By Francisco De Brito
As more textiles are being used for soft signage, one question that arises from the print technology is, “How can you color manage textiles?” It is done the same as other types of media. However, certain criteria have to be met in order to obtain the best print quality.
Inks have to disperse onto the fabric by means of heat, known as dye sublimation. Printing onto the fabric occurs by the use of dye transfer paper or by printing directly onto the fabric. In both methods, ink saturation and image clarity are essential.
Color profiling the fabric requires a quality spectrophotometer/colorimeter with a wide aperture, a good heat press (calendar oil-filled is preferable), color managing software and good fabric or transfer paper. Ensure that your printer is working correctly and that a proper print-head gap is set, which is necessary in order to maintain sharp printed images. The Mimaki JV5 series printers have an automatic head gap check. If your printer does not have this feature, take caution if the head gap is too close to the media, especially the transfer paper, because it can buckle and cause a head crash.
One of the first steps of color profiling is to set the ink limit to the specific fabric. Don’t cut back too much on the inks or the colors will look flat. Adding too much ink can cause color to bleed and a loss of detail. Finding the happy medium is the key to obtaining good color and definition.
The Mimaki TX 400 and JV5-320 printers have a special take-up and feed mechanism that help media remain flat on the print plateau. When printing directly onto the fabric, sometimes the fabric gets saturated and transfers the inks on the take-up rollers. If this occurs, it is recommended to use a post heater to set the inks. Ensure that the heat press has the correct heat temperature and transfer speed. This information can be obtained from the heat press manufacturer.
The correct transfer speed and heat are important parts of the process, as the inks have to disperse (gas) onto the fabric. If the heat is too low, very little ink will gas out, but if the heat is too high, the fabric will change color. The same is true about the transfer (dwell) time.
Once the printer and heat press are set correctly, then common steps of profile creation are performed.