Alex Mighall, customer liaison at RA Smart, breaks down the process of making a truly bespoke, Made in Britain version of that retail favourite – the decorative cushion
Cushions are a popular gift and impulse purchase: they’re reasonably priced and practical, and inject colour and interest into a room, making them the perfect present. Being able to offer bespoke cushions is, therefore, an ideal add-on for garment decorators, explains Alex Mighall, customer liaison at RA Smart.
RA Smart uses the reactive printing process for decorating cushion fabric. Reactive dyes are used because they actually dye the fabric, unlike a surface print: this helps with colourfastness. However, disperse dyes in dye sublimation also work well.
The first step is fabric pre-treatment. Most fabric that is printed directly needs to be prepared for digital printing, in this case so that it can accept the reactive dyes; it helps to stop the lateral ink bleeding, and also helps to maximise the substrate’s absorption of the ink.
In this step-by-step, Alex used a cotton fabric with a half panama weave. “It’s a nice furnishing fabric,” he explains. “We use lots of cottons: some are suitable for cushions, some for aprons and tea-towels, but it’s down to personal preference as well. You generally want a slightly stiffer fabric for a cushion rather than something very lightweight.”
The next step is inputting the data into the RIP software so that the printer – the Mimaki TX300P-1800 direct-to-textile model – knows how many passes it needs to make, the resolution, whether it’s bi- or uni-directional, the colour profile, etc.
For this print, Alex chose a small tile image that was then stepped and repeated – that is, copies were made of it along the length and the width. “Instead of using a large image measuring 2m wide by 3m long, we repeated a small image to save carting around a huge file that takes up loads of space – using a smaller image that is repeated can help with the speed of the RIP process as well,” he explains.
Alex set the printer up with the new Mimaki Rc400 reactive dyes, an eight-colour set of CMYK plus red, blue, grey and orange. When the fabric is printed it’s important to make sure it is touch dry before being wound up on the take-up as otherwise it can mark the back of the fabric, resulting in ink spots that can come through to the front of the fabric. In order to ensure the fabric is touch dry, Alex uses a small, infrared dryer in front of the Mimaki that acts like a hand-dryer on the fabric. “Because the printers are getting faster and faster, the fabric often doesn’t have time to dry naturally before going on the take-up roll,” explains Alex. “You can also use tissue paper to go between the fabric as it’s going on the take-up unit so the tissue paper gets marked rather than the fabric.”
Once printed, the fabric then needs to go through the fixation stage. For reactive dyes, the fixation stage is a wet process; for pigment inks a dry process (heat fixation) is used. The roll is taken off the Mimaki then put it a steamer to steam the fabric and fix the dyes. The fabric is then put in a washer to wash out the pre-treatment and give it back its handle. It also gets rid of any excess dye – there will always be a residual amount of dye that needs washing out, Alex advises.
A cool wash to start with is essential, followed by a normal wash at between 40°C to 60°C; this can be followed by a spin. At RA Smart they use industrial washing machines, but domestic washers can be used instead. It is then dried, either by hanging it out to dry naturally or tumble drying to ‘closet dry’.
Once the fabric is dry then it is ready to be cut. A template is used to cut out the rough pattern of the cushion, before it is sewn, trimmed and any labels added – including, of course, the desirable ‘Made in Britain’ tag.
Click here to watch a video of the cushion printing process