The Process of a Print

03 October 2017

The more I talk to people about our prints the more I've come to realise that they really have no idea about the process behind them. We thought it was high time that we shed some light on the work that goes into make a TEF print.

Every collection and print starts with a concept, normally based around the idea of communicating something through flowers. For example in our newest collection we have several prints that are collages of the herbs used to brew absinthe, therefore communicating that you are a drunkard! I like this way of working because it gives us a set of parameters in which to work in, as you can imagine there aren't that many botanical illustrations of absinthe herbs out there so we didn't have much choice. It was a real challenge to design the prints!

Once we have our concept we source old botanical illustrations in the public domain, like these:

At this point I'm not looking at the colours or style of the drawings, just for interesting shapes to build a composition out of. We then cut the plants out in Photoshop using a tool called the pentool, this is a slightly old fashioned and time-consuming technique but it produces better results than newer and faster automated processes. This is what they look like when they're cutout:

Placed together like this the cutouts look a mess, the colours don't work together and they are completely different sizes. This is where making collages in Photoshop gets interesting as we can change the colours and size of the cutouts. We can also duplicate cutouts, use them multiple times and cut out different parts of the same image to use in various ways, you can't do this with traditional collage!

Photoshop is a very powerful but sometimes awkward tool, getting the colours right on our cutouts is a lengthy process involving multiple layers of adjustments. We often apply certain adjustments to different parts of a cutout so that we can, for example, change the colour of the flower in one way and change the colour of the leaves in another. 

Here's what the cutouts look like after I've changed the colours to make a coherent scheme: 

And here's them used in a design for a tote bag:

A tote bag is quite a simple thing and doesn't require many panels of print, but other items of clothing do. Whenever we design a piece of clothing we design each panel of fabric individually, we need 21 panels to make one of our shirts! This is a lot more work than just making a piece of clothing out of a repeat pattern but it allows us to make much more interesting prints and we spend a lot of time working on small details on the inside of cuffs and collars, we don't really photograph these details for the website so you only discover them when you get the piece.

Here's another example of a chaotic combo being turned into a cohesive print:

And here's an example of a much simpler collage, the original image is quite an awkward shape and we had to compose the print cleverly to create the effect we wanted:

The range of techniques we use and compositional style we work with were developed from scratch by me when I was a teenager. In the early days of the internet, before Facebook and Instagram, there were a lot of small online forums where teenagers would virtually 'hang out'. There were several which were dedicated to making digital art with Photoshop, it was through these forums that I learned to use the program and eventually developed my own techniques and ways of working. I then passed on these techniques to Susan (my mother), she works in a similar way to me and knows how to use Photoshop remarkably well for an old biddy (just joking mum)! Any print we design has normally been passed back and forth between the two of us several times in an extensive design process.

Having a design that looks nice on a computer screen is just the start though. A computer screen is a totally different surface to a fabric, and most fabrics do not print accurately. When we first started digitally printing onto fabric I thought it would print very accurately, like paper, but it actually doesn't at all! Fabric is a lot thicker than paper so they need to pump a lot of dye into it to get good, deep colours. This can produce unpredictable results that are quite different to how a design looks on your screen. 

When we are designing a new collection we have to do months of sampling by printing small sections of new designs onto fabrics. We have to learn how each separate fabric prints because they all print differently, our silk crepe de chine comes out with deep, dark colours, it's an amazing fabric to work with! Cottons and wools are tricky because certain lighter colours can come out pink. Even when we know a fabric we still sample new prints on it, sometimes twice. This is an expensive and time-consuming process but it means we can see our prints in the flesh (or fabric rather) and make adjustments accordingly. Ultimately it's all about working with the fabric rather than against it and working out what looks good on different fabrics. We are really thorough about getting the composition and colours of our prints right and if we have to delay our production and spend more money sampling to get the right results then we will, we just don't take any satisfaction out of what we are making not being as close to perfect as we can get it.

Here are some examples of the prints we made from the absinthe cutouts you saw earlier: