One of the things that really sold me on digital printing from its beginnings was the instantaneous gratification. Which is what I’m really into, in many ways. Being able to work so quickly and with an unlimited colour palette was a way of having a huge point of difference in the tiny, high-end market in Australia.
Digital printing has the potential to use millions of colours, as opposed to the limited colours available when say, silk-screening. It just looks really different to any other kind of printing. When I started my label, the customer hadn’t seen those kinds of visual properties on clothing before, and I was able to capitalise on that.
My first T shirt range was printed on a Xerox plotter, the first of the dye sublimated digital printers. It was ridiculously expensive at the time, but my entire range sold out. So, somewhat reluctantly, I went back to see if I could do some more printing, and found that the technology had already moved on, to an e-stat (electrostatic) process.
This made the printing less expensive, so I was able to move from just doing T shirts into designing a co-ordinates range. Overtime, I used other types of printers, but so far we were all using polyester and dye-sublimation. Then suddenly, we had direct-to-textile machines that could print onto natural fibres, like cotton and silk, all at a much more reasonable price.
Now the printers are faster and better; there are fewer head strikes (where the printer head collides with the surface, leaving a smear or smudge) and fewer inconsistencies. The technology is pretty set – now it’s all about the properties of the inks on the fabrics; the chemistry of the inks– that’s where all the leaps and bounds are going to happen in the future.
This year, The Hub has commissioned a pigment printer. This means we will be able to print onto any natural fibre, not just limited natural fibres. It also needs much less pre- and post-processing of the fabrics. (The more processes there are, the more potential there is for problems to occur.) The next step will be to limit those processes when it comes to acid or reactive inks, which dye the fibre rather than having the pigment sit on top of the fabric.
In business now for 13 years, I have continuously designed using digital printing. And after enduring the last three years with a contracting local market, I’m proud to say that I’m still here! I think that is partly about staying up to date with the technology as it has changed, and being able to use those advances to my advantage.
Tiffany is part of the Digital Print Cluster Host and more information on her work can be found here.