When the production team for the hit HBO show “Westworld” approached MY Prints LA needing a lightweight solution for its costume designs, Steven Moreno, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based printer, became the “solutions guy.” The team working on the show brought Moreno a thick, heavy, embroidered fabric that needed to be recreated into a lightweight fabric so the actors would be more comfortable in the hot environment in which the show is filmed. Moreno scanned the fabric, created a file to match the 3D effect of the embroidery and printed it on the company’s Mutoh 1638WX wide-format digital textile printer.
MY Prints LA has worked with a myriad of designers and production departments to develop solutions to meet its individual needs. Moreno describes a call for customized unitards for actors in “Transformers” costumes at Universal Studios Hollywood, as one example. The unitards needed to look like metal pieces in the off chance the cover pieces were to move to reveal the actor’s unitard underneath. To complicate the matter, because each actor was a different shape and size, each unitard had to be carefully designed and printed to perfectly fit each actor’s body.
Although the development of the “Westworld” and “Transformers” creations required ingenuity, it also required a deep understanding of the materials and inks used in digital textile printing.
Understanding Fabric is Crucial
Moreno says the No. 1 challenge when working with stretchy fabric in particular, such as in the case of the “Transformers” unitards, is ink penetration. He explains that some fabrics have ribs, and if the ribs stretch and there isn’t enough ink penetration between them, you see the fabric “smiling,” which is when the color of the fabric shows between the printed aspects. For example, when black ink is printed on white fabric, it could appear gray when stretched.
When a business is considering adding textile printing capabilities, Moreno suggests hiring someone knowledgeable in fabric to prevent circumstances like “smiling” from happening.
“Fabric is the key to a good quality print,” he says. “Understanding the fabric’s construction and fabric’s content is key. Not all fabrics will work.”
Mark A. Sunderland, textile engineer and director of Textile Material Technology at Thomas Jefferson University, also points to stretch and performance fabrics as being complex and “tricky” to work with, but says more designers are going to be using these fabrics in the future.
“Sometimes, when we make a print design and then we stretch it over a 3D form, it doesn’t necessarily look like the designs we intended it to be,” he says.
Not only could the print end up looking muddied if the ink isn’t adequately administered on the fabric, it is crucial to understand that some fabrics simply cannot stand up to the printing process, Moreno explains.
“If you have a polyester-nylon blend,” Moreno says, “most nylons will burn when it comes to the temperature needed for the dye-sublimation process.”
Knowing that most nylons are sensitive to temperature, Moreno says there are solutions to prevent it from happening. Printers can work with the time or temperature settings to alleviate the problem, however, “experience with fabric is key,” he says.
In addition to understanding the properties of fabrics and how to work with them, it is also something that specifically needs to be communicated to designers when working with them, Sunderland stresses.
“Printing is fiber specific,” he says, “meaning that certain dyes and inks work on specific fibers or are used on a specific fabric. We try to help designers discover those attributes. … It’s a point that needs to be driven home with printers who want to work in the fashion world and who want to work with textiles; it’s not like printing on paper. It’s a very different substrate.”
It’s crucial, he explains, to be immersed in understanding various fabrics’ characteristics before leaping into textile printing. He points out that advanced and technical textiles are currently driving fashion design, so he suggests anyone interested in working with fashion designers have a firm grasp on these types of textiles. Understanding fabric will also help printers source them for the designers they work with.
“An understanding of different fiber and fabric qualities really helps the business model,” he says. “When you can offer the service of high quality printing with a great turnaround, and you can offer them the expertise of fabric knowledge and sourcing, that’s a home run all the way around.”
Understanding a Designer’s Needs
Many young designers or customers new to textile printing may need to be educated on price, production and timeline, Moreno says, whereas experienced designers may already have a grasp on the process and be confident in their wants and needs.
“I worked with one designer who already had a line and was selling products, but wasn’t happy with their current printer,” he says. “They came to MY Prints and said this is the fabric I want, this is the design I want and they knew exactly what they wanted to do. It was very straightforward.”
Not all designers have that kind of experience and understanding though, so it can become the printer’s responsibility to guide a designer and offer suggestions. Moreno describes a time a designer came to MY Prints wanting to create dog beds. Moreno suggested going to a fabric store to purchase a few yards of fabric to make samples, rather than going through MY Prints to have a bigger run done that would cost more money. Moreno says it’s the fact that MY Prints is willing to sit down with a designer and problem solve that sets it apart from the competition; it’s the customer service that makes a difference.