Let's start by saying, reactive printing gives truly amazing prints on natural fabrics. Not only can we achieve a huge spectrum of colors with reactive inks from deep rich blacks to pinks and yellows that seemingly jump off the fabric, the prints are highly permanent and can be washed over and over without fading. Like any process, there's characteristics specific to our processes to know about so your expectations of the final product are in line with what we offer! Read through this post to understand our reactive process and what to expect when you order natural printed fabrics with us.
Before we get into the details of what to expect from the print results, we'll break down the reactive process for you!
Pretreating- Pretreating the fabrics is a very important part of the reactive process. It is the process of coating fabrics in a mild chemical mixture that opens the fiber cells to receive the reactive dyes. The fabric goes through a bath and then excess pretreatment is removed with a vacuum. The fabric is dried and rerolled and is then ready for printing.
Printing- Enter Suzy! Our top of the line wide format digital printer! She's amazing. With a total of 36 print heads and 5 vibrant ink colors, Suzy is the real deal in digital printing. She's from the Netherlands and has settled down well in our Montreal studio. The precision and detail we can achieve with our prints is impressive. Even small text prints clearly. I could go on and on about the mind blowing technology that goes into her printheads, but we'll save that for another blog!
Steaming- Steaming is the part of the reactive process that allows for the pretreatment and dyes to combine together. The fabrics pass through a steam chamber set to a consistent 103 degrees for 15-20mins. During this time, the heat and moisture allows the ink and pretreat to react together and set the inks in the fibers. Steaming basically means the fabric gets the full spa treatment and comes out beautiful and vibrant on the other end!
Washing- Now that the dyes are set, the fabric is washed in 3 baths going from hot to cold to remove the pretreat and excess ink. We also add a softner to restore any loss of feel during the processing. Once we dry the fabric, the full production line is complete. We now have vibrant permanent prints ready to ship to you and turn into the projects you have dreamed up!
The Grain, Skewing, and Shrinking on Reactive Fabrics
Limitations: Reactive printed fabrics are under high tension during the full pretreat print, steaming, and washing processes. This means that the grain of the fabric will change. Due to the many steps the fabrics pass though, we cannot guarantee that fabrics will print on grain. Natural fabrics shrink during printing and finishing due to the high heats. The wide format fabrics are more prone to skewing because of their width.
Centering of the Print on the Fabric and 1" from the Selvedge
Limitations: Our printer has an extensive infeed that feeds the fabric on to the printing belt. However, fabric rolls are not always perfectly rolled, so the fabric can shift around on the printing belt sometimes. We allow for a 1" margin on either selvedge (edge) of the fabric width to account for this shifting. Any flaws or imperfections within the 1" edge of the fabric are allowed.
Variations on the Base Color of Fabrics
We process a large amount of fabric per day. When you place an order, we may not be using the same lot of fabric as your previous order. It is normal that variations in the base color of the fabric will occur. Also, during our wash process, the fabric will absorb a trace amount of ink from the water causing small variations in the base color. If you artwork has a large amount of white in it, these base color variations will be more noticeable than on full color artwork. If you would like your fabric to be as consistent as possible in the base color, it is better to order more at once instead of less over multiple orders. There is a chance of variation between orders.
Print Color results on Orders and Re-orders
Just like we noted above where the base color of fabrics between orders may vary, there may also be variations in color outcomes on reorders. Though we have carefully calibrated out profiles, some factors that are hard to control like ambient conditions can effect color outcomes slightly. We cannot promise that your colors will print exactly the same between orders. If you need a large amount of fabric and consistency is important, it is better to order more in 1 order instead of less in multiple orders.
Printing Solid Colors
While it's possible to print solid colors with digital printing, it's not ideal to print large areas of solid colors with our system. Solid colors are better to dye than to print. Even though we use a reactive process which penetrates the fiber cells, there's a limit to how far the ink will go through the fabric. Also, there may be some unevenness on the color when printing large solid colors since the printer prints in strips. As you'll see below, some natural fabrics have fuzzy surfaces and small fibers or lint may come off during the washing. When this happens you'll see blank dots where the fiber washed off the surface and a small break in the print. Solid prints show surface fuzz breaks more than full color prints.
Fabrics with Fluffy/Fuzzy Surfaces
Some fabrics have surfaces that are fuzzier than others. This is most common on cotton based fabrics since cotton fibers are usually shorter than other fibers. Out of our fabrics, the 2 with the most surface fuzz are the cotton/linen canvas and the organic cotton/hemp. Since we wash our fabrics after printing, the washing process can remove the larger surface fibers resulting in a spot where the ink no longer appears. This tends to look like small white dots that break the print and is especially noticeable on solid areas. Since surface fuzz is a characteristic of the fabric that we cannot control, it is not considered a flaw to see these print breaks on our fuzzier fabric. We suggest printing images on the cotton/linen and the cotton/hemp that do not have large solid areas.
Washing Reactive Fabrics
Reactive printed fabrics are permanent. However, they are sensitive to washing, especially the first couple times after printing. We include washing instructions in our shipments. They are:
How to wash reactive fabrics: Wash fabrics separately from other items on a regular wash cycle using warm water. You must use a full water cycle (not reduced) as any excess ink that washes off must be diluted so as not to transfer back onto the fabric. Add 1 cup of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to the washer. Transfer fabrics immediately to the dryer. Do not allow to sit wet in the washing machine. If fabrics do sit, you may see bluish stains where ink heavy services transfer to lighter areas. If this happens, wash again using the same full water settings and detergent.
After the first couple of washes any excess dye has been removed and further transfering should not happen.
In conclusion, reactive printed fabric looks and feels wonderful but there are some limitations to be aware. Please keep in mind that we are a print-on-demand company and while 95% of submitted files work on our systems, there are 5% that are not ideal and perhaps better suited to another type of process.
Things to keep in mind for ordering:
-Fabrics are not always printed at 90 degrees from the selvage (fabric edges) perfectly across the fabric therefore it is not recommended to print the sewing template directly on the fabric.
-Be aware that geometric prints like plaids may not be on grain.
-Large solid areas of color are not ideal for digital printing especially on fabrics with fuzzier surfaces like cotton/linen and cotton hemp.
-There may be variations in the base color and print colors on reorders.
-Flaws within 1" of the selvedge are allowed ( we remove 1" from each fabric when we calculate the printable width)
-Reactive fabrics must be washed carefully the first couple of washes after you receive them.