Digital Divide

getting creative in the age of e-commerce


How many conversations have you been privy to about how the interior design industry is changing?  Suddenly there’s One Kings Lane, Joss & Main, and  Rest ashored the field of resources is only going to multiply.  Anyone can buy anything online.  You can’t blame the vendors, they’ve got to stay alive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.  So I’ve been thinking – what will set interior designers apart from the e-commerce fray.  An education in the decorative arts, a refined taste level, and adept project managing come to mind.  Lots of designers I know also think specifying more custom furnishings will become the norm.   I’ve got some experience on that subject which you might find interesting – and while I’m not likely to make friends in the fabric showrooms with this post – I’ll share it anyway.

Digitally printed fabrics have been around for nearly a decade.  In that time the technology’s been almost the exclusive realm of 7th avenue – because the printers themselves could only successfully print on poly and poly blend ground cloths.  Things have changed.  The technology is evolving rapidly (as all things do these days) and now it’s possible to print on cotton, linen, and silk.  Designers can specify a custom print fabric unique to a project.  Here’s the how and why.

First, with a software program like Illustrator or Photoshop anyone can produce a repeat.  If you’re looking for help, you can hire a CAD artist to produce a print to your specifications with very little investment (CAD artists are everywhere.)  Second, understand you can have as many colors as you like in your design without crippling yourself financially.  Screen printed fabrics require a screen to be cut for each color.  Digital printing is done in a single pass printing all colors at once.  Third, digital printers rarely require minimums.  Historically when a designer created a custom screen print there was a 200 yard minimum.  Add to that the cost of each color screen ($250-$750 each depending on complexity) and the printers fee for labor/ground cloth and suddenly a custom print was out of the question.  With digital technology you can have as many colors in a design as you’d like, you can print on good quality grounds, and minimum runs are a moot point.

I’m going to make a bold prediction.  Within 10 years textile showrooms will stop producing prints, because designers will be creating their own as part of the service they provide.  The showrooms will enlarge and diversify their woven collections – likely including new fibers – as there’s little chance they’ll lose that market.  The cost of loading a loom means shouldering at least a 200 yard minimum.  It’s also unlikely an individual would find a mill willing to work with them on weaving a single run.  I also predict that textile showroom will do more exclusive, limited runs of their wovens, and they’ll speed up the cycle in which they offer new designs to accommodate our ever-diminishing attention spans.


Interested in the idea of a one-of-a-kind print?  Here’s a road map.

Create a design and have it digitally mastered.  I’ve used The Style Counsel, who are really great, and if you’re looking for help with the design, they’ve got CAD artists who can help.  Then check out for your first printing.  It’s a crafter’s resource, but they got 10 ground cloths for you to choose from, and they print minimal yardage for about $18-$30 per yard.  Their printer technology is cutting edge.  If you’re looking for a more sophisticated ground cloth, do a little research of your own.  Digital printers are popping up everywhere.

My Irish grandmother used to tell me to be thankful for my problems, as they were opportunities to learn.  Custom designing a print for each project, moreover perhaps for each room on a project, would also give you an opportunity to do what interior designers do best.  Be creative.