Author Miriam Murphy, Kress Conservation Fellow, Museum Conservation Institute, and National Museum of African History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, presented a review of digital printing techniques and their use in textile conservation. This was a great refresher for colleagues who have not kept up with advances over the past decade, including your’s truly.
There are seven steps in producing digitally printed textiles. Step 1 is the digital capture, using scanner or camera. Often this is done by the conservator.
Step 2 is image processing, which is bet left to the printer in order to produce accurate results and avoid hair-tearing-out by the conservator.
Step 3 is color management, for which a color blanket is an essential tool. This is a full printout of colors on the chosen substrate, best compared to the source object in the same lighting as eventual display, ie the gallery or historic house. The small fee for this color blanket is well worth the investment.
Step 4 is the printing process. Although 600-700 dpi is available, 300 is usually plenty good. Printers can print up to 138″ wide and are often constrained only by the size of the image file.
Step 5 is choice of ink. Pigment based inks are the best choice because they require no pretreatment to the substrate and dry with heat. They are susceptible to breakdown in extreme light conditions and with abrasion and much washing. Dark colors can also be hard to achieve and contrast between adjacent dark colors is not always great. Museum conditions usually can accommodate these limitations.
Step 6 is choice of substrate. There are many, many available substrates, but cotton remains the best choice for museum applications. The weave structure of the original does not have to match because the image will provide this detail. Fabrics are available form the printer or from TestFabrics or Jacquard Inkjet Fabric Systems.
Step 7 is pre and post treatment assessment–I confess my notes are sketchy about this step.
If you are interested in speaking with digital print houses, Ms Murphy suggested several including Super Sampler, First2print, LTS Design Service Corp and Digifab, most of which are in NYC, I believe.
The benefits of digitally printed fabrics in museums has been outlined elsewhere, but highlights include quick turnaround, high resolution, and increasingly small dye runs. Why aren’t we all using this technology??!!