Popular Fabric Printing Types Explained

3 types of custom fabric printing

Posted on 18, June, 2015

Last Modified on 04, May, 2023

There are many options out there for custom fabric printing. To choose the process best for you, learn about these 3 popular kinds of printing methods - silk screening, digital printing, and dye sublimated printing. These processes work great with most cloth materials, but in this article we'll discuss the options as they pertain to flag printing.

Silk Screening

Printing Silk Screen Flags

With this method, flags are printed using large-format automated silk screen printing machines. These printing machines allow manufacturers to produce each item accurately and quickly, but due to the lengthy setup process they generally require a minimum order of 10 flags. Silkscreening is a good choice for simple vector graphics made up of mostly shapes and/or few colors required.

Next, the flags are heat treated. This is done not only to make the printed images look better but also to fix the inks against harsh weather, making them last longer. The inks permeate through the fabric, creating almost 100% coverage on the reverse side.

Lastly, flags are trimmed and hemmed before a reinforcing strip is applied to the top and one side of the unit. The grommets are then inserted and the finished item is packed up for shipment. Your silk screened flag is ready to go!

Digital Printing

With this type of fabric printing, your custom artwork is printed digitally on a large format inkjet printer. A big advantage to choosing a digitally printed flag is there are generally no minimum order requirements (unlike the silkscreen process). Whether you want 1 or 21 flags, you have the freedom to choose digitally printed flags any quantity. Digital printing methods can print photographs and fine details too, providing more options when selecting your flag. However, a digitally printed flag does not offer the same ink penetration as does silk-screening, so your flag will look noticeably lighter on the reverse side. This can be fixed by purchasing a double-sided flag if necessary: Two digitally printed flags are sewn back to back, providing the same density of color.

After printing, flags then go through a series of baths from cold to hot water and are dried.

Finally, the flags are trimmed and hemmed before a reinforcing strip is applied to the top and one side of the cloth. Grommets are then inserted and the flags are packed up for shipment!

Dye Sublimation Printing

dye-sublimation printed flags

Flags printed with the dye sublimation process combine the best of both worlds. You get the richness in color from silkscreening with the photographic abilities of digital printing. How does dye sublimination work? Your artwork is initially printed onto transfer paper with the reverse image of your final graphic. Then, the image is transferred with a heat press onto polyester fabric at temperatures hitting 375° F. While the fabric is heated under this high temperature and pressure, the dyes turn into gases which permeate and solidify into the flag's fibers. The design is now permanently fixed so it can be washed without risk of damaging the image's quality.

There are generally no minimum ordering requirements for dye sublimated flags. Since this printing process dyes through the fabric, the opposite side will display about 15% lighter and in reverse. A double-sided dye subliminated display requires two panels sewn together and separated by a pocket or opaque liner to avoid the other side showing through.

Material Matters

One of the most important reasons for purchasing a banner flag is the advertising "effect" that wind motion has on the flag. A subtle "wave motion" blowing through your banner flag is both aesthetically appealing and attracts attention. For this reason, many flags are printed on knitted polyester designed specifically for that use.

  • This banner fabric has a nice "wave motion" in the wind
  • Knitted polyester is designed to last longer than nylon flags
  • Wrinkles are not noticeable at normal viewing distances. Creases from folding can be ironed out if desired

Beware of flags printed on vinyl or other heavy weight materials! We love digitally printed vinyl for banner stands, it is a very good material for this purpose, but it was not designed for flags.

  • Vinyl is a heavy material (even 10oz vinyl)
  • It does not wave well in the wind
  • The weight of the vinyl flag causes the support arm to sag
  • Creases and wrinkles are more noticeable even at normal viewing distances and cannot be easily removed
  • Vinyl for printing is white on the back and does not allow for any through print. An image must be applied to the backside of the flag.

If you need more help determining which type of custom fabric printing is best for your advertising needs, just ask our team! We're always happy to answer any questions, and we can even help you create your flag design. Check out our Design Services for more information.

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