What is a digitally printed quilt top?

A digitally printed quilt top is literally fabric that has been printed on with a digital printer. Designs are created on software and then sent to a printer much like you would print on your printer at home. The difference is that you either print directly onto the fabric or you print on transfer paper and then place that on the fabric.

There are different ways to print onto fabric. If you’ve ever used stuff like printed treasures where you have fabric on a paper backing that you can use in your inkjet printer, you’re using pigment printing. You can’t do this with a laser printer, because a laser printer uses powder dye that is heated to your paper. Pigment printing is done on natural fibres like cotton.

Sublimation printing is used to print on manmade fibres like polyester.

Which is best?

There is a lot of debate around which process is more environmentally friendly, which produces the best result etc. Every print house and fabric manufacturer is going to tell you their’s is best.

I prefer to use cotton for quilting, and thus I prefer pigment printing. The digitally printed quilt top panels available from me is printed on cotton.

Advantages of pigment printing on fabric

  • Natural fibres are used for pigment printing of digital quilt tops. Using natural fibres makes it sustainable and keeps cotton farmers in business. It’s also not another factory filled with plastic.
  • Dyes are water-based.
  • Minimal use of heat and electricity – definitely a bonus in South Africa!

Disadvantages of pigment printing on fabric

  • The biggest disadvantage is that over years of use, the fabric will lose its vibrant colour. I have tested this by creating a quilt with my very first print, and the kids and dogs have used it to their great pleasure. This was over a year ago as I write this, and I would say there is about a 5% decrease in colour. Of course, it gets washed every other week, so 5% is minimal and worth the choice of using cotton.
  • The print head moves across the fabric, so on occasion, you may have slight colour differences in the printing – you can see this when you use an inkjet printer on paper. Sometimes you get a line depending on the colour you use.
  • The process uses water. Yes, I did list this as an advantage, but in water-scarce countries, this could be an issue.

Advantages of sublimation printing on fabric

  • Colour vibrancy is reported as super vibrant and long-lasting. However, I have tried sublimation printing on polyester fabric for the Prim Christmas quilt top, and there was not a noticeable difference in colour. It was pretty much the same as the one printed on 100% cotton.
  • Dyes are water-based.
  • Polyester has a minimal crease – always a good thing.
  • It is cheaper to make the digitally printed quilt top.

Disadvantages of sublimation printing on fabric

  • Digitally printed quilting tops made with sublimation printing produces a lot of non-recyclable waste.
  • Cheap materials can produce toxic fumes that are really bad for people to breathe in.
  • You can’t print on natural fibres at all unless you add a polymer layer to the fabric which will result in less durability of the actual print.

Why use a digitally printed quilt top?

A digitally printed quilt top is ideal for those quilters who like to quilt and not necessarily piece or do appliqué. I do patchwork with my embroidery machine, because I do like patchwork, but I don’t like the traditional methods.

Also, with a digitally printed quilt top you can create all kinds of effects that you can’t get even with traditionally produced fabric. I can create the moon and the stars to literally look like the moon and the stars, because I can print a photograph onto fabric and then quilt it. This opens up so many possibilities for quilt artists.

You can get more information about the digitally printed quilt tops from Lavender Quilting Farm here. Subscribe to the Lavender Quilting Farm YouTube channel, and see how a digitally printed quilt top gets the finishing touch.

Have you ever tried a digitally printed quilt top? Did you like it, or did you have problems with it? Share your comments below and start a conversation.

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