Z (mr_cutiepants) wrote in egl,

Review: Spoonflower Custom Fabric Printing Service

Dear EGL,

There has been some discussion of Spoonflower.com's custom fabric printing service on this list -- particularly with to people wanting to make their own custom-printed skirts, dresses, etc. -- so I thought I would do a quick review post of my recent Spoonflower fabric order for the benefit of others on the list who sew or design clothing (and for folks who are just curious!).




For a few months, I have been looking into various ways of producing custom printed skirts, jumpers and dresses. One item I want to create is a lolita-style skirt with a raven illustration -- a tribute to Edger Allan Poe. :) It is a complicated printed image and difficult to silkscreen, so I decided to try out Spoonflower.com's custom fabric printing service after hearing good reviews from the Etsy/craft community. I really like the idea of not having to screen print a garment yourself -- instead, it would be great to just order custom-printed fabric over the internet!

My goal in researching Spoonflower is to produce the skirts for my clothing company, to sell to the public, so my personal reviewing priority was that Spoonflower's fabric quality and printing be a high enough quality to sell to others. With that in mind, let's move on to the review!

Website/Ease of Use: I liked Spoonflower's online fabric ordering system. I first went to the Spoonflower website and looked at their FAQ and video for first time users. I thought the FAQ and file preparation tutorials did a good job of explaining everything, and after I felt I had a sufficient understanding of what I was doing, I went ahead and uploaded a design I had prepared in Photoshop. The most difficult part of the file preparation/ordering process for me was matching the colors in the design (colors on a monitor do not come out the same way on the fabric --!). Truthfully, the final color of my fabric did not come our perfectly -- I was aiming for an ivory and got more of an egg-cream color -- but that was my fault, not Spoonflower's. I would recommend anyone using this service to order a swatch from Spoonflower of the colors you'd like to use before ordering the final design, just to make sure you are satisfied. In any case, color is something to watch out for!

After uploading, I selected how I wanted the design to be positioned on the fabric, including the design repeat, etc. I was able to choose between "Quilting Weight" fabric and "Upholstery Weight". I chose "Quilting Weight," which Spoonflower claims is "Appropriate for quilting, appliqué, shirting, blouses, dresses, children's clothing". This type of fabric is called "Moda," and costs $18 USD per yard (with a one yard minimum). This is a quite expensive for plain quilter's cotton, but quite affordable for custom-printed fabric, considering that other fabric printers I talked to required a 500 yard minimum order!

Screenshot of the ordering process:


Shipping / Receiving Goods: In their FAQ, Spoonflower claims that shipping will take up to three weeks within the United States, and "even longer" for international orders. Spoonflower is technically still in Beta, and they say in the FAQ that they aim to lower the printing/shipping time as they gain more experience as a company. True to their word, my order too exactly 3 weeks to arrive -- to the day. :) Shipping was reasonable ($7.00 USD) given the weight of the fabric involved. My fabric itself came folded inside a USPS plain shipping box, and was not bagged or protected inside the box in any way -- however, it got to me unharmed and in perfect condition, other than being slightly wrinkled from where it was folded. The other contents of the box included a small swatch of fabric printed with the Spoonflower logo, as well as a shipping receipt with a hand-written thank you note from the employee who filled my order. :)

Swatch of fabric with logo:



The actual fabric that arrived was 42" wide of printable surface (44" wide total, including the unprinted edges), and I ordered two 3 yard pieces (3 yards is the maximum amount of fabric you can order for one piece). Unfortunately, since my order, I have cut up the fabric to make handbags, so I don't have a photo of the piece in its original state! Sorry about that! :/ However, in case it's helpful, below is a photo of the printed panels of my fabric, after I've cut it into strips -- just so you have an idea of how it looks in an un-sewn state. The wrinkles in the fabric are from where it was folded in the box -- that is easily fixed with a quick bit of ironing.



Fabric / Printing Quality: Here is where I was really curious about Spoonflower! I was hoping that the fabric and printing quality would be suitable to make into lolita skirts, dresses, JSKs, blouses, and bloomers. I was encouraged by their website, which claims that the quilting-weight fabric is suitable for shirting, children's dresses, etc. I think a lot of people in this community would love to have a source for custom-printed fabric -- it would take a lot of the work away from hand-screen printing a design on fabric yourself, and allow for beautiful multi-colored designs.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed with Spoonflower's fabric quality. In my opinion, the 60x60 thread count fabric weave was too low to really be suitable for lolita clothing that I was planning to sell to others. It ended up looking somewhat rough, and was also somewhat rough to the touch, compared with the quality of fabric on skirts made by Baby, The Stars Shine Bright or other major brands. To illustrate the difference, I've taken a bunch of photos of my print on Spoonflower's fabric, and comparison photos of the print on a high-thread-count, quality cotton that I silk-screened myself by hand.

Please click on any of the photos for a larger version.

First off, here is one of the prints on the Spoonflower fabric, by itself. As you can see, the quality of the printing itself is very nice. The only difficulty I could perceive about the actual printing is that black hues (such as in the design below) turn out as a sort of dark greyish color, rather than a true black. Apparently, dark blacks are difficult to print using the process that Spoonflower employs. However, Spoonflower mentions this limitation on their website, so I was expecting the color shift. I did not use a color design, but based on the swatch they included with their logo (see photo above), I think that Spoonflower's colors are probably vibrant and beautiful.



Here are some photos illustrating the difference between the Spoonflower quilting fabric and a higher thread count cotton that I silk-screened with my image.  Spoonflower's version is on the left, and the hand-silk-screened version is on the right.

First, a general comparison photo. Note the gray-colored print on the left, and the black silk-screened version on the right.




Next, here are some side-by-side comparison details:

  

You can see the "weave" of the fabric in the first photo (the little grid pattern) on the Spoonflower fabric. I was disappointed with this; usually, Japanese lolita brands would use a smoother, higher thread count cotton. On the silkscreened version, you can't see the weave as prominently, even in a very close photo. I also think that the silkscreen ink is "smoother" on the surface of the fabric.

Other examples of details for comparison:


 



Here is the back of the Spoonflower fabric, so you can see that it is slightly see-through. Though I do think if you made sure to sew a lining into a skirt or dress, the fabric would be thick enough:



SUMMARY: 


Positives: Spoonflower.com is a really cool and promising service for custom-printed fabric. They use ecologically-friendly ink, which is great. They delivered the goods on time - 3 weeks from my order, just like they promised. The colors seem like they are vibrant and beautiful. I like their design-uploading interface, and the instructions they provided were easy for me to follow. Generally, a custom fabric printing service is a great idea, and I think they will grow over time and provide a lot of options for people to design their own fabrics.

Negatives: Unfortunately, the type of quilting weight cotton fabric they currently offer seems to be aimed at the crafting community rather than at seamstresses making high-quality clothing, and it has a low-ish thread count and a somewhat rough "feel" to it. Note that it's not completely horrible or "sandpapery" or anything -- but it did seem to be rougher and coarser than cotton that Japanese brands use. Right now, my personal opinion is the fabric quality is appropriate for a handbag or tote bag, and possibly hair accessories, but I personally chose not to use it for dresses, blouses, bloomers, skirts. In the end, I think that seamstresses should order a swatch (they are only $5 USD!) and decide for themselves. After all, Spoonflower does seem like a great service for people making full-color prints, with a color gradation that you can't achieve through silk-screening! It's also easier than ink-jet transfers, and Spoonflower's printing feels softer and less "plastic" on the fabric. I hope that Spoonflower will offer a wider selection of cottons in the future, including a higher thread count cotton similar to kinds that are more typically used by lolita brands.

Overall Rating: I would give Spoonflower's "Quilting Weight" fabric a rating of 3/5 for lolita skirts, dresses, etc. In my personal opinion, I don't think the fabric is soft enough or densely-woven enough to make a brand-quality garment. On the other hand, the colors seem to be vibrant (based on the sample I was provided), and I think that Spoonflower still may be the best choice for someone wanting to print a full-color custom design. A beautiful full-color design is a rare thing (silk-screening can only do so much!), so this may make up for the fabric quality!

I do think that Spoonflower is a good service, and I would give it a rating of 4.5/5 for craft purposes, and tote bags, etc, provided you can do correct color matching and you order a swatch of the final color so that you are sure you are happy with it.

And for fun -- here is the first prototype of the Raven skirt. :) I ended up using my hand-screened cotton fabric, and will use the Spoonflower fabric to make matching bags and accessories:

 

That's all! If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments, and I will try to answer to the best of my abilities.

EDIT -- Stephen from Spoonflower.com has responded (see comments below): "Hi there! This is Stephen from Spoonflower. Thank you so much for your thoughtful review. I'm just chiming in to note that we are in the process of transitioning to another base fabric. Because we're still relative newcomers to the textile industry, we've actually gone through several versions of the 60-square cotton (don't let anyone tell you they're all the same!) since we launched in the fall. The most recent batch we purchased prints very nicely, but is a bit coarser than the fabric we've used previously -- definitely coarser than the Moda cotton we've relied on whenever it has been available. We are working on getting a consistent supplier who can provide the highest possible quality cotton as our base fabric. We also plan to offer other choices including a linen-cotton blend that would probably be terrific for the project you're describing. I'm sorry for the inconsistency, but we are striving to get better at sourcing. By the time we get out of beta, we hope to be pros!"

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