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The Filament: Kathryn Sanders

Textile Finishing Is What’s Next for the Print Industry

Digital textile printers can tap into new markets by embracing finishing processes.




UNTIL RECENTLY, TEXTILE finishing ran parallel to the work we’ve been doing in the digital textile printing industry. Traditionally reserved for analog textile printing, textile finishing – and all the processes, workflows, and machinery that come along with it – has been viewed by our industry as an extra step that doesn’t fit our needs. Admittedly, that was true for a while, and to our credit, we were able to get away with it – especially with signage projects. But times, they are a changin’ and textile finishing processes designed specifically for digital textile printers are positioned to be our new frontier.

For those of us operating at the intersection of the textile and printing industries, it’s easy to recognize in-house textile finishing capabilities as a revolutionary act. In my opinion, it’s advancements in this area that will allow us to claim space in markets where we’ve barely scratched the surface. Think fashion and interior design.

If textile finishing and its implications are new to you, I can assure you you’re not the only one. In fact, in a way, it’s new to the digital textile printing industry as a whole. We’re finally at a point where we can tackle this next step and bring finishing technology into our digitally-driven community. With both curiosity and demand growing for finishing equipment and support from OEMs, there’s a massive opportunity for our industry to innovate – and it’s what we do best.

You may be asking, “What does this mean and how does textile finishing apply to me?” After all, many of us have become accustomed to printing or calendering being our final step. But if we want our final product to echo the qualities – look and hand-feel – of textiles we’re seeing in clothing boutiques, department stores, and design showrooms, finishing is the only way to get there. It’s what will allow us to finally go apples to apples.

It’s important to remember that a few decades ago, clothing purchased directly from stores looked and felt much different than it does today. It was the expectation of the manufacturer, seller, and customer that the garment would need to be laundered upon wear to bring out the desirable qualities. Today, “ready-to-wear” garments are the market expectation. To that point, Millennials and Gen Z don’t know anything different.

I bring this up because I often hear print shop owners and designers ask why digitally printed fabrics sometimes have a different quality than other apparel or interior fabrics they’re accustomed to. Designers in particular can’t stress this enough and even identify the disparity as a limitation or barrier to entry. The answer is simple – we’re used to seeing and wearing fabrics that have undergone extensive finishing processes.


For example, conventional garment dyers and finishers typically put printed fabric through a variety of finishing processes before they get sewn up. From adding enzymes and washing fabric with stones to adding flame or water repelling treatments, these finishing processes can completely transform the fabric in look, feel, or function.

Certain finishes targeting the look or hand-feel will make it so the fabric will barely resemble it’s pre-printed and pre-finished self, which is something drastically different than what we’re used to in digital textile printing shops. Instead, we’re typically used to the look and hand-feel of the fabric pre-print matching the post-print. We’re currently set up to transform a solid into a print, not alter texture or function. That’s what post-treatment finishing is all about.

In addition to altering textile texture, finishing can also significantly impact the fabric’s shrinkage. For PSPs looking to capture more of the apparel market, understanding fabric shrinkage and how some finishing processes can help restore shrinkage is key.

I’m excited to be along for the ride as our industry takes on textile finishing because it will only further solidify digital textile printing as a mainstay process. I suspect textile finishing will be a core part of your workflow in no time, so join us on this train so that we can learn, experiment, and evolve together.



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