What Did It Take to Print on Velvet Garments for Epson Digital Couture?
A few weeks ago, at the Epson Digital Couture event during New York Fashion Week, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Designer Candice Cuoco had integrated velvet into her design and with the use of Epson technology, she was able to print an intricate image onto the velvet. The image was so detailed, it seemed impossible to me that it could have been printed on a material with that level of texture.
However, printing on velvet may not be as unusual as I imagined. To understand how this design was achieved, we reached out to Steven Moreno, co-founder of MY Prints LA, the company that worked directly with Cuoco. Moreno explains some of the other velvet projects he and his company have worked on, as well as how he made Cuoco's vision come to life.
Moreno: Today’s textile market offers a wide variety of velvets that come with sheen, matte and/or backed properties and can differ in weight, stretch and nap length. Nap length refers to the direction in which the fabric loop lays flattest or smoothest and can greatly affect the detail of the print quality. If used correctly, the nap length can aid an image by adding texture or by changing the appearance when viewed or displayed from different angles. When using a short-to-medium length nap, you have the option to print against the nap, which can change the feel of the print. When combining this technique with the use of a velvet fabric with a sheen, you can create an almost iridescent appearance/texture to the print.
Advancements in textile technology have made polyester a very sought-after base-quality fabric for printing. This is mainly because polyester is being produced softer, stronger, faster and cost-effectively when compared to natural base fabrics. It can also be woven or knitted with various attributes or properties such as: wicking; UV-protective coatings; flame retardants; and/or stain and water repellents.
In the last 13 years I have printed on velvet qualities that have had multiple applications and uses, including dresses, jackets, track suits, blankets, pillows, rug covers, chair covers, capes, hats, gloves, scarves, neck warmers, robes, table covers, curtains, banners, sofas and even wallpapers for a set designer.
My first experience printing on velvet was more than 12 years ago but still very memorable. It was a “Magic Carpet” project for one of Disneyland’s park parades. The velvet fabric being used for this particular job presented a major shrinkage issue. Once we calculated how much the fabric condensed through the heat-transferring process and how much it stretched while it fed the machine, we had to manipulate the output file to compensate. After a couple of practice runs, we managed to achieve a consistent size as each “magic carpet” had to be produced individually.
When Candice and I first met to discuss printing her designs for Digital Couture, she asked my thoughts regarding printing and working with velvet. My response dealt less with the printing and more so with the cutting and sewing aspect of the fabric. Now with my experience in working with velvet, I find it to be more difficult to cut and sew than to print on, or sublimate.
I ran a few samples of Candice’s designs to test if the scale of her print would work well with the fabric as it had a medium-length nap. We also tested options for nap direction trying to determine whether rotating the nap would aid in the design visually or distract from the print altogether. As mentioned earlier, certain lighting can reflect off the nap and the sheen of the fabric, affecting the overall color. In Candice’s case, we had to pay extra attention to this factor as she requested the ground color to look as rich and deep of a black as possible. This meant we had to customize an ink mixture to work with the overall hue and shade of the final garment design. This also meant we had to adjust the timing and speed of the heating-transferring process to ensure a clean and evened-quality print.
Creating such a rich print on a velvet fabric can only be achieved with expertise, precision and attention to detail. After all, that is exactly what we pride ourselves on here at MY Prints. Even though we are just a small print shop with few employees, we specialize in the art of digital fabric printing. Our attention to detail and quality is how we bring fabric to life.