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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Fabric Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: Printing All of the Bathroom Decor

Monday, August 7th, 2023

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The Printing Industry Exchange Blog is #12 of the best 40 digital printing blogs, as selected by FEEDSPOT.

Decor is very big in the digital commercial printing world at the moment. Through the Google aggregator I use, I see almost daily articles on bathroom accoutrements, living room décor, even bedroom sheets, bedspreads, and pillowcases. Why not? You can create your own design, upload the art files, and have a service bureau produce and send you furnishings that all match. If you’re a good designer, that is a great thing.

For this PIE Blog posting, let’s focus on the bathroom. I did some research to find out what people print and how this is done.

Shower Curtains

In addition to online research, I checked all of my fiancee’s and my bathrooms, and I noticed that all of them had fabric curtains that hung outside the bathtub and inside liners that hung into the tub.

When I researched the subject online I found what I had expected, that polyester-based fabrics lent themselves to dye sublimation custom printing, in which a solid ink is heated to the point of being a gas. This gas travels into the polyester fabric and then actually bonds to the polyester fibers. This makes the connection between ink and fabric very strong, so the coloration (in addition to being very bright) is very durable.

Interestingly enough, even if the shower curtain fabric is a cotton-poly blend (or even some other materials), it appears to be possible to treat the fabric with a liquid that will accept dye sublimation printing. In cases where this is not an option, inkjet printing would be the technology of choice.

One thing I did find in my research is that liners are very useful in keeping the printed fabric of the shower curtain away from the water in the shower. Since all printed shower curtains and other digitally decorated (or screen printed) fabrics may have at least some issues with rub resistance (less so with dye sublimation), having a liner is a smart idea.

But what if your shower curtains are vinyl? After all, non-porous materials will not absorb the gaseous pigments of dye sublimation custom printing as polyester fabrics will.

In this case, you would want to use some form of vinyl applique. You can even find videos online showing you how to print these at home. Some form of adhesive (preferably one that can tolerate the heat and moisture of the bathroom) would then be used to attach the appliques to the exterior of the shower curtain. In this case it would be even more important to have the vinyl applique on the outside vinyl sheet and also a liner hanging into the tub.

What about inkjet printing using UV inks? I didn’t find anything on this, but it seems to me that printers with large-format roll-fed or flatbed inkjet equipment with UV lamps could print on the non-porous surface of the vinyl and both cure the UV inks with light and allow the UV inks to stay bonded (for at least a certain amount of time) to the vinyl sheeting. After all, you can inkjet print on glass or metal (or other non-porous surfaces) with UV inks cured with UV light.

Or there’s custom screen printing. Ink for screen printing (a process in which ink is forced through a mesh with a squeegie, with block-out stencils holding back the ink from non-image areas while allowing the ink to flow through the screen onto image areas) can also sit up on top of plastic (or fabric for that matter).

In fact, screen printing is a very dynamic choice since the inks are thick and brilliant in color. They sit up on top of the substrate, unlike dye sublimation inks and inkjet inks. Based on my reading, it seems that some water-based custom screen printing inks are less viscous than traditional screen printing fabric inks (like oil-based Plastisol), so these inks can get the pigment to migrate deeper into the shower curtain fabric (again, fabric in this case, not vinyl).

One reason you might want the ink (whether inkjet, dye sublimation, or custom screen printing ink) to travel further into the fibers of the fabric is that the “hand” or “feel” of the printed shower curtains will be softer. This is also true when you’re buying printing for a fabric flag or banner for a trade show or convention, or even if you’re buying printing for sheets and pillowcases.

Ink of whatever kind that sits up on the surface of the substrate (whether a shower curtain, bed sheet, or even a shirt) the way oil-based screen printing ink does can cause one other problem. Over time and use the ink film on the surface of the item will crack. This is also true, presumably, for printed vinyl appliques, as noted before, that you might attach to vinyl with an adhesive, or attach to fabric with a heat press. The newer water-based screen printing inks seem to not experience as much of this problem because they migrate below the surface into the fibers of the fabric (in ways similar to water-based inkjet inks and dye sublimation inks).

If you choose to print on shower curtains, go online. There’s no shortage of web-to-print applications that will allow you to upload your own designs and then receive a box in the mail containing your new shower curtain. Based on my reading, it seems that some would be stitched together and others printed in one piece, depending on the width of the inkjet equipment or (the smaller) dye sublimation equipment, and all would be drilled at the top (using various options such as holes or slits) for the hooks that hold the shower curtain on the shower curtain rod.

Going Beyond the Shower Curtains

You may also want towels, a bathmat for the floor, or even wallpaper. All of these are possibilities. Just go to the internet. You will want to consider the best adhesives to use, given the heat and humidity of the room. (It seems that décor for the bedroom would undergo less stress from ambient conditions.)

That said, this is where one’s design acumen will make a difference, since coordinating all aspects of the printed environment will require aesthetic judgment and an understated approach to avoid visual chaos.

Hand towels and wash cloths may be problematic, as noted before, because you will need to consider regular laundering as well as rub resistance during general use.

In this light, if you’re not going to use a dye to color the towels and other terrycloth materials (which would only introduce coloration and would not allow for printing patterns or images), you might want to research “fiber reactive printing.”

I don’t completely understand fiber reactive printing yet, but it seems to allow designs to be deeply and permanently embedded in the fabric. Apparently, precisely positioned “discharge” ink allows you to extract the dye (background color) of the towel, bathmat, washcloth, etc., and then add the coloration of the ink where the dye had been removed. This technique uses heating or steaming to remove the dyes while setting the inks you have added, allowing for durability, inks that are set deeply into the fabric substrate, and brilliant coloration.

When you consider how these last three qualities are the very ones that have caused problems for each of the aforementioned custom printing technologies, fiber reactive printing seems to hold promise for the printing of home décor items (presumably even rugs). In fact, it seems to me that all of the benefits of dye sublimation technology are present. I personally will be watching this technology going forward.

The Takeaway

You may or may not be designing items for home décor, but since this is a growing field (one of the hottest in commercial printing), it still behooves you to study it. You can see what the technological options are, but you can also see that these are functional products, so they must be washable, color fast, and durable as well as beautiful. They must stay pristine, and fortunately the technologies are improving along these lines.

Moreover, it’s fun (on a personal level) and intriguing (on a global level) to see how digital custom printing allows us to move away from the long press runs of custom screen printing and other analog processes, while giving us the option of creating a home (bedroom, bathroom—or even a closet full of clothes) that expresses the tastes and design acumen of each individual person.

Custom Printing: More on My Client’s Fabric Printing Saga

Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

Aside from being a writer I am also a commercial printing broker. I’m a bit like a “tracker,” one who tracks animals in the wild, since I find the best custom printing supplier for a particular client’s job needs. I also make connections (like fascia tissue in the body). I make sure the communications between the printer and the client are accurate and understood by both parties. And I make sure my client is happy with the product, or I work with the printer (and client) to make things right. (more…)

Digital Custom Printing: The New World of Direct to Fabric Printing

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

For the last seven years I’ve had a client who prints small color swatch books for fashion use. Think of them as miniature PMS swatch books but for garment and make-up choices based on one’s complexion. (She also makes “chin cards” that can be held up to one’s face to confirm these color choices without actually putting on make-up or clothing.) (more…)

Custom Printing: Digital Printing on Woolen Fabric

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

On a daily basis I get a Google Aggregator list of articles about both digital printing and offset printing. I find these extremely useful on two counts. First, even if I just read the headlines, I can immediately see what’s trending in commercial printing. I know what to research. Second, I can click through and research in depth any subjects that interest me. (more…)

Custom Printing: Inkjet vs. Dye Sublimation for Fabric Printing

Monday, April 19th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

First of all, textile custom printing is getting to be very big (and colorful, if you note the vibrant hues in the photo above). Whether it’s direct-to-garment imaging, or printing on fabric and then converting the bolt of material into garments, commercial printing on cotton, polyester, and other textiles is starting to get a lot of press. (more…)

Custom Printing: Interpreting Fabric Printing Problems

Friday, February 9th, 2018

For a number of years, a client of mine has been periodically printing a small color book (similar to a PMS swatch book) for fashion. It helps women choose colors for clothes and make up that will complement their complexions. (more…)

Custom Printing: Printing Electronic Circuits on Fabric

Monday, December 4th, 2017

When I first read the article “Fully integrated circuits printed directly onto fabric” (, 11/08/2017), all I could think about was growing up watching James Bond. I have begun to wrap my brain around 3D printing, knowing that some people are already printing food and body parts with a greater or lesser degree of success. I also know that the definition of custom printing has expanded way beyond the realm of ink on paper or even digital toner on paper. (more…)

Custom Printing: “Going to School” on Fabric Printing

Monday, November 20th, 2017

As with any other commercial printing technology, there’s more to fabric printing than the online promotional and technical material would suggest. This is not a bad thing. It just requires study.

I’ve been working with a “fashionista” recently, who is expanding her color offerings from a color print book to clothing. (Her initial product is a book of color chips bound with a screw-and-post assembly that resembles a PMS color swatch book. However, instead of choosing colors for graphic design projects, it helps you choose appropriate fashion colors based on your complexion.) (more…)

Large Format Printing: Printing Fabric and Garments

Monday, November 13th, 2017

I have a client who for the past three or four years has been producing and reprinting small color print books for fashion. I have written about her before in this blog. She is a “fashionista.”


Custom Printing: Update on Dye-Sublimation Technology

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

I came upon an outstanding article about dye-sub fabric printing yesterday. It’s called “A Closer Look at Digital Dye-Sublimation Printing,” written by Richard Romano and published on 03/14/16 on I encourage you to Google it. It’s a great primer on this commercial printing technology. (more…)


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