Textile Printing - apparel industry terms presented by Apparel Search
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Textile printing is a general name for all woven fabrics and the art of ornamenting such fabrics by printing on designs or patterns in color is very ancient, probably originating in the East. This sort of printing had practically disappeared in the west, as it was unsuitable for manufacture on a large scale. However in recent times, it has seen its reemergence due to digital design and printing on fabrics based on customized demands.
It has been practiced in some form, with considerable success, in China and India from time immemorial, and the Chinese, at least, are known to have made use of engraved wood-blocks many centuries before any kind of printing was known in Europe. That the early Egyptians, too, were acquainted with the art is proved not merely by the writings of Pliny but by the discovery, in the Pyramids and other Egyptian tombs, of fragments of cloth which were undoubtedly decorated by some method of printing.
The Incas of Peru, Chile and Mexico also practiced textile printing previous to the Spanish Invasion in 1519; but, owing to the imperfect character of their records before that date, it is impossible to say whether they discovered the art for themselves, or, in some way, learnt its principles from the Asiatics.
There is no doubt that India was the source from which, by two different channels, Europeans derived their knowledge of block printing. By land its practice spread slowly westwards through Persia, Asia Minor and the Levant, until it was taken up in Europe during the latter halt of the 17th century. Almost at the same time the French brought directly by sea, from their colonies on the east coast of India, samples of Indian blue and white resist prints, and along with them, particulars of the processes by which they had been produced.
Textile printing was introduced into England in 1676 by a French refugee who opened works, in that year, on the banks of the Thames near Richmond. Curiously enough this is the first print-works on record; but the nationality and political status of its founder are sufficient to prove that printing was previously carried on in France. In Germany, too, textile printing was in all probability well established before it spread to England, for, towards the end of the 17th century, the district of Augsburg was celebrated for its printed linens, a reputation not likely to have been built up had the industry been introduced later than 1676.
On the continent of Europe the commercial importance of calico printing seems to have been almost immediately recognized, and in consequence it spread and developed there much more rapidly than in England, where it was neglected and practically at a standstill for nearly ninety years after its introduction. During the last two decades of the 17th century and the earlier ones of the 18th new works were started in France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria; but it was only in 1738 that calico printing was first, practiced in Scotland, and not until twenty-six years later that Messrs Clayton of Bamber Bridge, near Preston, established in 1764 the first print-works in Lancashire, and thus laid the foundation of what has since become one of the most important industries of the county and indeed of the country. At the present time calico printing is carried on extensively in every quarter of the globe, and it is pretty safe to say that there is scarcely a civilized country in either hemisphere where a print-works does not exist.
From an artistic point of view most of the pioneer work in calico printing was done by the French; and so rapid was their advance in this branch of the business that they soon came to be acknowledged as its leading exponents. Their styles of design and schemes of color were closely followed-even deliberately copied by all other European printers; arid, from the early days of the industry down to the latter half of the 10th century, the productions of the French printers in Jouy, Beauvais, Rouen, Alsace-Lorraine, &c., were looked upon as representing all that was best in artistic calico printing. This reputation was established by the superiority of their earlier work, which, whatever else it may have lacked, possessed in a high degree the two main qualities essential to all good decorative work, viz., appropriateness of pattern and excellency of workmanship. If, occasionally, the earlier designers permitted themselves to indulge in somewhat bizarre fancies, they at least carefully refrained from any attempt to produce those pseudo-realistic effects the undue straining after which in later times ultimately led to the degradation of not only French calico printing design, but of that of all other European nations who followed their lead. The practice of the older craftsmen, at their best, was to treat their ornament in a way at once broad, simple and direct, thoroughly artistic and perfectly adapted to the means by which it had to be reproduced. The result was that their designs were characterized, on the one hand, by those qualities of breadth, flatness of field, simplicity of treatment arid pureness of tint so rightly prized by the artist; and, on the other, by their entire freedom from those meretricious effects of naturalistic projection and recession so dear to the modern mind and so utterly opposed to the principles of applied art.
Methods of Printing
Broadly speaking textile printing means the local application, to textile fabrics, of any color in definite patterns or designs, but in properly printed goods the color becomes part and parcel of the fiber, or, in other words, the latter is dyed so as to resist washing and friction. Textile printing, then, may be looked upon as a form of dyeing; but, whereas in dyeing proper the whole fabric is uniformly covered with one color, in printing one or more colors are applied to it in certain parts only, and in sharply defined patterns. In principle these two branches of textile coloring are closely allied, for the coloring matters used in each case are practically identical, but in practice the means whereby their respective objects are attained bear little or no resemblance to each other. In dyeing, for instance, it is sufficient, for the most part, to immerse the fabric in an aqueous solution of the dyestuff, stirring it about constantly or otherwise manipulating it to prevent unevenness. In printing, however, the color must be applied by special means, either by a wooden block, a stencil or engraved plates, or rollers and thickened to prevent it from spreading, by capillary attraction, beyond the limits of the pattern or design. Many colors also contain, besides the coloring matter and thickening, all the substances necessary for their proper fixation on the cloth when the latter is simply passed through a subsequent process of steaming, and others again require to be subjected to many after treatments before they are thoroughly developed and rendered fast to light and washing.
There are five distinct methods at present in use for producing colored patterns on cloth:
Hand Block printing
This process, though considered by some to be the most artistic, is the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of printing.
The blocks may be made of box, lime, holly, sycamore, plane or pear wood, the latter three being most generally employed. They vary in size considerably, but must always be between two and three inches thick, otherwise they are liable to warping, which is additionally guarded against by backing the wood chosen with two or more pieces of cheaper wood, such as deal or pine. The several pieces or blocks are tongued and grooved to fit each other, and are then securely glued together, under pressure, into one solid block with the grain of each alternate piece running in a different direction.
The block, being planed quite smooth and perfectly flat, next has the design drawn upon, or transferred to it. This latter is effected by rubbing off, upon its flat surface, a tracing in lampblack and oil, of the outlines of the masses of the design. The portions to be left in relief are then tinted, between their outlines, an ammoniacal carmine or magenta, for the purpose of distinguishing them from those portions that have to be cut away. As a separate block is required for each distinct color in the design, a separate tracing must be made of each and transferred (or put on as it a termed) to its own special block.
Having thus received a tracing of the pattern the block is thoroughly damped and kept in this condition by being covered with wet cloths during the whole process of cutting. The blockcutter commences by carving out the wood around the heavier masses first, leaving the finer and more delicate work until the last so as to avoid any risk of injuring it during the cutting of the coarser parts. When large masses of color occur in a pattern, the corresponding parts on the block are usually cut in outline, the object being filled in between the outlines with felt, which not only absorbs the color better, but gives a much more even impression than it is possible to obtain with a large surface of wood. When finished, the block presents the appearance of flat relief carving, the design standing out like letterpress type.
Fine details are very difficult to cut in wood, and, even when successfully cut, wear down very rapidly or break off in printing. They are therefore almost invariably built up in strips of brass or copper, bent to shape and driven edgewise into the flat surface of the block. This method is known as coppering, and by its means many delicate little forms, such as stars, rosettes and fine spots can be printed, which would otherwise be quite impossible to produce by hand or machine block printing.
Frequently, too, the process of coppering is used for the purpose of making a mold, from which an entire block can be made and duplicated as often as desired, by casting. In. this case the metal strips are driven to a predetermined depth into the face of a piece of lime-wood cut across the grain, and, when the whole design is completed in this way, the block is placed, metal face downwards in a tray of molten type-metal or solder, which transmits sufficient heat to the inserted portions of the strips of copper to enable them to carbonize the wood immediately in contact with them and, at the same time, firmly attaches itself to the outstanding portions. When cold a slight tap with a hammer on the back of the limewood block easily detaches the cake of the type-metal or alloy and along with it, of course, the strips of copper to which it is firmly soldered, leaving a matrix, or mold, in wood of the original design. The casting is made in an alloy of low melting-point, anti, after cooling, is filed or ground until all its projections are of the same height and perfectly smooth, after which it is screwed on to a wooden support and is ready for printing. Similar molds are also made by burning out the lines of the pattern with a red-hot steel punch, capable of being raised or lowered at will, and under which the block is moved about by hand along the lines of the pattern.
In addition to the engraved block, a printing table and color sieve are required. The table consists of a stout framework of wood or iron supporting a thick slab of stone varying in size according to the width of cloth to be printed. Over the stone table top a thick piece of woolen printers blanket is tightly stretched to supply the elasticity necessary to give the block every chance of making a good impression on the cloth. At one end, the table is provided with a couple of iron brackets to carry the roll of cloth to be printed and, at the other, a series of guide rollers, extending to the ceiling, are arranged for the purpose of suspending and drying the newly printed goods. The color sieve consists of a tub (known as the swimming tub) half filled with starch paste, On the surface of which floats a frame covered at the bottom with a tightly stretched piece Of mackintosh or oiled calico. On this the color sieve proper, a frame similar to, the last but covered with fine woolen cloth, is placed, and forms when in position a sort of elastic color trough over the bottom of which the color is spread evenly with a brush.
The modus operandi of printing is as follows: The printer commences by drawing a length of cloth, from the roll, over the table, and marks it with a piece of colored chalk arid a ruler to indicate where the first impression of the block is to be applied.
He then applies his block in two different directions to the color on the sieve and finally presses it firmly and steadily on the cloth, ensuring a good impression by striking it smartly on the back with a wooden mallet. The second impression is made in the same way, the printer taking care to see that it fits exactly to the first, a point which he can make sure of by means of the pins with which the blocks are provided at each corner and which are arranged in such a way that when those at the right side or at the top of the block fall upon those at the left side or the bottom of the previous impression the two printings join up exactly and continue the pattern without a break. Each succeeding impression is made in precisely the same manner until the length of cloth on the table is fully printed. When this is done it is wound over the drying rollers, thus bringing forward a fresh length to be treated similarly.
If the pattern contains several colors the cloth is usually first printed throughout with one, then dried, re-wound and printed with the second, the same operations being repeated until all the colors are printed.
Many modifications of block printing have been tried from time to time, but of these only two tobying and rainbowing are of any practical value. The object of tobey printing is to print the several colors of a multicolor pattern at one operation and for this purpose a block with the whole of the pattern cut upon it, and a specially constructed color sieve are employed. The sieve consists of a thick block of wood, on one side of which a series of compartments are hollowed out, corresponding roughly in shape, size and position to the various objects cut on the block. The tops of the dividing walls of these compartments are then coated with melted pitch, and a piece of fine woolen cloth is stretched over the whole and pressed well down on the pitch so as to adhere firmly to the top of each wall; finally a piece of string soaked in pitch is cemented over the woolen cloth along the lines of the dividing walls, and after boring a hole through the bottom of each compartment the sieve is ready for use. In operation each compartment is filled with its special color through a pipe connecting it with a color box situated at the side of the sieve and a little above it, so as to exert just sufficient pressure on the color to force it gently through the woolen cloth, but not enough to cause it to overflow its proper limits, formed by the pitch-soaked string boundary lines.
The block is then carefully pressed on the sieve, and, as the different parts of its pattern fall on different parts of the sieve, each takes up a certain color that it transfers to the cloth in the usual way. By this method of tobying from two to six colors may be printed at one operation, but it is obvious that it is only applicable to patterns where the different colored objects are placed at some little distance apart, and that, therefore, it is of but limited application.
Block printing by hand is a slow process~ it is, however, capable of yielding highly artistic results, some of which are unobtainable by any other means, and it is, therefore, still largely practiced for the highest class of work in certain styles.
The perrotine is a block-printing machine invented by Perrot of Rouen in 1834, and practically speaking is the only successful mechanical device ever introduced for this purpose. For some reason or other it has rarely been used in England, but its value was almost immediately recognized on the Continent, and although block printing of all sorts has been replaced to such an enormous extent by roller printing, the perrotine is still largely employed in French, German and Italian works.
The construction of this ingenious machine is too complex to describe here without the aid of several detailed drawings, but its mode of action is roughly as follows: Three large blocks (3 ft. long by 3 to 5 in. wide), with the pattern cut or cast on them in relief, are brought to bear successively on the three faces of a specially constructed printing table over which the cloth passes (together with its backing of printers blanket) after each impression. The faces of the table are arranged at right angles to each other, and the blocks work in slides similarly placed, so that their engraved faces are perfectly parallel to the tables. Each block is moreover provided with its own particular color trough, distributing brush, and woolen color pad or sieve, and is supplied automatically with color by these appliances during the whole time that the machine is in motion. The first effect of starting the machine is to cause the color sieves, which have a reciprocating motion, to pass over, and receive a charge of color from, the rollers, fixed to revolve, in the color troughs. They then return to their original position between the tables and the printing blocks, coming in contact on the way with the distributing brushes, which spread the color evenly over their entire surfaces. At this point the blocks advance and are gently pressed twice against the color pads (or sieves) which then retreat once more towards the color troughs. During this last movement the cloth to be printed is drawn forward over the first table, and, immediately the color pads are sufficiently out of the way, the block advances and, with some force, stamps the first impression on it. The second block is now put into gear and the foregoing operations are repeated for both blocks, the cloth advancing, after each impression, a distance exactly equal to the width of the blocks. After the second block has made its impression the third comes into play in precisely the same way, so that as the cloth leaves the machines it's fully printed in three separate colors, each fitting into its proper place and completing the pattern. If necessary the forward movement of the cloth can be arrested without in any way interfering with the motion of the block, san arrangement which allows any insufficiently printed impression to be repeated in exactly the same place with a precision practically impossible in hand printing.
For certain classes of work the perrotine possesses great advantages over the hand-block; for not only is the rate of production greatly increased, but the joining up of the various impressions to each other is much more exacting fact, as a rule, no sign of a break in continuity of line can be noticed in well-executed work. On the other hand, however, the perrotine can only be applied to the production of patterns containing not more than three colors nor exceeding five inches in vertical repeat, whereas hand block printing can cope with patterns of almost any scale and continuing any number of colors. All things considered, therefore, the two processes cannot be compared on the same basis: the perrotine is best for work of a utilitarian character and the hand-block for decorative work in which the design only repeats every 15 to 20 in. and contains colors varying in number from one to a dozen.
Engraved copperplate printing
The printing of textiles from engraved copperplates was first practiced by Bell in 1770. It is now entirely obsolete, as an industry, in England, and is only mentioned here because it is, to a slight extent, still used in Switzer land for printing finely engraved borders on a special style of handkerchief the center of which is afterwards filled in by block printing.
The presses first used were of the ordinary letterpress type, the engraved plate being fixed in the place of the type. In later improvements the well-known cylinder press was employed; the plate was inked mechanically and cleaned off by passing under a sharp blade of steel; and the cloth, instead of being laid on the plate, was passed round the pressure cylinder. The plate was raised into frictional contact with the cylinder and in passing under it transferred its ink to the cloth.
The great difficulty in plate printing was to make the various impressions join up exactly; and, as this could never be done with any certainty, the process was eventually confined to patterns complete in one repeat, such as handkerchiefs, or those made up of widely separated objects in which no repeat is visible, like, for instance, patterns composed of little sprays, spots, & c.
Roller printing, cylinder printing, or machine printing
This elegant and efficient process was patented and worked by Bell in 1785 only fifteen years after his application of the engraved plate to textiles. It will probably remain a moot question as to whether he was the originator of the idea, but it is beyond doubt that he was the first man to put into practice the continuous printing of cloth from engraved copper rollers. Bells first patent was for a machine to print six colors at once, but, owing probably to its incomplete development, this was not immediately successful, although the principle of the method was shown to be practical by the printing of one color with perfectly satisfactory results. The difficulty was to keep the six rollers, each carrying a portion of the pattern, in perfect register with each other. This defect was soon overcome by Adam Parkinson of Manchester, and in 1785, the year of its invention, Bells machine with Parkinson's improvement was successfully employed by Messrs Livesey, Hargreaves, Hall & Co., of Bamber Bridge, Preston, for the printing of calico in from two to six colors at a single operation.
What Parkinson's contribution to the development of the modern roller printing machine really was is not known with certainty, but it was possibly the invention of the delicate adjustment known as the box wheel, whereby the rollers can be turned, whilst the machine is in motion, either in or against the direction of their rotation.
In its simplest form the roller-printing machine consists of a strong cast iron cylinder mounted in adjustable bearings capable of sliding up and down slots in the sides of the rigid iron framework. Beneath this cylinder the engraved copper roller rests in stationary bearings and is supplied with color from a wooden roller that revolves in a color-box below it. The copper roller is mounted on a stout steel axle, at one end of which a cogwheel is fixed to gear with the driving wheel of the machine, and at the other end a smaller cogwheel to drive the color-furnishing roller. The cast iron pressure cylinder is wrapped with several thicknesses of a special material made of wool and cotton lapping the object of which is to provide the elasticity necessary to enable it to properly force the cloth to be printed into the lines of engraving. A further and most important appliance is the doctor a thin sharp blade of steel that rests on the engraved roller and serves to scrape off every vestige of superfluous color from its surface, leaving only that which rests in the engraving. On the perfect action of this doctor depends the entire success of printing, and as its sharpness and angle of inclination to the copper roller varies with the styles of work in hand it requires an expert to get it up (sharpen it) properly and considerable practical experience to know exactly what qualities it should possess in any given case. In order to prevent it from wearing irregularly it is given a to-and-fro motion so that it is constantly changing its position and is never in contact with one part of the engraving for more than of brass or a similar alloy is frequently added on the opposite side of the roller to that occupied by the steel or cleaning doctor; it is known technically as the lint doctor from its purpose of cleaning off loose filaments or lint, which the roller picks off the cloth during the printing operation. The steel or cleaning doctor is pressed against the roller by means of weighted levers, but the lint doctor is usually just allowed to rest upon it by its own weight as its function is merely to intercept the nap which becomes detached from the cloth and would, if not cleaned from the roller, mix with the color and give rise to defective work.
Larger machines printing from two to sixteen colors are precisely similar in principle to the above, but differ somewhat in detail and are naturally more complex and difficult to operate. In a twelve-color machine, for example, twelve copper rollers, each carrying one portion of the design, are arranged round a central pressure cylinder, or bowl, common to all, and each roller is driven by a common driving wheel, called the crown wheel, actuated, in most cases, by its own steam-engine or motor. Another difference is that the adjustment of pressure is transferred from the cylinder to the rollers which works in specially constructed bearings capable of the following movements: (1) Of being screwed up bodily until the rollers are lightly pressed against the central bowl; (2) of being moved to and fro sideways so that the rollers may he laterally adjusted; and (3) of being moved up or down for the purpose of adjusting the rollers in vertical direction. Notwithstanding the great latitude of movement thus provided each roller is furnished with a box-wheel, which serves the double purpose of connecting or gearing it to the driving wheel, and of affording a fine adjustment. Each roller is further furnished with its own color-box and doctors.
With all these delicate equipments at his command a machine printer is enabled to fit all the various parts of the most complicated patterns with an ease, dispatch and precision, which are remarkable considering the complexity and size of the machine.