PIGMENT PRINTS... Special Fabrics Need Special Care

Textiles may be colored during the fiber, yarn or fabric stage. The vast majority of interior fabrics are colored using dyes. Generally, textile dyes are particles that are thoroughly dissolved or dispersed in water or some other carrier in order to penetrate the fiber. In order for the fiber to be dyed, the dye must penetrate the fiber and either combine chemically with it or be locked inside the fiber.

There is a method for applying color to textiles that does not use dyes at all. Pigment printing involves the use of insoluble color particles that are held on the surface of a fabric by an adhesive, resin or binding agent.
If pigment printing sounds a lot like painting, it is. These fabrics, especially when the designs are applied by hand, are often called painted fabrics.

Pigment prints are the least costly type of print to produce because they require the least amount of processing, the usual steaming and soaping not being required.

Unlike dyeing, any color can be pigment printed on any fiber, since the pigments are held on mechanically. Pigments produce bright, rich colors that have good lightfastness.

Pigment Prints

Fabrics Used for Pigment Prints

Cellulosic fabrics are commonly printed using pigments. Of these, cotton duck and cotton canvas are probably the most widely used materials.

Fabrics in the high-end category are often painted by hand. In addition to cotton, fabric artists will often use more luxurious backdrops such as silk.

Sisal rugs are also commonly painted. Breaking away from the more subdued neutral tones, these designs are usually very colorful and interesting.

Thicker Doesn't Always Mean Better

Many effects can be created using pigments. We have seen pigment prints which stand out in relief from the fabric by as much as ¼ of an inch. Others are just barely raised above the surface of a fabric.

As a rule of thumb, the thicker (more raised) pigment designs will be associated with a greater degree of cracking, chipping, and crocking. The reverse is also true. Those that are less pronounced and more even with the fabric surface tend to wear less rapidly.

Crocking Problems

Because a pigment is adhered to the surface of a fabric, rather than being absorbed into the fabric, as is the case with a dye, these types of coloring compounds are particularly susceptible to crocking. Even mild abrasion may sometimes erode some of the color.

The quality of binding agent (glue) used and the quantity of pigment in a given area will help determine how well a pigment will hold up under use.

When a pigment color crocks onto adjacent areas of fabric, it can sometimes look as if the color has bled. This is especially true in hand-painted silks. Once this happens, correction is extremely difficult to achieve.

Spot Cleaning Difficulties

It is important to understand that the resin or binding agent is the “glue” that holds the pigment on the fabric. As is the case with many resins, solvents can easily cause softening or dissolving of these compounds.
Once the resins are solublized, the pigments become dislodged and can spread to areas where they do not belong.

If solvents are necessary for the removal of a stain, it is imperative that pigmented or painted areas not be agitated. Once the solvent dries and the resins re-harden, the pigments are generally stabilized.
Solvents that contain surfactants should not be used, since these may have residues which do not completely dry, not allowing the resins to reset.

Professional Cleaning

In general, fabrics with pigment designs can be successfully cleaned using water-based methods. Of course, this assumes the same pre-testing that is required of all fabrics.

Some cautionary rules to make sure surprises are kept to a minimum:

  • When pre-testing, be sure to test all of the various colors in the design. It is not unusual for one color to be acceptable while a different adjacent color shows problems.
  • Do not use pre-sprays or detergents that contain dry cleaning solvents.
  • Avoid excessive agitation of pigmented areas.
  • After cleaning, dry the fabric as quickly as possible.

The Experts on Your Side

Fiber-Seal’s worldwide system of fabric care experts stands ready to help whenever we are needed. From maintenance recommendations to in-person assistance for stubborn spots and spills, the professionals of the FIBER-SEAL Fabric Care System create success stories and happy clients every day.