From Screen Printing to Digital Fabric Design – What to Consider

As I hope you know, fiber artist Margaret Applin has been offering a series of web seminars on digital design for screen printing and textiles through Quilting Daily online events. With her next live web seminar, Exploring Unique Textile Design: Creating Seamless Repeat Patterns in Photoshop Elements, debuting February 13, 2014, I asked Margaret to elaborate on her evolution from screen-printing to digital printing, and how you can benefit from her experience.

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One of Margaret Applin's fabric designs.

Quilting Daily: How and when did you decide to print your own fabrics online rather than screen printing?

Margaret Applin: A couple of things pushed me in the direction of printing my own fabrics. The first reason was that I have never dyed fabric or worked with fiber-reactive dyes except during workshops I've taken. That was a personal choice that I had made and, for the most part, I hadn't been thinking about creating large pieces of fabric that I wanted to make into large projects. I'm a small project kind of gal. That said, I was introduced to surface pattern design through wearable art which was my focus for quite a while. My screen printing was done using heavy-body acrylic paints and due to the stiffness of the finished product, it worked better for me in small applications.

The digital component of screen printing, creating my designs to make into the screens, was a huge learning experience for me and it motivated me to create my unique imagery. Through this journey, I realized the potential to incorporate digital tools into my design process. This became the primary part of my creative process and I was really inspired to push my designs to the max. The more I created and pulled together digitally, incorporating color, the more inspired I was to push forward and continue exploring how I could use these tools to create more interesting and colorful imagery. In May, 2013, I began taking an on-line workshop learning how to create repeat patterns for surface design and everything kind of just fell together. Now I can create the look and feel of a monoprint or layers of screenprints in a surface pattern design, make small tweaks and adjustments to completely change the look and feel of the design as I develop it and I never have to pull the paints out!

QD: What techniques or skills will webinar attendees learn to help them design their own fabrics?

MA: This webinar will provide the basics of repeat pattern design. There is a lot of great information packed into this webinar on how to use the tools in Photoshop Elements 10 to color your design elements, layer them for additional interest, define a few different pattern types, and test and fix any imperfections. This is the next step after creating brushes from your personal imagery that was demonstrated in my first webinar. This is where all the designing begins and you will learn everything you need to start creating professional looking colorful repeat patterns for digital printing.

QD: What kinds of opportunities do services like Spoonflower provide for artists who have not designed fabric before?

MA: Spoonflower makes it easy to upload any picture and print it on fabric or paper. With one click, you can change the type of repeat your image will be printed in (basic, half-drop, half-brick, center, and mirror). Additionally, Spoonflower has a built-in photo editing program that lets you add effects and even create new layouts using a great selection of shapes and pattern elements. Digitally printing on-demand is a wonderful service to have access to. It is not cost-effective in large quantities as it can get really expensive, but for the artist who wants to make a cotton quilt from a gelli print or journal page, a one-of-a-kind silk blouse with a design printed from hand-cut stamps, or a slipcover for a chair or even curtains, they can do it! Digital printing allows the artist to apply their art in fun and practical ways and make it unique!

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Margaret integrates the design for
professional looking repeats.

QD: What considerations do you have to take into account when designing for yardage?

MA: I think the two most important considerations to take into account when designing for yardage is the intended end use of the fabric and the width of the fabric you choose to apply your design to. It is a good idea to order a swatch sample of your vendor's offerings. Spoonflower will send you a set of textiles and papers and includes the exact measurement, content and weight of each swatch. Having the swatch samples allows you to make a better choice for your intended use. If you have a specific use in mind such as a blouse, you can see and feel the options that you might have such as one of their silks or cotton voile. The width of the fabric is another consideration. If I am going to print to their Organic Cotton Sateen which is 56" wide, the design that I upload to print would be a size that might fit exactly to that width when in repeat. Right now, I do not restrict my designs to the width of the textile I choose. I like to see my designs in a variety of sizes for a variety of intended use. Spoonflower's offerings are wonderful quality which is really important when you are purchasing yardage basically sight unseen. You don't want to wait until you order 5 yards of something to find out the quality was not what you expected. I recommend taking the extra time to order a swatch or fat quarter of your printed fabric before ordering a large quantity.

QD: What are some common mistakes beginner fabric designers make?

MA: I think one of the easiest mistakes to make in the beginning is uploading the wrong size image. You need to get familiar with pixels and DPI and how they convert to inches so you can better plan for the size image you upload. The layout screen in Spoonflower actually shows you what your fabric will look like using rulers on two sides of the layout. If the image you upload is 2" square but you intended it to be larger, you will see on the layout screen just how small it looks compared to a 6" measurement. I find it helpful to look at the design on the screen and then grab my own ruler and hold it in my hand to get a real feel for the size. If you go back to that JPG file and enlarge it, you will be reducing the quality of that image. You need to go back to your original image and resize it in its native format (PSD) at 300 DPI, and then convert it to a JPG at the larger size that you want to maintain the quality of the image.

The other mistake or that a beginner can make is using very light colors. You always should increase the color saturation of your image a bit to better ensure that what you see on your monitor is what prints. The fabric will absorb more of the ink and could slightly lighten the colors. This is why I recommend ordering a test first before ordering a larger quantity.

Be sure to register for Exploring Unique Textile Design: Creating Seamless Repeat Patterns in Photoshop Elements. If you register and can't attend the live event, we will send you a link to the web seminar recording within 48 hours, as well as handout materials and any discount codes.

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Monoprinting & Screenprinting, Quilting Daily Blog, Quilting for Beginners