By Olivia Cahoon
Manufacturers and designers look to digital printing technology to offer customers design freedom and expand their collections. For the home and apparel market, digital printing allows manufacturers to use a variety of materials, stay up to date on the latest trends, and produce short runs with faster turnaround times.
Above: Print design for loungewear. Photo credit: The Patternbase.
Textile & Surface Designs
The Patternbase is a surface design studio specializing in custom, trend-driven prints for apparel, interiors, and home textiles. Established in 2011, it began as an online Tumblr blog dedicated to archiving textile designs and pattern-based images influencing fashion throughout history and continuing to inspire today.
It has since evolved into a print design studio offering a variety of services including original print design, repeat development, color indexing, print licensing, and editorial illustration. Original prints incorporate a variety of techniques, including digital illustration, hand painted watercolors, photography, and collage. The studio operates in a 1,500 square foot loft space in Chicago, IL.
In 2015, The Patternbase released its first publication with Thames & Hudson Publishing, The Pattern Base: Over 550 Textile and Surface Designs. The extensive sourcebook showcases the work of over 150 artists around the world working within the fashion and textile industries. The Patternbase’s digital reach is worldwide with most of its business in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.
The studio primarily manufactures digital prints for textiles and digitally printed fabrics and home goods. It started using digital printing technology around 2014. At that time, the company turned its focus from blogging and trend reporting to the development of original prints and collaboration with emerging designers. “It became necessary to find printers who could produce quality fabric samples and print on experimental materials like latex and neoprene,” shares Kristi O’Meara, textile designer and founder, The Patternbase.
Digital printing is mainly outsourced to Roostery and Spoonflower as well as to local print providers. Because the studio’s focus is on creating digital designs, most of its printing is needed for swatches and samples. “Spoonflower’s offer of small runs with quick turnarounds works great for me, and I love the variety of fabrics it offers,” adds O’Meara.
Apparel & Home Textiles
The Patternbase uses a variety of textiles for its digital printing, mainly based on customer needs. Fabric options include cotton canvas, eco canvas, linen cotton canvas, silky faille, and velvet.
Most recently, the studio prints on organic cotton sateen and Celosia Velvet, a polyester velvet with a short pile and subtle shimmer. Cotton sateen is often used for bedding, table runners, and structured garments while the velvet is ideal for upholstery, pillows, and other home textiles. “The texture and sheen on the velvet really brings my prints to life,” admits O’Meara.
Access to digital technology is vital in The Patternbase’s design studio. According to O’Meara, producing printed materials requires designers to perform test prints on both fabric and paper to ensure colors are correct and fit into the client’s objectives. To handle this, she creates hand painted and hand drawn designs that are scanned to the computer and then cleaned and digitized to repeat seamlessly in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
Afterwards, O’Meara proofs, color matches, and indexes colors, which requires several test prints to ensure the graphics print as designed. “You can never tell how it will look on a surface by only viewing it on a computer screen.”
After the in-house tests are approved, The Patternbase orders fabric and product samples to confirm the design and colors print correctly. This is one of the most important parts of the production process because the appearance of the print differs depending on the surface type.
Compared to traditional techniques, the benefits of digital textile printing vary based on product and manufacturer. According to O’Meara, screen printing is often more cost effective but it comes with color restrictions and the type of designs that can be printed. On the other hand, digital print technology allows for more precise manipulation and a larger variation of materials and patterns.
“Modern designers use this to their advantage, and find ways to ambitiously create, experiment, and be inspired by the possibilities that come with digital technology,” offers O’Meara.
The SILENCE Collection
In 2015, designer Alex Ulichny reached out to The Patternbase for placement prints. Based in Los Angeles, CA, Ulichny is a designer and artist with an avant-garde approach to creating clothing.
The client needed a placement print designed for a latex body suit and mini dress that he was working on for his 2016 collection, SILENCE. “He was interested in a design that was both beautiful and grotesque, which would function as a sort of second skin,” explains O’Meara.
The Patternbase worked with Ulichny for nearly six months to develop the original artwork and create two placement prints. This included multiple rounds of revisions, print tests, waiting on materials, and the entire print production process.
Rather than working with one of its usual outsourced print providers, the studio decided to partner with a local print shop. The Patternbase ultimately selected BluEdge, a commercial printer with several locations across the country including Chicago, IL and Boston, MA. Founded in 1898, BluEdge offers three-dimensional services, creative graphics, document services, and managed print services. For Ulichny’s garments, the print provider used an HP Inc. Scitex flatbed press to print onto latex material sourced and provided by the client.
The printing process was the biggest challenge of this project. “It took time and many phone calls to find a local printer willing to try printing onto this experimental material,” admits O’Meara. Once the studio found BluEdge, the print provider worked with The Patternbase to create test samples and find a way to feed the latex fabric through the printers without causing mechanical issues.
Once that issue was resolved, the studio ran tests to confirm which ink type should be used to ensure the print would be permanent and not smudge or puddle on top of the synthetic material.
In total, The Patternbase created two pieces—a digitally printed semi-translucent latex bodysuit and mini dress with a deep, blush pink organic pattern. The client was happy with the final pieces and the execution of the production process.
This was one of the first in-depth print design projects for The Patternbase. It’s also still one of the most ambitious jobs the studio has executed in terms of production. “We learned so much throughout this project and I’m very happy with how the final products turned out,” shares O’Meara.
As the role of digital textile printing continues to advance, innovative designers in the apparel and home textile industries see the potential and incorporate the technology. This opens the door for modern trends towards customized products and exclusive design runs.
Apr2020, Industrial Print Magazine