Fabric printing isn’t a new process; it has in fact been around for centuries! Of course the techniques have changed rather a lot over the years, but textile printing is an ancient art that can be seen in fabrics dating as far back as the 4th and 5th Centuries B.C.
The earliest type of printing on fabric is block printing, also sometimes referred to as relief printing. This is the process of dye being pressed onto a fabric from a carved material; historically wood, copper but also rubber and now many other materials.
The pattern that the printer wants on the fabric is the pattern which is carved into the material, so often these patterns are not overly detailed because this won’t necessarily show up on the fabric. As the dye sits on the surface of the fabric when block printing is used, there is often a texture to this style of textile printing.
Then in the 18th Century the technique of roller or cylinder printing came about, this is the process by which the fabric is carried along a rotating central cylinder and pressed by a series of rollers, each of which is engraved with the design. Each roller is fed a different colour through feed rollers, and some roller printing machines were even able to print 6 colours at once, making them much faster than the block printing process.
In the early 20th Century the modern process of screen printing arrived, although it is thought that screen printing dates back much further than this. This process involves the use of a stencil of an image on a screen of porous mesh (this was traditionally made of silk), a roller is used to pull ink over the stencil which is in turn forced through the mesh and onto the fabric; for each separate colour a different stencil is used.
In the mid 20th Century rotary multicoloured screen printing allowed for large-scale screen prints and at a faster rate, making it more economical.
We now have digital textile printing, this uses computer controlled lasers and high-pressure jets to inject ink directly into the fabric. This allows for very detailed at a fast pace, however it is an expensive process.
It is clear to see that textile printing has come a long way over the years and even the oldest methods are still used in fabric printing today.