Ever want to know more about how Spoonflower fabrics and wallpaper are printed? Whether you’re a practicing artist (or an aspiring one), a maker or just really dig knowing how things work, this helpful post from Spoonflower Ambassador and artist Danika Herrick shares why Spoonflower designs may have slight color variations across substrates and how our printing processes work.
As a surface pattern designer on Spoonflower I receive lots of questions from customers regarding color. One of the most popular questions is “Why don’t my colors match? I the same pattern on two different substrates and they look completely purchased different.” This is actually a normal phenomenon and happens throughout the printing industry.
For some customers, a little color variation is completely fine and quite often unnoticeable in the grand scheme of things. However, it can be frustrating if you are wanting to use the same design for two different applications, ie, wallpaper and drapes, where the tones are noticeably different and right next to each other.
In this post, we’ll look at why the color shifts happen! There are several reasons for this, but the biggest reasons tend to stem from differences in substrate base color and composition as well as the actual print process. I’ll dive into these two areas below and share some tips for color correcting in a companion post coming soon.
Substrates and White Points
The substrate is the product base you choose to print on. Spoonflower currently offers 4 types of wallpaper and up to 26 types of fabrics you can close to have your design printed on. This is tremendous as it allows designs to translate across many products from clothing to interiors, but it also can mean learning more about how to keep colors constant across the substrate spectrum.
It is true that the white base color will vary slightly with each substrate due to its composition. The pure unprinted white base color is the “white point.In general, synthetic blends tend to have cooler white points, while natural materials like grasscloth have warmer, creamier undertones. I say “in general” because I have found that technology has come a long way, and while synthetics used for clothing tend to keep a brighter white point, some home decor synthetics like Performance Line have creamier bases, which tend to be more aesthetically pleasing for those settings. (Want to see the basic white point for all Spoonflower fabrics? Check out the Fabric Details sections over in Spoonflower’s Fabric Shop.)
The differences in white point can also alter the final tone of printed designs. For example, take the color pale blue. When printed on a cool base it can become brighter and more vibrant. If you print it on a creamy base with yellow undertones it can begin to read more blue-green. This can be seen in both synthetic fibers as well as natural fibers that are both printed the same (digitally). Here is an example of Belgian Linen and Cypress Cotton Canvas printed with the same design. The Belgian Linen has a cooler base tone and the blue is truer, while the Cypress is a bit creamier and the blue shows more green in it.
To add an extra layer to this, the light you view your pattern in will also affect how it reads. Just look at how much different the same design above reads under incandescent light.
Just as you would check paint swatches in daylight and in the evening light of your home, this is also necessary to do with your fabric and wallpaper swatches.
Lastly, you also need to understand that Spoonflower does not use white ink when printing. Instead they use the white base of the substrate as pure white. Any time the hex code for white is used (#ffffff) the white base of the substrate is what you will see. However, change the hex code slightly and pigment becomes involved, creating subtle variations of off-white and pastels during printing.
Spoonflower is always working on their print technology and optimizing their process to accommodate each substrate. They currently print using two techniques: Sublimation and Digital.
Sublimation printing is used for synthetics and polyester blends. It requires printing the design on special transfer paper, and then using heat and pressure to set the design into the fabric. Many people might think of a traditional “iron on” technique, but unlike that it doesn’t require a gummy layer to transfer the image. The ink actually transitions from a solid to a gas and it dissolves into and bonds within the fabric. This keeps the fabric feeling soft and natural.
digital printing is pigment based and used on natural fiber fabrics and papers. The ink is printed onto the surface and soaks into the fabric or wallpaper surface, very much like an inkjet printer would.
Both of these printing techniques require the mixing of pigments to create specific colors, and since the processes and printers are different, slight variations of color can occur.
Besides the primary factors discussed above, there are other variables that may alter your printed colors like:
Color and light will reflect, absorb and read differently on a smooth substrate vs. a textured substrate. Smooth substrates will print with crisper edges and more vibrancy than a fabric with a chunky open weave. These looser weaves have negative spaces that cannot be printed on, therefore those missing bits translate to rougher edges.
Some substrates are more absorbent of ink, making the color soak in where it might sit and dry brighter on a smoother surface. Light also reflects more off smoother surfaces, altering the color vibrancy while more textured and absorbent bases will read more matte.
Every Spoonflower printer is calibrated for optimal performance. Even so, there can be very subtle variations from printer to printer. The difference among each printed job is referred to as the Print Lot or Dye Lot. Even if you receive a sample from one printer, that same printer can have slight shifts in color that occur from recalibrating or basic wear and tear. (For more information, check out this Help Center article on print lots and dye lots.)
Some colors can shift more than others, especially complex tones like neutrals that are made up of several pigments, or lighter pastels that allow more of the ground base white to show through. (For more information about this see This Help Center article titled “How Can I Make Sure My Design is the Color I Want?”)
Did you know temperature and humidity can affect your color? These environmental factors can alter the print chemistry creating variations in tone. Even the environment that a natural fiber was originally grown in can contribute to these occurrences.
DPI stands for dots per inch, the resolution of your image. The minimum resolution for printing a design at Spoonflower is 150DPI. In fact, all files are initially converted to 150DPI when they are uploaded, but you may increase the resolution if you wish, but more or less can affect the print quality and color. If an image’s resolution is too low it can appear spotty and faded. (For more information, see This Help Center article about image resolution and DPI.)
The post Why is My Color on Fabric Different From My Wallpaper? appeared first on Spoonflower Blog.