Fabrics are often printed with color and patterns using a variety of techniques and machine types. Of the numerous printing techniques, the most common is rotary screen. However, other methods, such as direct, discharge, resist, flat screen (semicontinuous), and roller printing are often used commercially.
Pigments are used for about 75 to 85 percent of all printing operations, do not require washing steps, and generate little waste (Snowden-Swan, 1995). Compared to dyes, pigments are typically insoluble and have no affinity for the fibers. Resin binders are typically used to attach pigments to substrates. Solvents are used as vehicles for transporting the pigment and resin mixture to the substrate. The solvents then evaporate, leaving a hard opaque coating.
Rotary screen printing. Rotary screen printing uses seamless cylindrical screens made of metal foil. The machine uses a rotary screen for each color. As the fabric is fed under uniform tension into the printer section of the machine, its back is usually coated with an adhesive that causes it to adhere to a conveyor printing blanket. Some machines use other methods for gripping the fabric. The fabric passes under the rotating screen through which the printing paste is automatically pumped from pressure tanks. A squeegee in each rotary screen forces the paste through the screen onto the fabric as it moves along (Corbman, 1975). The fabric then passes to a drying oven.
Direct printing. In direct printing, a large cylindrical roller picks up the fabric, and smaller rollers containing the color are brought into contact with the cloth. The smaller rollers are etched with the design, and the number of rollers reflects the number of colors. Each smaller roller is supplied with color by a furnisher roller, which rotates in the color trough, picks up color, and deposits it on the applicator roller. Doctor blades scrape excess color off the applicator roller so that only the engraved portions carry the color to the cloth. The cloth is backed with a rubberized blanket during printing, which provides a solid surface to print against, and a layer of gray cloth is used between the cloth and the
rubber blanket to absorb excess ink.
Discharge printing. Discharge printing is performed on piece-dyed fabrics. The patterns are created through removal, rather than addition, of color; hence, most discharge printing is done on dark backgrounds. The dyed fabric is printed using discharge pastes, which remove background color from the substrate when exposed to steam. Colors may be added to the discharge paste to create different colored discharge areas (EPA, 1996).
Resist printing. Resist printing encompasses several hand and low-volume methods in which the pattern is applied by preventing color from penetrating certain areas during piece-dyeing. Examples of resist printing methods include batik, tie-dyeing, screen printing and stencil printing.
Ink-Jet printing. Ink-jet printing is a noncontact printing method in which droplets of colorant solution are propelled toward a substrate and directed to a desired spot. Ink jet is an emerging technology in the textile industry and has not yet been adopted for widespread commercial use. The dye types most amenable to ink-jet printing of textiles are fiber reactive, vat, sulfur and naphthol dyes.
Heat-transfer printing. In heat-transfer printing, the pattern is first printed onto a special paper substrate. The paper is then positioned against the fabric and subjected to heat and pressure. The dyes are transferred to the fabric via sublimation.