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Textile designers rethink digital printing

Graphics | May 1, 2008 | By:

From trompe l’oeil to edgy to personalized, digitally printed fabric is beginning to catch the imagination of more textile designers—even those who previously viewed the method as inferior.

“Ugh, the computer does it, it’s digital.” That’s the reaction that Raylene Marasco, ower of Dye-Namix, New York, N.Y., came to expect from clients and designers. But that’s all going to change, according to many in the industry, because technology and graphic design training are finding each other.

Hitoshi Ujiie, director of the Center for Excellence of Digital Inkjet Printing of Textiles at Philadelphia University, says the center is developing a multi-disciplinary approach to encourage students in textile, fashion, and graphic arts to see how their Web- and paper-based skills can be transferred to cloth.

“What I see in the future is a neo-cottage industry for designers. They can be a designer, they can be a manufacturer, and they can be a retailer,” Ujiie says.

But what is the appeal for producers now? For one, the ability of digital to do short runs at low cost allows artists to take risks that they otherwise might not. Paul Simmons, a principal of Timorous Beasties, Glasgow, Scotland, has experimented with design ideas that may raise some eyebrows, such as a fierce iguana entangled in plant life, or illustrations of heroin users.

“We don’t deliberately produce things that won’t sell, but [with digital printing] you can produce quite a wild fabric for the hell of it,” he says.

Jessica Smith, who owns a one-woman textile business in Savannah, Ga., was motivated to use digital to keep a sense of the handmade in her designs. Still other designers have zoomed in on fabric imprinted with photographs of other fabrics: cotton becomes silk, or wood, or felt.Claire Lui, Print magazine associate editor, points out that in theseultra-custom mileaus, design and printing become more like art than common manufacturing.

“It creates a value and rarity not available with large runs,” Lui says.

But markets are certainly not just relegated to niches seeking the unusual. Jerry Bruce is the general manager of Carlisle Finishing, Carlisle, S.C., which prints fabric for military and health-care apparel. Digital services now comprise only two percent of his business; nevertheless, he has made a significant investment in research, equipment, and training to make the transition, because, Bruce says, “digital printing is the future.”

Janet Preus is the editor of Fabric Graphics. Parts of this article are from “People of the Cloth” by Claire Lui, printed in the April 2008 issue of Print magazine ( Used by permission.

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