(left) Spoonflower on 100% Kona cotton | (right) Me on 100% Belgian linen
Last night when I got home I found a white envelope with the cute Spoonflower logo waiting for me on my desk chair. For the most part it is very nice... nice hand/drape, and it's got a crisp quality cotton feel- what you'd expect of the Robert Kaufmann 100% cotton Kona fabric. My initial impression: It's OK. I try not to have high expectations when working with a new service for the first time. I often find that there's kinks to be worked out and with Spoonflower, there's no exception.
This isn't really a negative thing, it's just the learning curve for me. I had my reservations about a few things, and in my mind, I was not far off.
1/ Color Control- this is my Number One concern as I take great care in choosing my colors. SF doesn't offer any sort of color palette for purchase, from which you can refer and choose LAB colors, which is the color mode they recommend. Simply converting a file from CMYK to LAB is not going to ensure you get the colors you want. Even the most simple palette can help guide an experienced artist who can gauge where the colors will shift if they chose to edit them. The problem with not having a color reference, is that you are literally guessing about the output on their end. Every printer- EVERY printer- is going to yield different colors, even if the difference is slight. For those who are as obsessed as I am, this will be something you will want to work with your printer of choice before plunging in and making any large amounts of fabric. Strike-offs (or viewing samples) are key- and it can take many strike-offs if you are stabbing at a color.
Doing a test on paper is going to get you nowhere. Paper vs. fabric/laser vs. inkjet/model to model/computer to computer, will all yield different results. This is why being able to work with LAB colors supplied from the printer your final product will be produced from is essential to avoid the big guessing game. If doing a longer run with high investment, maintaining integrity or for crazy folk like me, this is a time and money saver for sure.
Alternatively, there are digital printers who will offer color matching services- often at a premium. But this can certainly ensure your creative vision will come out as expected. This is a great option to offer customers who may not want to learn the skills of color matching. Perhaps SF will offer this in future.
2/ Color Saturation- this can be a bit of a combination of the color control aspects, but it can also be due to the amount of ink that goes down on the fabric. I don't pretend to know about SF's printer model and its finer workings, but I do understand that the amount of CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) that hits the surface will yield different saturations and intensities. You can see this on almost any home printer by doing tests with the paper or output quality. Manipulating the output quality from the poorest/fastest, to highest/slowest will vary immensely. While typical digital textile printing does not require the highest and most saturated settings (indeed, it can easily be too saturated causing bleeding and dye-bonding issues), it does benefit from a slightly higher than the lowest setting- just to give it a touch more pigmentation. Again, I don't know Spoonflower's methods, but it's clear that from my own desktop printer to that of the LAB reference book of another digital printer I worked from, this is very soft and faded in comparison, which leads me to believe they are working at a lower saturation output than we do- for which I'm sure they have reasons (bleeding probably). But it's another reason a LAB color reference would be helpful. If you can't control the saturation which is, from what I read from others, probably the biggest difference people see in their colors, then at least you'll know where you stand. It's not viable to say "make your images 10% darker", but perhaps it's a suggestion...
3/ Image Detail- I admit, my skepticism crept in when I saw that SF recommend a 150 dpi (dots per inch) image. 150 is not very fine. Typically, digital printers would like 300 dpi- perhaps higher. The higher the dpi, the finer the details will be. Because of the nature of printing on fabric, there is a certain amount of bleed- almost indiscernible to the eye, but it does soften the whole image. Working in a lower dpi only exacerbates that bleed... the finer details are lost to begin with.
If you will look at the SF on the left vs my fabric on the right, you'll notice in the "poof" how much of the detail was lost. The Kona cotton is a very smooth surface and really should take fine detail very well. The linen, in contrast has a lot of texture, but none of the detail is lost.
I'm not sure why SF wants a 150 dpi file- perhaps it's about speed and handling of the files. Maybe it was recommended by the printer model itself. Or maybe it's a software thing. Regardless, I'd personally like to see this be stepped up to a higher dpi. Not sure if it's possible, though.
4/ Grain Misalignment. I've read many reviews which state the grain was not squared before printing began (a problem with the way the fabric was rolled onto the bolt in the first place, not Spoonflower's fault at all). What this does is cause the horizontal grain to be skewed. When you square the fabric (so that the horizontal grain is perpendicular to the selvage) the print would be at a diagonal. This can be a real issue when sewing. For the record, this was not an issue for me at all. Perhaps it's been corrected, or the luck of the run.
5/ Washability. I haven't gotten this far yet. I've read from a number of sources it washes well and very little fading- if any at all. I think it would hardly be noticeable on my fabric since it's so faded and light to begin with.
6/ Fabric Choice. I'm just not a cotton poplin gal. I like texture- and a bit of heft. This is probably SF biggest drawback for me now, as I just wouldn't choose this fabric. They have stated that they will eventually make other fabric choices available.
7/ Price. Well, it just can't be beat! Seriously, as far as digital printing goes, they have the best prices out there per yard for this quality fabric as far as my research has taken me. $18 per yard for 42" custom printed fabric? Yeah, that's good.
Spoonflower is still in Beta mode- this is just getting off the ground for them. I was very impressed with the ordering process. They have a great system in place whereas you can view the full repeat of your image draped into a proportionate image in the size fabric you're planning on ordering. It's perfect for people who can't visualize what their design may look like on 4 yards of fabric. I applaud Stephen and Kim's efforts and wish them every bit of the success they will deserve. I hope they will take all the remarks that I've made and have been reading to help perfect their system. Digital textile printing is fast on the rise, and I think the crafting world will be a more exciting place for it! The apparel, home and accessory industries have been utilizing digital printing for sampling purposes for years. It's extremely exciting to see this technology made available to the everyday people who have an interest in seeing their work on fabric.