Digital Textile Printing

a 3D3 research project

Digital Textile Printing Research

Welcome to my blog about digital textile printing. I’m researching tools and methods to assist designers with colour expectation in digital textile printing. There is a marked difference between screen colour and print colour from Computer Aided Design (CAD) file to the final fabric print and as a designer its been causing me issues. I applied to the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training to undertake a PhD to try and find solutions to this problem.

I am looking to test out various methods and existing tools and software to trial out what works. I will compile all my research into an online resource which is openly accessible allowing designers, artists and small businesses without access to fancy kit and colour specialist knowledge to navigate their way through colour spaces and achieve the colours they want when digitally printing onto cloth.

This blog will serve as a space to document my experiments, a place to hold the different paths and journeys I take and a personal resource for the practitioners and literature I am looking at.

The photo above is my Bristol fabric, upholstered on a 1930s armchair for the Bristol Biennial.


Featured post

Colour Theory – Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728-1777)

Johann Heinrich Lambert was a Swiss polymath presented the first three dimensional colour system in the form of a pyramid. He layered the darker tones at the centre flowing out to three primary hues, labelled as ‘cinnibar, King’s yellow and azurite’. The layers increase in brightness, eventually fading to white at the top. Lambert designed his system to aid textile dyers and printers select colours and as a representation to textile merchants of the colours that they might stock. His system is subtrative because the primary colours are red, yellow and blue and cover pigment mixing.

Cinnibar is scarlet red

King’s yellow is golden yellow

Azurite is a royal blue



Colour Theory – Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1717)

Isaac Newton Primary Colours mixture

Sir Isaac Newton’s experiments with daylight refracted to prisms identified seven, spectral  colours which Newton associated with notes in an octave. His experiments were developed from those conducted by Robert Boyle.  His publication Optiks documents his investigations and his thoughts on the nature of light. He visualised his seven colours as a circle, linking violet to red, of unequal proportions.

Newton identified that colour was a ‘perpetual property’ of light, not a ‘physical attribute’ and that it’s chromaticity, which is defined as a combination of hue and saturation, controls additive colour mixing. Both ColorSystem and HandPrint write in detail about Newton’s findings and how they influenced colour theory, colour measurement developments and our understanding of colour today.

Issacc Newton Colour optics from his book OpticksHues: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

Colour Theory – Robert Boyle (1627-1691)

NPG 3930; Robert Boyle after Johann Kerseboom

Robert Boyle was an Irish alchemist who experimented with many metals (gold, lead, and mecury) as well as gases (Boyle’s Law states that as the pressure of a gas will increase as its volume decreases).

His work on colour, pre-dates Isaac Newton’s and he seems to be one of the first colour theorists to differentiate between additive colour (light) and subtractive colour (pigments). This is of interest to me because the issue I am investigating in Digital Textile Printing is conversion of an image in an additive colour space (the CAD file represented by light mixing on the computer screen) into a subtractive colour space (the printed image comprised of a matrix created from CMYK dyes / inks by the inkjet printer).

Robert Boyle light experiment.jpg

In his publication Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours published in 1664, Boyle sets out his findings on the phenomena of colour including the differences he finds between the colours of objects (reflected light) and spectral colour. Like many theorists he writes about the colours in nature and the changes of colour in shadows and bright light.

His prism experiment, detailed above, was developed upon by Newton. Boyle establishes five colours from the refracted light; purple, blue (blew), green, yellow and red. Boyle also identified that all hues together created white.

Colour Theory – Mary Gartside (pre 1765 – died after 1808)

Mary Gartside was a  water colourist and colour theorist whose essay on light and shade provides guidance for female artists on colour mixing and colour theory.

I particularly like the ‘diagrams’ she produced for showing all the colours that a particular hue can produce (shown above). Because she was using water colour paints the tonality and wash across the colours makes beautiful blobs of abstract colour with a dominating prevalence of green. They are so different from any of the other colour diagrams I’ve come across but there is a definite sense of order with the darker tones to the right, a concentration of the hue colour in the centre and lighter shades to the left. She classified her colours in terms of temperature (warm and cold) and value (light and dark).

As a botanical artist she also referenced colour changes in nature. She was working at a tie when new ranges of pigments were available to artists dues to changes in pigment production. She is the only colour theorist I have come across.

Gartside referenced the work of Moses Harris and Isaac Newton and ‘predated ideas which Goethe elaborated on in much greater detail, such as the effect of colour combinations, the significance of light and shade in relation to tints, and the eye of the beholder as the centre and origin of colour perception.’ (Alexandra Loske- Sussex University)

You can read her essay here and published research by Alexandra Loske here.

Primary Colours identified: Red, yellow, violet and blue

Colour Diagrams: Washes of colour hues and a Colour Ball

Mary Gartside yellow color composition from her book an essay on light and shadeMary Gartside white colour composition from her book an essay on light and shadeMary Gartside Violet colour composition from her book an essay on light and shadeMary Gartside Scarlet composition from her essay on light and shadeMary Gartside Orange Composition from her book An essay on light and shadeMary Gartside Green composition from her book An Essay on Light and ShadeMary Gartside Crimson composition from her book an Essay on Light and ShadeMary Gartside Blue compostiion from her book An Essay on Light and Shade




Exhibition – Patterns, Furniture, Paintings, Josef Frank, 28th January to 7th May, Fashion and Textiles Museum, London


Josef Frank was an Austrian designer who moved to Sweden in the 1930s to escape the rise of fascism and anti-semitic feeling. He began working for Svenskt Tenn who still produce his designs today.

This exhibition at the Fashion and Textiles Museum provided an insight into his design process, exhibiting his painted designs alongside large hanging repeats.

A few of the designs had been upholstered on to furniture you could actually sit on! It was a really well displayed exhibition, in a space that often struggles with its curation.

His colours are bright and bold, with many of his designs featuring 6+ colours, which would have each needed a separate screen for printing. His motifs are frequently floral, but are contemporary, perhaps because of saturated hues he uses. Strong greens, yellows, blues and purples with block backgrounds. The geometric and abstract designs have an appearance of more modern designs from the 1970s and 80s despite being much older.

The show continued upstairs with examples of Frank’s paintings which had a similar style to his designs but really weren’t as interesting. This exhibition represented a very iconic and much replicated designer’s inspiring portfolio.



Exhibition – Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Dulwich Picture Gallery, 8th February to 4th June 2017, London

Vanessa Bell was a key member of the Bloomsbury Group and Omega Workshop. This exhibition spanned her entire career from early paintings, textile designs, book illustrations to her later works. It was really exciting to see her design work in this context because you could clearly see the links between the way she painted and the way she designed. The colours were earthy and bold and the patterns very geometric. I sneaked a few photos of the design work (see above). The designs were shown as small portions of the repeat print alongside sketches such as several rug designs. She used grid paper to work on which I really liked and a mixture of black lines alongside blocks of colour. The designs feature no more than a few colours as they would have been block or screen printed.

The exhibition offered a rather nice retrospective of an artist who sometimes seems to be overshadowed by the work of her sister and her Bloomsbury peers.

Exhibition – Turning Inwards, Louise Bourgeois, Hauser and Wirth Somerset, 2nd October to 1st January 2017, Bruton, Somerset

Hauser and Wirth in Somerset has an enormous Louise Bourgeios  spider which normally lives in a courtyard at the back of the gallery but for this show came in out of the winter cold into the gallery space along with a number of prints she made in the last 4 years of her life.

Many were monochrome, or tones of a dominant colour, and featured organic wriggling and undulating shapes that depicted numerous body parts and plants. Hauser and Wirth describe them as ‘interweaving the artist’s reflections on femininity, sexuality, botany, family and infancy’. They reveal the maker’s hand and have a lovely sense of movement to them. It was wonderful to see work from an artist still making such strong and beautiful work into her 90s. Very inspiring.

Exhibition – Paul Nash, 26th October 2016 to 5th March 2017, Tate Britain, London

Paul Nash was a painter and designer who studied at Slade School of Art where he was introduced to Roger Fry and the Omega Workshop for whom he produced some work. During the First World War he produced many paintings and sketches depicting the trenches, battle scenes and aftermath becoming an official war artist from 1917. When he returned from the war he continued to work as an artist but branched out into design including theatre and textile pieces. He produced many moquettes for Frank Pick’s London Underground.

His style began to become more innovative at the end of the 20s, beginning of the 30s to a surrealist style, much of which was on display here. The Tate used coloured walls to contrast with the muted colours and greys that Nash uses. I managed to take a few photos of his paintings of the moon over the downs (again I was having to do it surreptitiously ). The colours in these seem to contain a lot of grey, grey pinks, grey yellows, grey blues, grey greens but smatterings and pops of warm tones, terracotta orange, fuchsia pink.

He loved to paint landscapes, and seems to have painting similar scenes over and over again, trees, beaches covered in timber groynes. Here you can see his surrealist style. There are stronger examples, where he features crows and mirrors and dream sequences, but I felt these had stronger colour qualities.

His war paintings have a similar colour palette, I failed to get many photos but did find this rather lovely postcard in the gift shop. You can sense the smoke and the bombs and the chaos. The dark plumes of smoke in the centre jetted with yellow and blue, and deep reds streaming off in the distance. The colours are very similar to his surrealist work despite the change in content.


The Tate show featured lots of sketch books, interesting sculptural and painting aids as well as work by contemporaries and friends. But sadly not any of his designs, which I think was a real shame as it would have been an interesting juxtaposition to his paintings.


Exhibition -1920s JAZZ AGE Fashion & Photographs, 23rd September 2016 to 15th January 2017, Fashion & Textiles Museum, London


The Fashion and Textiles Museum is hidden away behind London Bridge in Bermondsey. It has a really interesting programme of exhibitions and events although the curation is sometimes a bit old fashioned.

I was interested to see the colour range in the fabrics on display because they were from the Interwar era that I’m looking to emulate in my own textile designs.

The exhibition began with a series of fashion illustrations, seen above, and then themed by activity and period of time.

The clothes showed some strong colours, fuchsia pink, apple green, turquoise and royal blue, paired with pastels, greys and dark neutrals. There was also alot of metallics and black, particularly in the evening wear. Noticeably there were no strong reds, red featured in orange tones but not saturated.

A series of depictions of interiors showed a very dark, opulent scene with dark mauve, dusky pink highlighted by pale grey silver.

A shimmery gold, orange and dog rose pink scene offered some interesting prints and patterns, geometric florals and embellishments but still the colour was fairly muted.

The show had some fabulous clips from silent movies on display.

Accompanied by film star gowns.

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