Woven versus digitally printed wristbands
Woven fabric wristbands
+ very durable, colours are stable and do not fade easily.
+ can add special threads like glow in the dark, metallic lurex.
- no gradient colours.
Printed fabric wristbands
+ full colour printing with gradient colours.
+ variable data easily printed.
- durable but not for a prolonged wearing period.
- back of the wristband is white or ink printed.
Comparing image quality
Image quality of digitally printed wristbands is by far better than images that are woven. Because the looms use needles and threads the images that are woven and more pixelated than the images that are digitally printed. Gradient colours (colours that gradually change for example from a dark shade of blue to a light shade of blue) can only be achieved by printing methods.
Historically woven wristbands were used for festivals before printed wristbands, the rougher image produced on woven wristbands has a classic appeal.
Woven wristbands have an advantage over printed wristbands when it comes to durability. Dyeing process of the polyester threads of which the ribbons are made of are produced large-scale and under industrial production conditions. Ultimately the ribbons, either woven or printed, are made into wristbands and are worn by people that sweat, and wash themselves with different types of soaps. The colours on woven wristbands remain vivid and stable compared to printed wristbands after they are worn for a prolonged period of time.
The basic difference between woven fabric wristbands and printed fabric wristbands is that woven wristbands are produced on a loom with needles and polyester threads where printed fabric wristbands are produced by printing on readymade white polyester ribbons.
1.Digitally printing on readymade ribbons
There are basically two ways to print on ribbons for wristbands. By means of sublimation or by directly printing on ready made ribbons. In both cases an inkjet printer is used for printing. Sublimation printing is by far more popular that direct printing on ribbons for wristbands.
Sublimation printing is achieved by printing with an inkjet printer on sublimation paper using special sublimation inks. At the next stage the printed sublimation paper is placed over the ribbon (media) and is heat-pressed so that the ink from the sublimation paper is transferred onto the ribbon (media).
Either a heated flat-press is used for the sublimation process or a roll heat-press. For fast printing in bulk, roll heat presses are used to speed up the sublimation process.
Direct Substrate Printing; DSP
Another option for printing on ribbons is by direct print. Normally a UV inkjet printer is used where the inks are cured by the UV light and thus do not smudge on the ribbons. This method is typically used when small series of wristbands are to be produced and appropriate DSP printer is available.
When digitally printing on ready-made polyester ribbons, it is possible to incorporate in the printing variable data such as: sequential numbering, individual barcodes, individual names etc. Incorporating variable data on woven wristbands is possible but requires a second pass which adds costs to the production.
2. Weaving ribbons on looms
There are different types of looms but all use the same old principle of weaving with needle and thread. Modern advanced looms are programable and are computer controlled. Fabric is woven in tracks where for every track there is a separate set of spools with different colours. Production speed per running meter depends on the basic specifications of the loom, the weaving density, resolution of the objects and the number of colours handled simultaneously.
Two colour thread looms
When a wristband’s graphic has two colours only, a two-thread loom is normally used for production rather than a loom with more than two threads, utilizing only two tracks. Production on a two-colour loom is fast and cost effective compared to production on a loom that handles more than two thread colours.
7 or 8 colour thread looms
When more than two colours are needed for production, a loom with typically 7 or 8 colours is used. Same principle as a two-colour loom but there are more tracks and of course a more colouful result is achieved.
In high volume orders the difference in price becomes more significant when comparing two track production to more than two track production. Normally different prices are offered according to the number of colours. In low volume orders prices are basically the same as long as the graphic has less than 7 or 8 different colours.
Investment in buying a 7 / 8 track loom is much higher than that of a two-track loom and is also reflected in the final product price.
Special thread options
Special threads like: glow in the dark, metallic Lurex and colour changing thread can be used in the weaving process to create fancy effects making the wristbands more interesting and attractive. Price impact on adding special threads to a woven ribbon is negligible compared to adding these effects on printed wristbands.
Festival wristbands made of cotton
In recent years there is increasing interest in cotton festival wristbands. Cotton is a natural textile that appeals more than polyester to some customers. Unfortunately, the equipment used for weaving / printing on polyester ribbons is not suitable for cotton threads and ribbons. In any case, custom wristbands made of cotton are very expensive. We are waiting for a technological improvement that would make production of custom cotton wristbands more affordable.
Eco friendly ribbons for wristbands
Instead of using normal polyester threads or ribbons, recycled polyester can be used. Recycled polyester is typically made from polyproline waste such as empty transparent bottles. Printing process on these eco ribbons is similar to standard polyester ribbons.
Another eco-friendly option for fabric wristbands is using ribbons made of bamboo fiber. It is possible to use the same printing process used for printing on polyester to print on bamboo textile ribbons but it is costly.
When trying to choose between woven or printed wristbands one needs to evaluate what are the most important factors for the project: graphic result, durability, environment, variable data and last but not least price.