Designs on textiles have for centuries been limited to those created by hand, whether through intricate motifs on wooden blocks, hand-done embroideries or even directly from a painter’s brush.
With recent advancements in digital textile design, many complicated patterns and colors, hitherto unseen on fabric, can now be instantly printed on textiles, giving images and original art-work a new canvas and transforming them into wearable art or colorful home decor. The digital design process allows the same image to be processed into several different textile designs. It has thus allowed many artists and designers to do things that were in their imagination but could not be translated onto canvas by hand.
Digital textile printing is considered to have begun in the late 1980s, being a possible replacement for screen printing, an analog technique using a woven mesh to support a stencil that receives a desired image. Today, artists, graphic designers and textile designers have been able to create a new idiom of design through a digital transferance of designs onto fabric. In this process they have reiterated how patterns and textures matter, informing us of our place in the universe. While the motifs of handcrafted textiles often pay homage to the traditions they come from, through new digital textile pattern designs, a new breed of designers and practitioners are becoming creators and curators of a neo-culture. Their unique visual vocabularies are defining a new design aesthetic.
This type of printing has certainly allowed for more flexibility in terms of style and mechanics. Quite like other forms of textile design, the assessment of printed textile design production continues to be judged by its original creativity and commercial viability, and often both of these co-exist. The success of original and creative designs results from the novelty of aesthetic of the design itself, which in turn is determined by trends in the market and the mechanics of printing. Some areas where digital printing has excelled is in the unlimited array of colors that can be used, in the production of high-quality images, in its ability to capture three-dimensional qualities, and a short timespan between concept and sample stage. Due to these areas of excellence, digital printing holds great potential for new and innovative design ideas.
But the question this (as yet nascent) form of fabric design often needs to answer is whether the aesthetic qualities associated with hand-design techniques can ever be matched with those created using digital mediums. What practitioners, textile enthusiasts and the marketplace can together attest to is the fact that perhaps this new idiom of design must be viewed in its own right, and be allowed to explore and develop beyond its current aesthetic, without having to necessarily match what came before it. The ethereal quality of handcrafted products will forever remain a cherished treasure, but as more designers experiment with digital printing, techniques will grow richer and more diverse, including work that is an amalgamation of these two contradictory aesthetics, such as a hand-painted artwork being transfered onto fabric, and becoming truly wearable art.