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Review: Spoonflower Custom Fabric Printing Service 
20th-May-2009 05:40 pm
portrait
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!"

Comments 
20th-May-2009 11:40 pm (UTC)
Excellent review! I guess I'll avoid them on the basis of their fabric choice. It sounds like they'd be a better option if their fabric was nicer and their inks darker.

By the way, on the raven prototype, the printing on the back seems a bit high up. Other than that, cute skirt!
20th-May-2009 11:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks -- I'm glad the review was helpful to you! I would still suggest ordering a swatch to make your own choice about the fabric and printing, particularly if you're doing full-color designs or other designs that would be difficult to silk screen.

I agree with you about the printing on my skirt being high up. ;) It was my first prototype of that design, so in the future I'll be adjusting the print height and some other details -- and it will be sewn in a local New York factory (the sewing operators there have way better skills than my sewing abilities ;).

Edited at 2009-05-20 11:51 pm (UTC)
20th-May-2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for the review! I've been screenprinting my own fabrics but was really hoping to be able to use Spoonflower instead (the additional cost would be *well* worth the mess & time involved in screenprinting, at least for me!) but was a bit leery about the fabric quality.
21st-May-2009 12:36 am (UTC)
I also wish there was an alternative to the messiness of screen printing. Currently my studio is a total mess with gold ink flying everywhere ;)
21st-May-2009 12:10 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for this review! I really think for coloured things, Spoonflower looks really promising! I guess for the final judgement we'll just have to order for ourselves, but this review is certainly very helpful and I'm glad that you took the time to write it up and provide such good photos!
May I add, your illustration is lovely... and the Raven skirt looks really promising! I love that poem ^___^ [but who doesn't? ^_~]
21st-May-2009 12:37 am (UTC)
Thanks! :) Actually though the illustration is by my friend Matt... he's brilliant and wonderful and I hope to do a whole series with his art in the future. :)

(his website is here: dominantfiction.com)
21st-May-2009 12:12 am (UTC)
Thank you so much I was thinking a bit about doing custom patterns for myself
This really helped resolved some issues
21st-May-2009 12:37 am (UTC)
Glad to help! :)
21st-May-2009 12:23 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for this review! In the beginning when Spoonflower first started, they were using Kona Cotton instead of the Moda, so it was higher quality. I had some fabric printed from them when they first started (though unfortunately I do not have it anymore), and the Kona was a lot better. I believe they started using the Moda so it would cut down their costs, which is logical, but not so much for us seamstresses.

I think what I might ask them is if I may send them a bolt of fabric that they can print on, and see if they will. If I could pick it out myself, I'd be more inclined to use their services.

One more question, I am on a weekly tech podcast and I was going to do Spoonflower as my pick of the week. Would it be okay with you if I used your review, and credited you for it? Please let me know, and if you have questions about it, you can email me @ aiichan[at]joliechosedesigns.com^^
21st-May-2009 12:33 am (UTC)
please let us know what they say about sending your own fabric, that sounds like it would be a better option re: fabric quality
21st-May-2009 12:42 am (UTC)
this is a really great review! thank you.
I'm surprised at the quality of their fabric. hopefully they start carrying better fabric, or let you send your own like talia_speaks said.

on another note, I LOVE your illustration. it looks amazing!
21st-May-2009 12:43 am (UTC)
Thanks! Glad you like the review and illustration. I can't take credit for the latter though (well, only commissioning it ;) -- it's by my extremely talented friend Matt (www.dominantfiction.com).
21st-May-2009 12:49 am (UTC)
i want a raven skiiiirt! so badly
21st-May-2009 12:55 am (UTC)
:D Yay! This made me totally happy. :)

I will be posting detailed pics of the final design and ink/fabric colors, with a special pre-order rate at the sales comm in early June. If you like, I can drop you a PM when the sales post goes up. :)
21st-May-2009 12:51 am (UTC)
thanks for the review. i also have some stuff i got printed back when they were using kona, and i'm disappointed to hear that the quality is different. oh well, i would still give them another try -- i wonder how the upholstery weight fabric is?

i stumbled across this site the other day: http://fabricondemand.com/

i like supporting spoonflower since they seem to be the first to do this, but that site is another possibility. although i don't think they mention the threadcount of their quilting cotton...

21st-May-2009 01:00 am (UTC)
Wow, $28 for poly/cotton broadcloth? That seems awfully high, only because generally that stuff is cheaper than 100% cotton (at least at Joann's it is).
21st-May-2009 01:00 am (UTC)
Thank you for the detailed review! I've been wondering about the quality of the fabric, so it's good to know what kind they're using.

Did you notice any fading or changes in texture when you washed the fabric?
21st-May-2009 01:05 am (UTC)
This is a very good question! I actually haven't washed the spoonflower fabric yet... I wonder if it would get softer over time.
21st-May-2009 01:04 am (UTC)
I ordered a few samples of custom print from Spoonflower... well, the colors looked nice, it was overall good, but the fabric was very very thin:
http://tinyurl.com/qcae4m

Since it would cost me about $70 to have the fabric for a full JSK, I didn't order it. Maybe later, when they'll have more fabric choices.

Thanks for the review!
21st-May-2009 01:15 am (UTC)
Oh no -- your url didn't work.

Yeah... it's kind of expensive to print fabric. I wish I had bigger sales to expect so I could just get 500 yards printed at a professional mill... but that's very far into the future, I think. :)
21st-May-2009 01:21 am (UTC)
I've ordered from Spoonflower, and forgot to do a review. That's okay, though, 'cause yours is better than mine would have been, haha!

An odd question: were you the one selling these (or something similar) at Dances of Vice? I eyed them so hard but had already spent all of my money....
21st-May-2009 01:36 am (UTC)
Ah -- yes that was me at Dances of Vice! The sale was to celebrate the launch of the Morrigan website: www.morrigannyc.com

That's also the reason I ordered 6 yards of fabric from Spoonflower without a swatch (like an idiot.... ;_;)... I was getting ready to sell at DoV and it was kind of down to the wire! But in the end, I made a silk-screen version anyway - c'est la vie.

The final Raven skirts will be ready in June, and then I'll accept pre-orders at a special low rate on the sales comm. (It will take two or three weeks to sew up after orders are made, since I'm working with a local factory to make them). So you have a second chance to order one then! ;)
21st-May-2009 01:56 am (UTC) - Working on new fabric!
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!
21st-May-2009 02:05 am (UTC) - Re: Working on new fabric!
Hi Stephen!

Wow -- thanks for your (super-fast!) response. You should give a raise to whomever does your web tracking stuff. :)

It's great to know that Spoonflower is working on getting a consistent base cotton. I loved everything else about Spoonflower's service (the printing itself was beautiful, and the customer service was great).

I know that you'll definitely have plenty of customers in this community if you offer a high thread count cotton in the future (the linen-cotton blend also sounds intriguing).
21st-May-2009 03:09 am (UTC)
Thank-you for this review, I added it to the memories!

I was waiting to hear what people thought of the quality of the fabric, and I'm looking forward to using their service in the future. I hope they can provide a thicker fabric, but until they do, maybe just using it as an accent to a dress or creatively lining it might work? I'm curious to see anyway!
21st-May-2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
For me, the issue wasn't so much the thinness of the fabric (I actually don't mind thin fabric as long as it's high quality and drapes beautifully... and is fully lined. :) For example I like some of Moi Meme Moitie's designs which feature thinner summer-weight types of fabric -- I think they're very feminine. :)

But, I wish that Spoonflower's current fabric wasn't so rough/coarse. Looks like Stephen is trying to get a softer fabric though -- hopefully that should do the trick for the future.
21st-May-2009 03:18 am (UTC)
Awesome review. I had been looking into their service to get some fabric printed but glad I waited. Hopefully soon they will be offering that better quality fabric.
21st-May-2009 06:49 am (UTC)
Ah! Thank you for this review! It should be added to the egl memories as well. I've been wanting to do some fabric printing for awhile, but the only thing holding me back is that I'm a horrible seamstress, heh. I'd have to do a team up.

But that raven skirt print is really beautiful! If you ever decide to print more (maybe in black on burgandy? *hopeful!* ) you should def. think about doing a JSK. Poe is one my favourite writers and I'd love to have a Poe-inspired JSK someday! :D
21st-May-2009 08:58 am (UTC)
What a great review! Thank you so much for it!
I would love to buy a skirt like you designed, please remember me if you ever want to sell something like that. It is really beautiful piece!
21st-May-2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
Ah - thanks for your compliments! I will certainly remember you. :)

The skirt samples from the factory should be ready in June, and I will post to the sales comm with a special lower rate for pre-order customers (with a limited number of spots available).

Or until then, you can see some older stuff I've designed on my website: http://www.morrigannyc.com
21st-May-2009 10:34 am (UTC)
Thank you for the review!
I love that raven skirt <3 (well, I love the poem, so it makes me love the skirt too :P) The picture is so pretty :P
this review was really helpful, thank you a lot! it goes in my memories!
and let me know when you start to sell those s kirts :P
21st-May-2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comment! ^_^

Yeah, I absolutely love the poem too... it just seemed like the perfect romantic subject for a Gothic Lolita/Aristo-style print, so I couldn't resist. :)

I'll definitely send a quick PM to folks who've requested it when the skirts are ready for pre-order. :)
21st-May-2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
Great review. I'm totally intrigued and actually, this sounds like something that would work for me.

BTW, I saw your stuff at Dances of Vice but didn't get a chance to say hello - I was so busy I didn't get to do much of anything, haha! I was one of the designers in the fashion show (Apatico). You may have seen me ironing last minute out in the hall ;)

I really, really like your stuff and am totally excited to see what you're unveiling :)
21st-May-2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
Oh hi hi -- I loved your stuff at Dances of Vice!! :D I was annoyed that I had to stay upstairs for most of the fashion show (such is the fate of upstairs vendors.. I missed all the performances), but I was happy that I got to see all the beautiful outfits from the show up close as models walked past me getting hair/makeup/etc. :) The Apatico pieces look just as beautiful from close range as they do on your website!

Regarding Spoonflower, I would love to know about your experiences if you end up using a service for fabric printing -- definitely consider posting a follow-up review at some point!
21st-May-2009 05:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the review! I've been trying to get my sister to design a print for me so I can make us some custom outfits, but I think I'll wait until they have more consistent fabric choices. I found your review very helpful, and will pass it on to my sister (an aspiring fashion designer).
22nd-May-2009 01:37 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for such a detailed review and for providing us with the company's response! I'll be watching this company, for sure. ^^
22nd-May-2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
I cant thankyou enough for this wonderful review! I'm a loli-seamstress too and have always been curious about using spoonflower for custom prints. Your review is extremely helpful, and it sounds like Spoonflower is really working hard at perfecting their quality thankyou thankyou thankyou!
25th-May-2009 05:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the review, the fabric quality seems too low indeed. I hope spoonflower gets this fixed soon, then i will have to try out some swatches. <3
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