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End-of-Life: Where Does Clothing go at its Last Stage?

By: Anna Dang and Tiffany Quach

The fashion industry is constantly changing and as you know it, is expanding virtually with new textile printing technologies. This is highly beneficial to businesses and consumers; by converting into digital fabric printing, you are able to achieve optimized precision, variability data, quicker turnaround times and waste reduction–which ties into a major trend today, sustainability. 

The largest challenge with textile fabric printing, whether conventional or digital, is finding the right ink that will last through wear and tear. Textiles with weave or knit construction may result in a wicking or ink penetration problem, leading to a reduction in colour intensity and print sharpness. When printing textiles using conventional printing processes, the thickeners are added to the ink to help improve the colour performance, but the same method cannot be applied to digital printing due to the constraints of the printhead. In digital textile printing, fabrics must be pretreated and post-treated to improve colour performance. Pretreatment components differ depending on the fabric substrate and the ink used for printing. Most standard fabrics like cotton, silk, nylon, and polyester require a thickener and other chemical compounds. 

Acid-dye inkjet ink works best with materials like nylon, lycra and silk because the ink is resistant to fading from water and chlorine, ideal for swimwear. Reactive inkjet ink chemically reacts with natural fibres making it best for cotton and wool textiles. With innovations in ink technology, pigmented inks have become the ultimate ink formulation. Pigment inks can be generally used on any textile, thus eliminating the need to switch inks between different textiles. One of the greatest benefits of pigment inks is the print production process requires almost no water because the fabric is printed and heat-set to dry. Although there are many benefits to using pigment inks in digital textile printing, currently it is only used in roughly 50% of the market. As mentioned earlier, most textiles are pretreated with a primer to help bind the ink. But for ink manufacturers the goal is to find a binder that works for all types of fabrics. Ink manufacturers must also meet the demands of consumers who no longer desire heavily inked logos, who no longer want to feel the ink. 

In an interview we conducted with Fraiser Chesterman, Director of FM Future Ltd and Co-Creator of EventLaunchPad, we learned that COVID-19 has impacted consumer decisions, ultimately causing them to reconsider where and who they purchase from. As a result, localization and reshoring (explained in the interview) is brought into light and has become a major part in the print industry because of immediate demands. With this in mind, the sustainability aspect from this trend is much more prominent as less transportation methods are used to ship the products (such as airplanes, trucks, etc.), and we can also see less of fast fashion brands because of their delayed services.

This ties into consumer decisions on the ethicality of a brand, Chesterman also mentions in his interview that his company conducted a research report and found that 22-year-old German male or female individuals are more likely to pay 50% more for a product if it has an ethical providence. These ethical brands recycle clothing fabric, source eco-friendly materials such as Tencel, and/or reduce their carbon footprint by manufacturing their products near their retail location. Since fashion is a “consumer-driven industry”, as stated by Chesterman, we can see that sustainability plays a major role in influencing retail businesses to become more environmentally friendly. Brands such as H&M, despite being a fast-fashion company, started becoming more sustainable by offering a recycling program where consumers can drop-off unwanted clothes and also started using materials such as organic cotton and recycled polyester in some of their products.

Now, when considering the end-use of digitally printed garments, a crucial question would be, where do they go when consumers no longer want it? Rather than tossing it out and ultimately generating more garbage, we can reduce the waste amount and recycle the product. This can be repurposing the fabric and using it for upcycled clothing, donating it to local businesses that sell second-hand clothing, or even giving it to friends and family members who can give life to the clothes once again. Just like our traditionally manufactured clothes, inkjet printed textiles can be recycled the same way.

Digital inkjet fabric print technologies have come a long way, not only being comparable to conventional printing processes but at times have surpassed their runtimes. Digital printing opens so many opportunities in the fashion industries, from affecting the industry’s biggest players to designers trying to get their start. 


Ding, Y., Shamey, R., Chapman, L. P., & Freeman, H. S. (2018). Pretreatment effects on pigment‐based textile inkjet printing – colour gamut and crockfastness properties. BIOColours Conference 2018 Special, 135(`), 77-86. doi:10.1111/cote.12377 

Kao Collins Inc. (May 11, 2020). Inkjet Printing on Textiles for ‘Fast Fashion’. Https://

Lozanova, S. (June 8th, 2016). Textile Recycling Initiative Seeks to Save Fashion. Earth911. Https://

McKeegan, D. (2020, July 15). The evolution of Digital Textile Printing alongside sustainable ink technology [Web log post].

Robertson, L. (Sept. 30th, 2020). How Ethical is H&M? Good On You.,or%20sustainable%20materials%20by%202030.

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Consumer Use Requirements

By: Noah Ing and Catherine Kai Lin Cha


Now that you’ve heard about digitally printed textiles, would you buy clothes made from it? What influences the public opinion on its sustainable attributes and what does the average consumer think?

According to our interview with Frazer Chesterman, Director at FM Future Ltd. and Co-Creator of EventLaunchPad, many elements must be considered in order to make the inkjet textile printing process more sustainable: the substrate, whether water-based inks or chemical-based inks are used, the method with which the ink is cured, and the way the product is disposed. These aspects of production are less known to consumers, but allows retailers to put a green label on their products.

Industry Sustainability Trends

In the fashion industry, there is a major shift towards sustainability and specifically a more circular product lifecycle. In regards to a circular product, this means that when the product is about to be disposed of, it can still be either repurposed or is disposed of in a non-harmful way. 

A deciding factor to this positive change is what material is used for manufacturing. As an example, many industry leaders are seeking innovative materials such as Eastman, a textiles company. They are currently developing a material called “Nia Reuse,” essentially a synthesised fiber thread from recycled wood pulp and plastic waste. The basic science behind it is the utilization of acetic acid mixed with the wood pulp, creating nia, a cellulose acetate yarn. The acid is a product of the plastic waste and is about 40% of the yarn while the other 60% is the pulp. The benefits of nia is that it’s an aforementioned circular solution with no compromises on factors such as, quality or functionality. As long as it is 100% nia, Eastman claims that it is completely biodegradable in environments such as soil, compost and water. This product was said to launch sometime during October 2020 for commercial products.

Textile Attributes

Overall quality for most current and past fashion trends is poor, due to the nature of fast fashion and mass production as the leading factor for manufacturers. A result of focusing heavily on quantity of products is the compromise of quality, as such things like sustainability and overall durability are lost in the product. However, these oversights are not acceptable going forward due to the trends in fashion industry emissions and rising consumer awareness. Consumers are becoming more educated and self aware of a product’s effect on the environment. It is desired for a product to be eco-friendly and this can be seen with Hubbub’s research where they polled british citizens on what they seek in a clothing product. The result was 65% wanted eco-friendly products with government support. Eastman also is a leading forefront in the education of consumers. They found that 20% of people read product labels and are actively changing that by promoting sustainable materials and prompting their consumers to read said labels.

Textile Print Quality

Dot deformation and physical dot gain are more common in textiles than paper due to the nature of textiles being more porous and more unevenly textured than paper. Anything from the structure of clothing fibres, the yarn, the textile, and the finishing will affect colour appearance and print quality.

In 2012, Arianna Valentini found that consumers were acutely aware of print image quality in their clothing. They preferred the textiles with the most amount of image clarity, these being samples with high amounts of optical brightening agents and tighter weaves of fibre.

Customers also tend to prefer cotton over the more common polyester blends for their clothing. When it comes to accessories such as canvas bags, however, the sturdiness comes before the tactile feel and image quality.

The Future

With the rise in demand for personalization, many companies now offer custom-printed, on-demand pieces for consumer wardrobes. Items are made to order without excess.

Some examples of personalized digital printing services are Spoonflower’s custom home decor, Vistaprint and Zazzles’ wide range of both home and business products, Nike By You and Converse custom shoes. 

Redbubble, Society6, and Design by Humans are platforms that allow designers to upload original clothing print designs online for sale. When these products are ordered by consumers, they are then printed on demand and shipped directly to the consumers without ever needing to go through the creator or third party.

Expanding on the point of print on-demand, our interview with Rob Ens further explains how there is a shift to smaller scale production from the mass production. The print on-demand proves to cut down on carbon emissions due to the customizability of tailoring a product to a customer over the problem of overstocking for the general consumer with mass production. Ens also illustrates how smaller scale production can help with not only sustainability but can synergize with online stores who have the ability to take orders and not have to worry like storefronts which have to manufacture a product for display unsure when a sale may occur.


Variable data digital printing opens doors for future possibilities, especially with the surge of ecommerce. 

Chesterman tells us, COVID-19 was thought to make waves in the fashion industry, bringing attention to topics such as re-shoring and supply chains. However, sustainability is still very much a prevailing thought and highly valued by young consumers. The millennial and Gen Z markets value ethical sourcing and sustainable processes more than others. 

With fashion trends, it can be said that the rise of new innovative materials can pose a benefit for digital printing processes such as inkjet. This is due to its unique ability to fabricate custom designs without loss in quality of manufacturing time.


Bae, J. H., Hong, K. H., & Lamar, T. M. (2014, February 13). Effect of texture on color variation  in inkjet‐printed woven textiles. Color Research and Application, 40(3), 297-303. Wiley Online Library.

Davies, J. (Producer). (2020, October 13). Sustainable Innovation in the Textile Industry [Video file]. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from

Restorick, T. (2020, September 14). New parliamentary report calls on government to support sustainable fashion. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from

Valentini, A. C. (2012). Consumer perception of inkjet printed textiles (Master’s thesis, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2012) (pp. 1-138). Ann Arbor: ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. doi:

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Material Sourcing in Inkjet Textile Printing

By: Anna Dang and Catherine Kai Lin Cha

Inkjet fabric printing in the fashion industry has created a new way for us to explore and express garments and their capabilities. Material sourcing for textile printing is an essential part of the production process from the ink to different fabrics used, allowing optimal quality for consumers. 


When printing on textiles, designers must consider the compatibility of the inks and fabrics. Fabrics for swimwear, like nylon, silk and lycra, for example, can use acid-dye inkjet inks as they are resistant to fading from water and chlorine. Other fabrics like cotton and wool need reactive inks. These inks provide strong resistance to liquid and chemically react with natural fibres on the material. Many other fabrics are used for printing like acrylic, vinyl, mesh, linen, chiffon, sateen, charmeuses, scrims, georgettes and knits.

The main obstacle that companies, specifically ink manufacturers, have is finding the right binder that is in tune with all fabrics; some textiles are pre-treated with a primer helping the ink bind to the fabric. Designers now have a vast array of ink and fabric options to use, allowing them to easily and creatively express themselves. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Moving into textile printing has also enabled the opportunity for fashion designers to work closely with their clients. This process can happen on the spot, allowing for short fashion cycles as the designs are printed instantly with an inkjet fabric printer. Instead of sourcing the product internationally, clients and consumers have a quicker turnaround time by producing the fabrics locally. With the proper equipment (ie., printer, heat press, conveyor oven), small businesses could produce their garments, proof it in-house, and analyze the market for their product before going into mass production.


When it comes to on-demand printing services (e.g. Vistaprint, Redbubble, Society6, other boutique design studios) the cost of customization is pushed onto the consumer. Personalization allows distributors to price these products with a profit margin due to “service-as-a-product” being included in the cost of the final custom product. Although the cost per run may be higher for a single, personalized product, consumers are willing to pay for that unique quality. This also opens the door for premium pricing. Unique designs demand higher prices due to their scarcity. Now high-end brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Hermes depend on inkjet printing to test new designs on customers, delivering products to market faster.

From a mass-production view, digital printing offers manufacturers the option of smaller, “direct-to-textile” print runs in comparison to conventional screen printing. Multiple, varied single-pass prints, could be easily created in the digital prototyping process. Meanwhile, screen printing requires the additional manufacture of screening stencils. Fixed setup costs such as screen-engraving, colour separation, and ink mixing labour are eliminated in digital inkjet printing. Screens must also be cleaned regularly, releasing residual ink into the wastewater system. When it comes to sustainability, the environmental footprint of inkjet is smaller. 

Despite the efficiency of digital inks, digitally-printed pieces can still cost twice as much as screen-printed ones due to the high cost of digital inks. Nonetheless, digital printing is still on the rise due to its quick turnaround times and wide colour gamuts.

Due to the flexibility of digital printing, more patterned prints are showing up in textiles today. Some manufacturers will still need to choose between the high print quality and sustainability of digital printing or the low cost and conventional nature of the screen-printing process. However, the development of sustainable inkjet textile technology has been improving throughout the years. New wide-format digital textile printers such as the EFI Reggiani Bolt can reproduce prints up to 600 x 4,800 dpi on a single pass. The Colaris3 Digital Printer can be configured with up to 96 industrial printheads. Thus, the future of inkjet textile printing is still bright and full of possibilities.


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Kao Collins Inc. (2019, November 1). Inkjet Printing on Textiles for ‘Fast Fashion’. Ink Tank.

Payne, A. (2011, January 1). The Life-cycle of the Fashion Garment and the Role of Australian Mass Market Designers. International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, 7(3). 10.18848/1832-2077/CGP/v07i03/54938

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Intro to Inkjet Textile Printing

By: Tiffany Quach and Noah Ing

Digital vs. Conventional Fabric Printing 

Conventional fabric printing is best used for long fabric lengths. Rotary printing technology can print 30 metres of fabric per minute; it’s a fast, continuous and economical printing method. Convention printing uses engraved screens allowing ink/paste to pass through the colour areas onto the substrate, each screen corresponding to each colour. This is particularly beneficial for long printing runs because one screen for each colour can be used a multitude of times before being replaced. However, for short runs, conventional printing is uneconomical. The wastage of fabrics and inks, labour costs and the costs of additional activities are too high to justify taking on a small run.

Small fabric printing jobs are where digital printing is truly about to shine, from the proofing to the production process. Digital printing uses one of two major printing systems: Drop-on-Demand (DOD) and Continuous Inkjet printing (CIJ). In both printing processes, ink droplets are applied directly onto the substrate, without the use of screens. Digital printing is about to create an unlimited choice of repeats and offer any number of colourways. Rather than using a paste for colour, digital inkjet printing uses a water-based pigment to achieve colour.

Fig. 1

Advantages of Digital Inkjet Printing

Since digital printing uses a continuous inkjet printing or drop-on-demand printing system, there is no use of individual screens or plates for each colour. This eliminates the need to register the screens, saving time and money in labour. The lack of usage of screens also eliminates the costs for screen engraving, paste making and wastage. The reduction of time from design to production is a great benefit for digital printing, also enabling it to be used for Just-in-Time printing and customized fabric patterns.

Fig. 2

Digital inkjet printing can be very beneficial for the fashion industry when printing on textiles. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, being able to decrease or eliminate an entire production step can help decrease those carbon emissions. Because inkjet inks are water-based, there is no longer any need for thickeners or paste. This is also beneficial for inventory and pollution control costs. The lack of thickeners and pastes provides a safe work environment and frees up storage space and the cost that comes along with it. Also, inkjet digital printing has lower water and energy consumption compared to conventional fabric print. The lower consumption is attributed to the elimination of screens, no longer needing to engrave, print wash, and screen wash lowers the use of water and energy. This also lowers the pollution load in the production process. All these advantages to inkjet printing are particularly beneficial when producing short fabric runs, items like specialty and/or custom fabrics.

Fashion Industry in Relation to Inkjet Printing

As aforementioned, the fashion industry attributes to high rates of global carbon emissions this is mostly due to a trend known as fast fashion. It is a type of clothing trend that is reliant on current and disposable designs which results in a loss in quality as it must be put onto market as fast as possible which in turn causes consumers to dispose of garments at a fast rate from lack of product quality. This high rate of disposal and short product life cycle has created the issue of 87% textiles landfilled or incinerated and is on the rise. With regards to the inkjet printing process, this method puts more focus on individual product quality over quantity. This moves away from the current fast fashion trend that has led to the demand for mass production. Many consumers are now seeking a more environmentally friendly product while maintaining high quality. Based on a survey conducted by Hubbub a UK organization focused on eco-friendly solutions, states that 65% of residents would like change within the fashion industry and want more quality products over cheap disposable ones. 49% would even be willing to spend more on goods that utilize environmentally friendly methods. Therefore, it is prudent we step away from fast fashion as the fashion industry’s expected carbon emissions are to rise by 2.8 billion tonnes by 2030.


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