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Introduction to Custom Printing

No matter if it is books, mugs, pencils and pens, clothes or fabric, custom printing has come a long way since its first usage. History states that the technique of duplicating images or messages appeared as early as the year 3,000 BC and was discovered by the Mesopotamian civilization. In China, India or Egypt, cloth printing is said to have preceded papyrus or paper printing. Evolving from block printing, stencils and movable type, today’s custom printing technologies are mainly digitalized.

Though a lot of craftsmen still make usage of old printing methods – utilizing rudimentary tools and ink or paint – to produce small-scale authentic items and fabrics, since their value is given by their handmade specifications solely, digital printing is the technique with the widest applications in this domain.

Digital custom printing reproduces the digital image onto a surface, which can be paper, cardboard, photographic paper, film, plastic, magnet, porcelain, label or fabric. Digital printing may come in various forms, from flexography, lithography, letterpress printing or gravure, depending on the effect desired to be obtained.

The main advantage of digital printing is that every impression can be modified facilely, unlike in the case of using traditional methods, such as printing plates. Moreover, the toner and the ink are not absorbed into the materials’ substrates like conventional ink is, because they create a surface screen. This layer can be, however, merged with the substrate with the help of fuser fluid and UV curing or heat processing.

Another factor which favoured the rapid development and the extensive usage of digital custom printing is the lower quantity of waste resulted from the process, as far as chemicals and paper or fabric are concerned. This is because the technique allows the designer to perfectly make-ready the surface to be printed.

Nowadays digital printing method is very rapid, accessible and cost-effective, which is why it has become a first choice for big-scale companies printing for commercial purposes. However, there is an exception to this, as a lot of the patterned fabric is still rotary screen printed.

The creation of the design to be digitally printed is a computerized process, using software like Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. If photographs or artworks need to be printed, they are easily scanned and manipulated on the computer in order to be converted to an appropriate pattern.

Digital custom printing uses an inkjet printing procedure. The technique was first utilized in 1968 and, by the ’90, inkjet printers became a must have when it came to paper printing. Nowadays, these inkjet printers are custom built to adapt to wide-formats and various substrates, from fabric and paper to vinyl, plastic or canvas.

The inks required in custom printing have special formulas for each type of material. Thousands of minuscule droplets of ink are applied to a surface during the printing process. Once it is finished, the ink must be heat-fixed, so that the printed pattern does not wear off or wash off. In the case of printed fabric, some inks may require the pattern to be washed and dried.

Specialists point out that custom printing using the digital process may not render the same colours you see on your computer screen. Deep and rich colours are difficult to reproduce and large coloured areas might come out in different tones. But this also depends on the type of printer you have at your disposal and on how good you are at setting up the design.

Plus, the texture and colour of the material you need to print may also have an effect on the outcome. For example, ceramic materials, photographic paper and shiny fabrics reflect light and that may determine the print to look lighter.

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