Project Runway Digital Fabric Printing Episode Wrapup

Warning: Spoilers ahoy!

So, what did you think of digital printing’s debut on Project Runway? For me it was new and exciting to see the designers create fabric prints to support their points of view, but otherwise digital printing was seriously underutilized.

The biggest disappointment was that the episode made textile printing sound out of reach to most designers, when in fact it’s available to and affordable for everyone. Surely Spoonflower et al. existed when they filmed this episode? I wasn’t expecting a plug for my digital printing service friends, but I was definitely expecting some mention of how DTP is rapidly democratizing textile print design, AND how different it is from traditional printing.

It would have also been nice to include a soundbite about freedom from repeats and color limitations, and to have made embracing DTP’s wonders part of the challenge. There was some mention that the judges would be looking for innovation, but they heaped praised on some extremely pedestrian fabric designs, wouldn’t you say? Witness …

{ Emilio’s Fabric }

{ Emilio’s Look }

The designers had only one hour to create their fabrics, and I’m betting they weren’t allowed to use photos or a scanner or anything, so that was a bummer. And dontcha wish they went into their choice of basecloths too? I liked Jay’s, Maya’s, and Jonathan’s fabrics off the roll — Anthony’s and Mila’s were OK, but Seth Aaron’s and Emilio’s were just hideous! (Students, did you notice the repeat types they used?)

{ Seth Aaron’s Fabric }

{ Seth Aaron’s Look }

That said, I was amazed how the character of the prints changed once they were part of the garments, especially Seth Aaron’s. His simple square repeat, once cut on the bias, ended up looking like a vibrant plaid. Emilio’s print was elevated some by the folding/pleating in his skirt, but I mostly agree with Tim Gunn’s opinion! See the other five fabrics and runway looks on the Lifetime website.

Despite my complaints, I did gain a whole new appreciation for designing fabric prints for fashion. It clearly takes a whole different mindset and level of expertise to have your hand in all parts of this process. If I recall correctly, Jay and Seth Aaron both mentioned that they’ve never designed prints before, but they’re both self-taught. I wonder about the others? Is textile print design not a 101 course in most fashion design programs?

Tech Notes. Despite searching around the internet I haven’t been able to figure out what software they were using in the studio to create their fabric designs. It looks like they were drawing in one square and the area on the right of the screen showed the repeat, so the software seemed specialized for repeat pattern design. The touch screen (HP TouchSmart) was pretty cool — Jay and Mila both used dry paintbrushes directly on the screen. (Not that I’m going PC on you!)

Though it wasn’t explained, it looks like the designers were using a binder full of color swatches from the digital fabric printer to help choose their extra fabrics at Mood (they shopped before they received their printed fabric). They certainly used the same swatches to choose the colors for their fabric prints. Each of the consumer-geared services offer these swatches, which help ensure you get the colors you want — remember that screen colors don’t translate exactly to fabric (or paper or anything else). As I’ve written before, if you plan on using digital printing a lot, obtaining these swatches from your printer-of-choice should be priority #1.

Fire away in the comments, friends … I’d love to hear your impressions of this episode!

all images from


  1. I have to say I was disappointed with both the prints and the mentioning of the process. It was barely a blip. But that computer was super cool. Boy could I use one of those.

  2. grace says:

    I know! I thought well, it ain’t that hard. I can go to Spoonflower and make my own – its not out of reach. I really liked Jonathan’s fabric and hated Emilos! Shows what kind of fashion sense I have!

  3. laurie says:

    Where to begin….. It was a little disappointing. I hope, given more time, they would have really come up with some marvelous textiles. Obviously, they only had time enough to scribble and scribble they did. Yes, Tim Gunn’s blog was a bit more revealing than what was in the episode. I agree with everything Tim had to say. I too, am perplexed at what exactly the judges saw in Emilio’s design. And what has Jonathon done to deserve all their wrath. Man, give that guy a break. I thought his polka-dots were one of the best – not the mess they described. And, OMG. What in the world happens next week with Maya. I can’t wait to find out!!!!!

  4. Nancy Lee says:

    I too was disappointed that there wasn’t more a segment on the digital printing. I kept wondering exactly how much fabric they were getting… The designers must have known, but I sure missed it.
    Funny that Tim (and everyone else) thought that Emilio’s fabric was reading SethAaronEmilioSosa, but then Heidi et all didn’t say anything about that at all…
    I loved Jonathon’s print. I didn’t think it looked like a dirty tablecloth at all…

  5. Kathi says:

    I didn’t like Emilio’s fabric AT ALL!!! I didn’t like Seth Aaron’s fabric either, but I thought it ended up looking great in the jacket he made. (The jacket completely changed the look of the fabric.) I didn’t like Jonathon’s fabric at all, but I like bright colors and found it rather boring. (I can’t say that I have ever thought of a dress as looking sad! I thought the dress was boring and the backwards coat was just ugly!)
    I have no ability to draw and would have great difficulty making my own fabric. I would find it to be a very daunting challenge!

  6. Amber says:

    I just sat there watching and talking to myself – I could not stand Emilio’s fabric and then couldn’t believe the judges loved it! And I liked Jonathan’s fabric – it was cool and different. Seth Aaron’s wasn’t my favorite but I loved what he turned it in to – and I though Maya’s was really cool. I do wish they had gone into more detail about the whole process and not make it look like something you could only do if you had fancy equipment…..

  7. Julie Anne says:

    I think the chart they were using at Mood Fabrics was a Pantone chart to match the color numbers they used in designing their prints with fabrics that were as close a color match as possible.

    Not that they really needed a Pantone chart for everyone to select a bunch of black and ecru yardage to go with their fabric colors….sigh.

    Seth Aaron consistently amazes week after week. His aesthetic isn’t really my fave, but you have to hand it to the guy – he has vision and mad skills in one package.

  8. Dot says:

    Like how you covered this PR episode and agree that it would have been nice to do more coverage on how available this process now is to the “average” person. It tied in nicely with all you have done on the subject. Thank you for all you share with us—it has enriched my fabric life.

  9. Rory says:

    Well I guess I am the odd man out…I didn’t HATE Emilio’s fabric. I liked his concept of graffiti and also the idea of giving a signature to his line. And Seth Aaron….YUCK. I don’t understand how everyone just falls all over themselves when they see his work. I actually didn’t LOVE anyone’s choice. But when you think about it, designing for clothes would be a lot harder than just designing pretty fabric. Especially clothes for adults!

  10. Lindsey says:

    I was also pretty bummed about the whole episode. They had the fantastic touch screen computer and could have done something much more wonderful than just lines, pop art, text, bubbles. Too bad.
    I have a bachelor’s in fashion design and we had a very basic U4ia class. It wasn’t that great, and certainly didn’t prepare me when an opportunity came up for a position that used CAD.

  11. Lesley says:

    They obviously know nothing about designing a fabric, that is an art all to itself.

  12. Melanie says:

    I was very disappointed with all the fabrics. I thought Emilio’s was TERRIBLE. It reminded me of a cheap Steven Sprouse for Louis Vuitton graffiti knock-off. It’s been done; there was nothing innovative, creative, or even attractive about that print. I have no idea what the judges saw that we obviously couldn’t.

  13. Ruth says:

    I can’t believe they chose Emilio’s. It was the MOST uncreative and uninspiring. A name as a logo? PUHLEEEESE!

  14. Josephine says:

    I didn’t have a chance to watch the episode, but seeing the pictures from your post and the links you provided – really were quite disappointing. Digital printing has been gaining momentum on the runways for a few seasons now, and continues to grow. The possibilities for this type of printing are changing the industry and the way textile designers work and the skills they need to possess. The results of a truly thought out print for digital printing are phenomenal!!

    I was mostly disappointed to see the lack of utilizing the strengths of digital printing, like you mentioned Kim: creating prints with as many colors as you want and without a repeat. Placement, engineered, and border prints become very possible and the creativity is limitless!

    Also, in the industry, to be fair, Fashion Design and Textile Design are two different career paths and degrees. It is my understanding that there is a 101 class for understanding the basics of CAD and repeats for Fashion Designers. However, to truly continue to deliver high quality prints that are marketable and trend forward, it takes the talent of a specialized Textile Designer.

    Thanks so much for featuring this Kim!!! I love what you are doing for the industry!

  15. Lynn says:

    The computers they used seemed very exciting (although I love the Mac). I did some research and found the system on the HP site (search for HP TouchSmart – they published a press release about the show. Also notice Vivienne Tam’s relationship with HP, and her “digital clutch – cute idea.)

    You can use a real brush to draw on the display – complete with the brushy marks. Here is a blogger that played with it:

  16. Karen says:

    Has anybody figured out what software they were using? Very frustrating that they did not go into more technical detail.

  17. Jen says:

    I also am very surprised that Jay McCarroll (Season 1 winner) wasn’t mentioned or invited to guest judge as he now designs fabric for Westminster Fibers. I agree with you, Runway dropped the ball on this one maybe Nina and Michael are losing their touch.

  18. Yasmin Sabur says:

    Thanks to PR for exposing a huge audience to digital textile design.
    The freedom of design and color inherent in digital design is such a leap from current American textile design, that even professional textile designer require a period of adjustment, certainly one hour is not enough time to develop a serious design.
    Jonathan’s fabric and garment were my favorites. I completely got Emilio’s fabric and design (very contemporary and African influenced). Seth’s fabric was great and the using the print on the bias genius.
    No PC prejudice here, loved the computer. Adding to my must have list.
    No one serious about textile design would give Spoonflower a mention. New York is full of professional print houses that print samples and large runs of digitally designed fabric. I’d be sure that the pro printers have properly calibrated printers and that their customers don’t put up with and receive skewed prints and weirdly colored fabrics.

  19. Kristen says:

    While Emilio’s fabric was not my fave, I didn’t dislike it. What I did dislike was his overall look. That jacket looked frumpy and the dress looked so basic. What were the judges falling all over themselves for?
    And while Jonathon’s jacket was a little weird, I loved his dress and his print. More than that, I love how he stood by it and told Michael Kors so. I wish MK offered less snobbyness and more constructive criticism.
    I went to Apparel Design school and part of one quarter was dedicated to textile design, but we used Illustrator to create designs and put it into a repeat. I really believe that just because you are a fashion designer does not mean you are a textile designer.

  20. mommymae says:

    jen – i didn’t even think about jay mccarroll & i love his fabric! they missed the boat not asking him back. it would have been cool for him to mentor them before they did the designing.

    and i have to agree about emilio’s fabric. it was juvenile.

    while seth aaron’s aesthetic isn’t my favorite, the way he creates his pieces with the lines & specific cuts is delicious.

  21. Linda says:

    Thanks for the great article and I too think that PR dropped the ball when it came to covering digital textile design, but it was an cool that they had this as a challenge. I liked Jonathan’s fabric, Maya’s, and Seth’s too. I also agree with Jen’s comment that they goofed by not including Jay in this episode.

  22. Erin says:

    Does anyone know the name of the software they used for the digital fabric design?

    I think PR is trying to keep it a secret for some strange reason. They must be getting many requests for this information and it is not stated anywhere that I can find. You would think that HP would describe it, but they don’t either.

  23. Karen says:

    Erin, they do seem to be keeping it a secret. I got an evasive answer from HP.

  24. Lindsay says:

    I agree with Josephine–I watched the episode last night and wished that they had worked with someone who knew what they were doing as far as designing textiles go. Think of how awesome it could have been had the contestants on the show been paired up with a textile designer!

  25. Josephine says:

    That would have been AWESOME Lindsay! : ) It would have been a good way to showcase that type of talent and skillset, which I think a lot of people would have been interested in knowing about. It would have just made the episode much richer, and accentuated the designers and the fashion industry.

    There’s definitely something really wonderful when people pull together to use their talents and strengths to make a product AMAZING, instead of a “one man show” that is mediocre. However, I get that this is a reality TV show, and that’s what it’s supposed to be : ) I’m just saying… ; )

  26. Valerie Valentine says:

    The software is called “Qimage”.