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Fabric Pattern Printing Techniques + Terms to Know in Textile Design

Ever felt lost in translation while navigating the textile design universe? Trust me, you're not alone. I remember the early days of my career, staring blank-faced at technical terms my bosses were throwing at me. Since there’s so much mystery wrapped up in textiles, I've whipped up this cheat sheet that demystifies pattern design vocab. Bookmark this bad boy; you're gonna want to come back to it.


Satin sleep cami and shorts with a light pink floral repeating patterns.
Example of a repeat pattern.

Repeat Patterns (aka Yardage Prints)

Picture this: motifs that dance across the fabric, endlessly repeating in both dimensions. That's what folks in the industry call "Yardage Prints" or "Repeat Patterns." They're designs crafted to extend flawlessly on all sides, creating an infinite pattern perfect for cutting large amounts of fabric. The repeat can come in many forms, whether it’s a standard square repeat, a half drop, a brick repeat or a mirrored repeat. The variety in how the repeat is made can make a huge difference in your overall visual, so be sure to make the most of it!

A woman wearing a teal bathing suit with tropical flowers placed on the front.
Example of a placement print.

Spotlight Prints (aka Placement Prints)

Ever seen a swimsuit with flowers perfectly placed to frame your waistline and every suit looks the same no matter which size you pull out to try on? That’s a classic example of a "Placement Print" or what I like to call, a "Spotlight Print." These designs are intentionally placed on a garment, making them a bit of a diva when it comes to fabric usage. They usually cost more because you must cut the fabric precisely to make the design fit just right.

Swatch of a tulip print and a digital sketch of a one piece swimsuit with the tulip print.
Example of a directional print.

Directional vs. Non-Directional Prints

Non-directional prints are the free spirits—they look good no matter how you cut them. Directional prints, however, have a distinct “up and down” or flow in an obvious direction. They need to be aligned perfectly or they'll throw a fit. Think of plaids, houndstooth, or even motifs with a clear top. Pick based on your patience level for fabric waste.


Screen Printing: The OG Method: Screen Printing: the technique where colors are layered through engraved screens to create your final design. This is the best way to get rich, vivid colors that don’t cause the fabric to ‘grin’. But here’s the kicker—you'll have to work within a color limit. The more colors you add, the fatter your bill gets. Still interested?

Flatbed Printing: Screen Printing's Cousin: Meet Flatbed Printing, Screen Printing’s less glamorous but equally important relative. Imagine your fabric stretched over a table and each color applied one-by-one. A squeegee does all the hard work, ensuring each hue sits right where it should.

Rotary Printing: The Roller Derby of Screen Printing: For those of you going all-in with Yardage Prints, let me introduce you to Rotary Printing. It's a relative of Screen Printing where big cylinders roll out your design. This method gets your motifs on the fabric in record time and allows for seamless repeats on patterns that have

Digital Printing: The New Kid on the Block: Digital printing is like the millennial of textile designs—tech-savvy and vibrant with nearly no limits on what you can print. Though digital printing is quite expensive, it’s meant to be used with color-dense prints as this technique is best for printing patterns that have many different colors for either photo-real, water-color, or lustrous prints. Using inkjet technology, you can print your favorite tropical photo directly onto fabric.


Water-Based vs. Plastisol Ink

Water-based ink blends into your fabric like it was born there, perfect for full-coverage designs and when you want a less tactile approach. Water-based inks sink into the fabric and feel like they are one and the same as your material. Plastisol ink, on the other hand, likes to show off, sitting loud and proud atop your garment with a more sticky surface. It feels a little rubbery when you run your fingers across the surface and like the name implies, it’s a little bit plasticky. It’s important to choose wisely depending on the vibe you're going for because these are very different techniques.


Pantone: Universal Color Language

Need everyone on the same color page? Pantone's got you. It’s an industry-standardized color-matching system that ensures your sky blue isn’t someone else’s ocean teal. There are even Pantone books tailored for different materials—we typically use the Fashion Home and Interiors Pantone books. Still, there’s also one for nylon brights that we love to keep in mind for those fun neon summer nights!

Colorways: Creating the Color Palette of Your Dreams

This is your chosen set of colors for a particular design or print. Different colorways can drastically change the mood of the same pattern, so play around!

Mock-Up, CADS, or Renders: Your Virtual Fitting Room

A mock-up or CAD is a way to see your design in a semi-finished digital format to give you a general idea of what your print will look like all done up. Sometimes called a render as well, this is a digitized image that shows how your design will look on the final product. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for your textile artwork.

Color Separations: The Prep Work

Before Screen Printing, you gotta do your homework—break down your design into individual colors using software like Photoshop. This makes it a breeze for manufacturers to prep each layer for printing.

Pink floral print with swatches on the side and color placement called out
Example of a pitch sheet

Pitch Sheets: For Perfect Pattern Coloring:

After you separate your artwork and have decided on the chosen colors you want to print for trials, you need to create a pitch sheet. This is where you callout exactly which color is supposed to go where on the print to ensure the color standards are understood and followed.

Strike Off: The Sneak Peek

Before going big, it’s always important to request a "Strikeoff,” for your pattern-printed garments. A strikeoff is a physical swatch that allows you to preview your design made up on the correct quality fabric. Usually made to show the full repeat, this sample lets you review and tweak colors and patterns before hitting the 'produce' button on your bulk lot.

Fabric Grinning: Your Archnemisis in Pattern Printed Garments

“Grinning” is a term that refers to the phenomenon where the individual threads of the fabric become visible through the ink. Fabric grinning is most apparent on a stretched fabric, where the weave or knit of the fabric becomes visible through the printed area, usually demonstrating the background color, typically white. Grinning occurs when the ink is not adequately saturating the fabric, causing gaps where you can see the underlying material.

So there you have it! Now that you're well-versed in textile design jargon, there's nothing stopping you from conquering the fashion world. Feel empowered to use these terms the next time you're talking shop with suppliers, designers, or even me!

So go ahead, unleash your inner designer—your brand will thank you for it. 🌟

Need help creating a custom textile print for your fashion brand? Check out our Color + Concept Creation Package. 🎨

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