I love getting letters and packages in the mail – even better when it's fabric printed with my own designs! Digital printing has changed the landscape for textile designers and it's easy and affordable to now have fabric custom printed with whatever design you'd like. Never before has printing on fabric been this accessible.
Prior to digital printing, the only way to see my designs on fabric was to screen print it myself, which is no small task, isn't exactly cheap and actually takes quite a bit of skill to achieve the desired results, especially with more than 1 or 2 colors. Alternatively, I could pay to have a company print it for me, which is totally unfeasible due to screen setup costs and the high yardage minimums. Or I could go work for a company that needed to print thousands of yards of each design that I created, which is what I've done (and still do). But thankfully there is now another option available to everyone with companies like Spoonflower.com.
In order to share my designs in my Spoonflower shop, I've ordered many a swatch to test the print and colors. Digital textile printing is different than traditional printing. And although I've worked as a textile designer for years, I've learned a few tips worth sharing about working in this "new and different" medium and with Spoonflower.
First off, please read all the information under the "CREATE" faq's on the Spoonflower.com website. This area gives you all the information on how to set-up your design, upload your design and have it printed by Spoonflower. All the technical requirements are spelled out right there. File formats, file size, color information – everything you need to know and more. Whew! After you've read that, you definitely need to order the Swatch Booklet for $1.00 to check out the range of fabrics you can have your lovely design printed on. Then, if you're really serious, order a Color Map ($17.50-$38.00, depending on which fabric you choose) to get a real sense of how colors will print on that fabric as well as some handy RGB hex values to use in creating your designs. And this is what you should know: your design will print differently on each and every type of fabric. So if you have a Color Map printed on, say Organic Cotton Sateen, but then you order your design printed on Cotton Voile, know that it will look very different. Probably not crazy-yellow-turns-dark-orange different, but different enough and maybe not in a good way. It all depends. Some colors will be more bright or dull, some will look the same, some will be more or less faded. The Linen-Cotton Canvas is a bright white base cloth and the colors appear much more vibrant on it than on the Basic Combed Cotton, which is a more natural white colored base cloth. I have yet to sample print anything on the Organic Cotton Interlock Knit (which has a lovely hand) but is an unbleached ivory color. I imagine the colors will look very different on this fabric from the other samples I've seen.
While the printing quality is nice and crisp, with clear fine lines and details, the colors tend to be more muted than expected. Saturated and mid-tone colors print the best. Rich, dark colors are difficult to achieve on any of the fabric choices at Spoonflower.com, and they do discuss this in their General Tips for Color in the faq section. Blacks are not dark and rich, but more muted and faded than traditional textile printing. Rich navy, deep brown or dark gray will not be nearly as rich or deep as dark as you'd think. It's something to be aware of when creating and coloring your print.
The upside is that you can order an 8" X 8" swatch of your design or any other designer's Spoonflower design before committing to more serious yardage. I highly recommend this option. The fabrics are very nice quality and the hand after printing is nice too. The Color Map is available as a download in ASE format for Illustrator, which is very useful. There are also some ICC profiles for each fabric that you can use for soft proofing. Just note that for these to be even remotely close to the printed output, you must have a well calibrated monitor. Nothing can replicate seeing the outcome on the actual fabric.
Spoonflower also offers Wallpaper and Decals and just recently added Wrapping Paper to their options of bases for printing. I just need to finish up a few more designs and then some Wallpaper and Wrapping Paper will be heading to my mailbox.