An Expert Guide to Selecting the Right Materials for Digital Printing

Photo of author
Written By Andrew Lane

Andrew Lane is a Digital Printing Technology Expert with over a decade of experience in the printing industry. With a deep knowledge of the latest printing technologies, Andrew has a keen eye for emerging trends and innovations.

In the realm of digital printing, the material you choose can make or break your final product. It’s not just about the design or the printer; it’s the canvas that often plays the unsung hero. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or someone just dipping their toes into the world of digital printing, understanding the significance of materials is crucial.

From paper to vinyl, canvas to fabric, the options are endless, and each brings its own unique traits to the table. But don’t worry, I’m here to guide you through this maze, helping you understand the characteristics of various materials and how they can enhance your digital prints. So let’s embark on this journey to make your digital printing projects shine with the right material choices.

Understanding Digital Printing

Focusing on the essence of digital printing empowers us to make strategic decisions when choosing printing materials. Moving away from the general advice and everyday language, let’s delve into some specifics about digital printing.

The Basics of Digital Printing

Digital printing refers to the process where digital images are directly imprinted onto various media substrates. Unlike traditional methods, there’s no need for a printing plate, enabling a quicker, cost-effective production process. It’s particularly useful for small print runs, given its capacity for customization.

In digital printing, the key lies in the utilization of droplets of ink, in particular, sizes of less than 50 micrometers. These droplets are carefully deployed on the material, forming the desired image based on a digital source such as PDFs or graphics files. With the right selection of inks and media, digital prints can provide a level of detail and color accuracy that rivals traditional methods.

The Evolution of Printing Materials

There’s been a multifarious enhancement of printing materials throughout the ages. Originally, natural substances, including papyrus and parchment, were the primary media. These evolved to paper in the 15th century, a mainstay in printing since its inception.

In the context of digital printing, though, the evolution doesn’t stop at paper. Interestingly, the 21st-century wave of technology brought along a plethora of advanced materials cut out for digital printing. Remarkably, as of the 2000s, materials like canvas, vinyl, fabric, and acrylic – previously considered atypical – have all become a part of the mainstream digital printing sphere.

The advent of such materials creates a wide range of possibilities for personalized and unique designs. For instance, fabric enables the creation of bespoke home furnishings, whereas vinyl lends itself to durable, outdoor banners. In essence, the evolution of printing materials opens up a plethora of opportunities, allowing designers to translate their digital dreams into tangible pieces of art.

Key Factors to Consider When Choosing Materials

Durability and Longevity

Durability and longevity stand as crucial factors I prioritize when choosing a material for digital printing. Some materials, such as canvas and vinyl, offer high durability. Particularly, canvas prints exhibit impressive resistance to fading and degradation; these attributes increase their lifespan significantly, especially for artwork that necessitates longevity. Comparatively, materials like normal bond paper don’t fare as well in the long run, proving less suitable for prints intended for long-term display.

Color Reproduction and Quality

Quality in digital printing takes roots in superior color reproduction. For instance, glossy photo paper outpaces others in this regard, bestowing prints with intensely vibrant colors and a high level of detail. Conversely, canvas and fabric, though offering a unique texture and feel, may not accurately reproduce colors due to their porous surface. By considering this factor, I ensure that each print not only looks stunning but also accurately reflects the original design’s color scheme and style.

Environmental Factors and Sustainability

Environmental considerations also play an enormous role in my choices for printing materials. Many manufacturers now offer sustainable materials like recycled paper, reducing the industry’s overall environmental impact. Other eco-friendly options include FSC-certified papers, which contribute to sustainable forest management. Thus, by considering these factors, my digital printing practices align with environmental sustainability values.

Popular Materials for Digital Printing

Paper and Cardstock Varieties

In the expansive world of digital printing, paper and cardstock standout as common options. These come in countless varieties, each possessing unique characteristics, suitable for diverse projects. Coated paper, for instance, offers bright color reproduction, ideal for brochures and flyers. Compare that to uncoated paper, it absorbs more ink, creating muted colors, a choice for formal documents or products with an understated aesthetic. Cardstock, on the other hand, boasts of durability and resilience. With thickness varying from 14-point to 24-point, it’s used for business cards, postcards, and other printed materials requiring longevity. Remember, GSM, or grams per square meter, portrays paper’s weight, an essential metric indicating thickness and durability.

Vinyl and Plastic Substrates

Diverse as paper may be, one can’t dismiss the importance of vinyl and plastic substrates in digital printing. Vinyl, a material prized for its durability and water resistance, makes an optimum candidate for outdoor graphics, banners, and vehicle wraps. It’s available in both cast and calendered form with different levels of flexibility and longevity. Plastic substrates, such as PVC, coroplast, and styrene, offer various perks. PVC, for example, demonstrates durability and stands resistant to UV light, perfect for outdoor signage. Coroplast serves well for short-term outdoor signs owing to its lightweight and cost-effectiveness, while styrene, with its smooth finish, optimizes indoor signage and POP displays.

Fabrics and Textile

Fabrics and textiles represent an evolving frontier in digital printing. From polyester to silk, choices abound, each presenting unique properties. For instance, polyester serves well for flags and banners due to its tear resistance and longevity. Silk, on the contrary, provides a luxurious feel and look, optimal for high-end products. Cotton, popular for t-shirts and apparel, absorbs ink well, allowing for sharp, vibrant prints. Specialty fabrics, such as mesh or canvas, offer additional options, each serving a unique niche. Note, the type of fabric determines the required ink – dye, pigment, or disperse – contributing to the final print’s appearance and durability.

Special Considerations for Specific Projects

When selecting materials for digital printing, it becomes critical to take into consideration the specifics of the individual projects. This includes understanding the difference between outdoor and indoor applications and recognizing the requirements for large-format printing.

Outdoor vs. Indoor Applications

Outdoor applications demand durability and resistance to external elements. For instance, I find vinyl and plastic substrates advantageous due to their water resistance and resilience, offering longevity in harsh weather conditions. On the other hand, indoor applications prioritize aesthetics such as color reproduction and finish. Here, paper and cardstock materials become the choice, giving a professional and aesthetic appeal to the prints. Fabrics like polyester, silk, and cotton work well too, but their suitability depends on factors such as the type of fabric, the chosen ink, and the overall design’s expected appearance and durability.

Large-Format Printing Needs

Large-format printing, used in banner creation and signage, requires materials that withstand environmental conditions while retaining the print quality. Canvases, vinyl, and particular durable fabric options come into play in such circumstances. Their robustness ensures the print’s integrity, even in larger formats. Besides, the type of ink used can also influence the end result. For example, UV-curable inks provide more color stability and resistance, a critical requirement in large-format printing where exposure is typically extensive and repetitive.

Costs and Budgeting for Digital Printing Materials

Embarking on any digital print project requires careful cost consideration. Delve into the average expenses associated with various print materials, then learn practical strategies to strike a balance between quality and expense.

Average Material Costs

Different materials carry distinct prices when used for digital printing. Generally, bulkier materials such as canvas and vinyl bear higher costs due to their resilience and longevity. For instance, canvas materials typically range from $15 to $45 per square meter. Vinyl, given its waterproof and sun-resistant qualities, also comes at a premium, frequently starting from $25 per square meter.

More approachable options include paper and cardstock. These versatile materials provide a cost-effective solution for indoor applications, presenting crisp image reproduction. Regular poster paper costs range from $0.50 to $2.00 per sheet depending on the quality.

Plastic substrates and fabrics, like polyester, silk, and cotton, diversify a printer’s portfolio while adjusting the cost scale. The median price for polyester ranges from $10 to $20 per square meter while silk and cotton carry prices between $15 and $50 per square meter, considering their demand in the fashion industry.

Balancing Quality and Expense

Striking the perfect equilibrium between quality and cost, though challenging, isn’t impossible. Several strategies come to the rescue. Primarily, dissect the project’s specific needs. If it’s an outdoor project, investing in hardier materials like vinyl or plastic substrates proves more beneficial.

Secondly, always consider the print run size. Small print projects might err toward pricier materials for better reproduction, while larger projects might prioritize volume, favoring more economical options.

One more significant strategy is to consider the long-term value. A more expensive material like canvas or silk could eventually provide better value due to longevity and higher customer satisfaction. Such considerations help optimize the balance between cost and quality in digital printing. Remember, the material choice directly impacts the print’s aesthetics and durability, so select wisely based on the specifics of the task at hand.

Tips for Testing and Selecting Materials

Following the discussion on cost considerations and budgeting for digital printing materials, I steer towards a more hands-on approach in this segment. This involves trialing various materials through sampling and prototyping and sourcing the right print service providers.

Sampling and Prototyping

Sampling holds a high rank in the testing phase of digital printing. I find it integral in understanding how different materials react to printing. Different types of paper, for instance, have varying responses to ink saturation — some absorb more, while others less. Samples come handily in clarifying such disparities. They aid in narrowing down materials well-suited for specific printing needs.

Prototyping, on the other hand, allows for a broader evaluation. It gives form to ideas, showcasing how a design would fare when transferred from a digital format onto a tangible one. Using plastic substrates for prototypes, I gauge factors like durability, flexibility, and environmental effects. Prototyping on fabric types like cotton or silk, I assess the texture and feel of the print.

Working with Print Service Providers

Print service providers serve more than executing print jobs. They offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise on materials ideal for your projects. From my experience, communicating with them often reveals insights unattainable from self-testing. They guide on what materials thrive in indoor situations versus outdoor. They also shed light on what works best for large-format printing or limited print runs. Collaboration efforts with print service providers, I consider invaluable to testing and selection of digital printing materials.


Choosing the right materials for digital printing isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s a strategic decision that impacts cost, durability, and overall project success. As we’ve discussed, options like paper, vinyl, canvas, and fabric each have their unique traits and possibilities. It’s crucial to consider factors such as indoor versus outdoor use and large-format printing needs. Balancing quality and expense is key, and that’s where sampling and prototyping come into play. They offer invaluable insights into how different materials react to printing. Collaborating with print service providers can further streamline the selection process, providing expert advice tailored to your specific project. Remember, the more you understand your materials, the better your digital printing outcomes will be.