Enterprise ᛫ Article ᛫ 3 Minute Read ᛫ Epson ᛫ May 30, 2018

Surface Design: Faster Fabric and Furnishings Through Smart Printing

Surface design is all around you. Look at the curtains, patterned rugs, throw pillows, upholstered chairs and other fabrics in your immediate environment. Each of these designs and textures can transform the aesthetic of a public space, office or home. From industrial design to interior decorating, artists work to imagine these surface designs, bring them to life in fabric, and then craft them into furniture, art and household and office items.

The imagery, splashes of color, and subtle nuances within surface designs draw together master themes in a room’s overall look and feel. Digital fabric printing is bringing new flexibility and customization to the world of surface design, and delighting the graphic designers, retailers and interior decorators who work with these technologies daily.

Understanding the world of surface design

Inkworld Magazine reports that digital fabric printer sales have reached $1 billion and continue to grow. Surface and industrial design is one aspect of the fashion and textile world that has benefited. Surface design focuses on the intersection of fabric and art. Highly specialized artists anticipate trends in color, shapes and themes, and find ways to work them into a range of fabric products, furniture and art. Season by season, as preferences change, surface designers remain one step ahead of evolving tastes and trends.

With digital fabric printing, designers can create unique patterns for fabric, interior designs, furnishings, pillows and more in a few clicks, and move from concept to finished product faster than ever before. Speed and agility is critical. Seasons change quickly, and today’s consumers want the designs they see online or in lookbooks immediately available. Customization potential is also driving investments in digital inkjet printing, allowing consumers and designers to develop a highly personalized approach to surface design.

Trends in surface design and digital printing

Digital printing on fabric uses a process of dye sublimation. Dye sublimation leverages special suspended dyes that are printed on paper and transferred to fabric. As the process has become more sophisticated, designers have been able to use digital printing on a diverse set of textiles used in interior design. From heavy upholsteries to silk throw pillows, the smallest surface details can be customized.

On a large scale, digital printing offers the chance to meet fast-changing needs and tastes in the consumer market at scale in a cost-effective way. Traditional screen printing requires significant fixed costs, and making changes — due to a shifting trend or a color imperfection — is expensive and unwieldy. Today, it’s possible to immediately change a design and constantly experiment with new collections while keeping costs in check. Digital fabric printing makes this possible in surface design through:

Faster prototyping: Surface design often requires prototyping and design sampling before a mass market item is produced and scaled. By using digital fabric printing during the prototyping phase, it’s possible to refine designs, test fabrics and more quickly move from conceptual design to test sample prototype to finished product.

Smaller runs: As one expert said in an interview with Forbes, “We’re working with a lot of manufacturers who say they’re not doing 20,000 of the same garment anymore, but just doing 500 of them. Then they’ll do another 500, but in a slightly different color perhaps. They’re doing more things of smaller quantities. Digital enables a producer to be able to do that efficiently. The traditional method by comparison is not possible to do cost effectively.” The same is true in surface design. Retailers want hundreds, not thousands, of a particular pillow or rug. Manufacturers want to create smaller runs of more colors, or partner for exclusive collections. With digital printing, it’s possible to customize your production schedule.

Embracing personalization: Fewer things are more subjective than design trends. Interior designers and architects are constantly looking for ways to personalize a space and meet the highly individual desires of customers. With digital printing, it’s possible to bring a deeper level of personalization to the design process. A customer might love a design, for example, but  prefer it in a different color or fabric. Digital printing makes these small changes a snap.

The future of printing and surface design

As manufacturers move toward fabric printing and surface design, a world of new trends will continue to open. Increased customization for interior design and the prevalence of short-run designs will only increase. Faster production cycles encourage experimentation and limited collections. Digital printing also enables surface designers to experiment with embedding technologies into fabrics, which opens up a wide range of possibilities when they’re connected to smart home systems. Curtains could one day change designs to suit your mood, and upholstered furniture could relay data about the state of the person sitting on it. Smart printing is creating a true renaissance within commercial surface design.

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