Say you are a fashion designer or retailer and you want to custom print your own fabric. You have the skills (or the funds to hire a designer) to create artwork. There are many fashion designers, and even some retailers, who print their own fabric. Off the top of my head Laura Ashley, Ralph Lauren, and Ikea all print their own fabrics, though smaller companies also do it. This is a bit different than my previous blog entry (Printing your own fabric pt. 1), as these individuals are not necessarily textile designers professionally. But as part of a brand image or look, custom prints become necessary.
There is a lot of existing artwork already out there. Freelance textile and graphic designers are available to create the artwork to complement the look of a line. I can't remember the name of the show where designers show their artwork (anyone else remember?) and that may be one source. You can also hire graphic designers, though it may be helpful if they have experience in preparing artwork for textile printing. You could even create your own artwork, if you have the skills and inclination. You should receive a "strike off" or proof to approve prior to printing. A strike off is a sample of the print and it should represent the actual fabrics, colors, and print registration of the final goods. Make sure to evaluate the strike off thoroughly before committing to a print run.
As a fashion designer, you can contact fabric converters/printers yourself. They can help walk you through the process of preparing the artwork, setting up the repeat and printing the goods. Each printer will vary in their abilities and processes, so don't be deterred if one place is not a good fit. There will likely be a set-up charge to prepare the artwork, so don't be surprised by this.
The biggest question when printing your fabric rests on minimums. How much fabric will you be willing to carry in inventory? Typical minimums average about 3,000 yards. The smaller the quantity, the higher the price per yard. Stateside factories generally require higher minimums. Overseas factories vary - some high, some lower. Some factories may break up the 3,000 yard minimum and allow you to do different colorways of the same print. Others may require 3,000 yards per colorway. Even then, some factories will do less yardage. It is all a matter of research and asking the right questions. I don't know if it is ok to ask right away what the minimums are or not, the factory sale's agents will probably tell you. At least that has been my experiencing when asking the custom print question.
Q: "Can you do custom prints?"
A: "Yes, but it will be a 3,000 yard minimum and 6-8 weeks."
I am not exactly an expert at navigating the printing process as I only found the sources for other designers. Don't be afraid of asking questions. If you want a custom print, it can be done.