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How can cotton fabrics be printed?

Natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and artificial (non-synthetic) fabrics such as viscose can be colored in two ways:

- through staining

- through printing.

Dyeing gives the fabrics a uniform color, and printing is used to create patterns.

Printing of natural fabrics instead, it takes place in three ways:

1. rotary screen printing

2.offset printing

3. digital printing.

Rotary screen printing

takes place in large factories and is a bit like printing newspapers on large machines - you know such shots from classic films 😉 Screen printing is about applying paint to fabric through screens: a matrix with holes is prepared in the place where the paint is to be applied. A separate sieve must be prepared for each color.

Rotary screen printing is the most common and involves the largest amount of production, especially when it comes to typical cotton linen. Roll printing is the cheapest in production, but it is profitable only with an expenditure of 2-3 thousand. m.

Here you can see a film of the Polish Jultex factory, which shows how the rotary screens squeeze out the various colors of the paint:

Offset printing

it is more expensive per unit than roll printing, because it is possible to print smaller volumes (from 100 running meters). Offset printing involves applying paint using templates - steel dieswhich apply only 1 color at a time. Books are also printed similarly, for example, using 4 colors (CMYK - cyan, magenta, yellow and black). For example, to obtain a green color, blue (cyan) and yellow ink must be applied.

On the other hand, in the case of digital printing, the possibility of printing smaller volumes is the highest, but also high costs.

Types of digital printing

When it comes to fabrics of plant origin (cotton, linen, viscose), digital printing is divided into two main options:

1.reactive digital printing

2. pigment digital printing

Artificial fabrics such as polyester is printed with technique sublimation, but the arts are not my cup of tea, so I won't write about it here 🙂 But for printing materials of origin animal (wool, silk) printing is used acidic.

Digital print it is a bit like printing on a home printer: all colors are printed simultaneously. The printing machine has ink tanks of several colors (usually 8) that are applied at the same time on the material, as you can see in the video below from our printing house:

In the case of reactive printing chemical dyes are used that react with the fabric. It is a complicated process and requires a lot of preparation: fabrics must be subjected to thermal and water treatment, which generates a lot of water and electricity consumption. In addition, preparing fabrics for printing requires soaking in an aqueous solution with many chemicals (chlorine, salt, even heavy metals, substances acidifying the environment). Water and electricity consumption as well as the presence of chemicals make printing reactive less ecological than pigment printing. It also makes it uneconomical to print less than 25 meters.

However, when it comes to pigment printing, it is a technology that enables the smallest minimum production (from half a meter!). For this reason, it is also the most expensive in individual terms. In pigment printing, water dyes are used, which are much more environment friendlythan with reactive printing. There is no need for multi-stage preparation of fabrics for printing. All that is needed is to heat the printed material in order to fix the colors.

Read more about digital pigment printing.

As minimal quantities can be printed, pigment printing is the closest to the philosophy #zerowaste, i.e. avoiding overproduction. In pigment printing it is not necessary to produce thousands, hundreds or even 25 meters - you can only produce exactly as much as you need. There is no wasted inventory. Moreover, it is the most ecological production in terms of the consumption of water, electricity and the use of chemicals.

For these reasons, of course, in the store House of Cotton you will find the materials pigment printed : )

looped sweatshirt flowers
impressionist cotton


Screen and offset printing are cheap but have three serious drawbacks:

  • They require tremendous amounts of production, which is not only the case a production barrier for small businesses, but also leads to overproduction and material retention.
  • Because each color is applied separately, there is a risk of "Throws" when the colors do not overlap perfectly.
  • The fact of using screens and matrices - that is, in fact such huge stamps - limits the technical possibilities of printing and it is not possible to obtain such gradation colors and shadesas with digital printing

Pigment digital printing, on the other hand, offers an ecological product that allows you to print many patterns in small quantities. The perfect solution when you do not want to limit yourself to a few patterns, and be able to print unique collections that you will not find anywhere else!