them a rundown of what all of the machines are doing here,” notes Joseph Terramagra, sales and marketing representative, Mimaki.
All of the students used the same type of fabric from Pacific Coast Fabrics for the competition. “The product is French Twill, a twill weave,” says Michael Sanders, VP, Pacific Coast Fabrics. “We had to find a fabric that would work for both an apparel and upholstery situation.”
Beyond cost savings on short runs, digital printing offers other benefits to apparel and interior designers. Speed is an advantage, especially for small runs and samples. The digital process changes production time from 60 days to as little as 24 hours in some cases.
Digital technology allows for smaller quantities and eliminates over guessing when it comes to print orders, thus less unnecessary overage. Lack of ink and fabric waste creates an environmentally friendly production.
Bennion says there are some places that run up to 300 yards of a fabric at a time with digital print. “A lot of fabric converters use digital printing for sampling, it’s a way to cut down the initial cost. When a design goes into production they screenprint. Price doesn’t compete once you go past 300 yards.”
Today 70 percent of digitally printed fabric is dye-sub for applications such as signage, banners, and flags, shares Williams. Meanwhile, the bulk of textile screenprinting and apparel manufacturing is done in China because of the cheaper print runs and labor. She foresees a growth in digitally printed fabrics in the coming years and a resurgence of textile printing in the U.S.
A few innovative manufacturers are testing unique inks that could have profound implications. “Keep an eye out for entries that require little or no pre- or post-processing and can be used on all types of fabric. This could open the market up to many people,” states Williams.
Terramagra predicts digital printing will have more of a role in the fashion and interior design industries in the coming years. “Digital is becoming part of the forefront of both fashion and interior design. Each year, more people get involved,” explains Terramagra.
FIDM students’ imaginations were certainly not limited during the course of the most recent Chairing Styles project. “New minds, especially like the crew at FIDM—which is comprised of motivated students using cutting edge technology—see a digital printer and take it to new heights,” says Sanders.
Textile designer and FIDM graduate Heena Jaliawala was the first place winner for textile design in 2008 Chairing Styles. Jaliawala says the project is a good opportunity for students to be introduced to digital printing. “It was rewarding to see our creation come to life,” she says.
“Groups of designers are teaching people about the potential of digital. This is our future. It’s really exciting, and we’re just at the beginning of the apparel and furnishings segment of digital textile printing,” concludes Williams.
Digitally printing textiles opens up a world of possibilities with added flexibility. The FIDM Chairing Styles exhibit illustrates how digitally printed textiles can translate to fashion and furniture.