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A Guide to Fabric Finishes – From Greige to Gorgeous


Fabric finishes are crucial to the production of textiles. Used to increase a fabric’s performance or raise its aesthetic value, finishes can change a fabric’s utility, texture, and color.

Added after the initial construction of the textile is knit, called greige, finishing is the final part of production that allows companies to tailor a textile for a specific application. Once the finish is applied, it can drastically change the greige fabric’s properties.

Finishing and Treatment Processes

Before we talk about the finishing and treatment processes, we need to make sure the construction of the fabric meets all requirements. This may include stretch, breathability, density, weight, stability, and, first and foremost, yarn selection. Once the fabric comes off the machine, several finishing processes can be employed.

Fabric finishes are applied via dry or wet processes, as well as cold or heated. Treatments are often combined to achieve a particular look and feel to meet the fabric’s functional and aesthetic requirements.

  • Washing and Drying: Fabrics are washed with specialized detergents to remove contaminants or change the textile’s appearance. Once clean, the fabric is often dried with heat and air to remove moisture. At finishing plants, trained operators can modify the drying time, tautness, humidity, and temperature based on the textile’s properties. With a keen awareness of the environment, we at Apex Mills opt for finishing processes that maximize performance at low energy and CO2 values.
  • Heat Setting: Once the textile is washed and dried, it is then heat-set to ensure it has the desired structural integrity and consistency. Heat setting helps to reduce residual shrinkage and increase wrinkle resistance.
  • Calendering: Like heat setting, calendaring is a stabilization process used to smooth or compress a fabric. It condenses the fabric’s fibers by passing it through large, heated pressurized rollers.
  • Dyeing: There are several different processes for fabric dyeing, including jet, beam, pad, and paddle, to mention a few. A particular technique is selected based on the volume of fabric to be dyed and the desired effect. Professional color labs can customize colors or match any hue across the color spectrum.
  • Coating: The final process often involves treating a textile with glazes and coatings. Common coatings include compounds like plastics, oils, waxes, glue, shellac, and starch. A company will use these compounds to change a textile’s characteristics and appearance. They can also add utility to the fabric, such as UV resistance, moisture management, anti-microbial, or flame retardance.
  • Spraying: Using controlled hydrostatic nozzles to apply chemistry and dyes, this process offers full waste recovery to help maintain sustainable water systems and efficient chemical management.
  • Surface Modification: Sometimes the surface, or face of a fabric is altered to improve its ability to adhere or attach bonds to the surface for the next stage in the process.

Plasma, Flame, and Corona Surface Treatments

Plasma, flame, and corona treatments generate different forms of plasma to change a fabric’s surface. Generally speaking, plasma is a state of matter where atoms or molecules are ionized, allowing charges to flow freely, making it a good conductor of electricity. The treatments we will discuss differ in the way energy is provided to produce a plasma state.

 With flame treatment, the substrate is exposed to an oxygen-rich flame mainly used to improve adhesion, but also beneficial in other ways. Because of its high temperatures, dust, fibers, and residual organic matter can be burned off, thereby cleaning the surface for coating. The oxygen-rich portion of the flame promotes oxidation of the substrate generating reactive groups. The reactive groups provide higher surface energy for better wetting and the opportunity for chemical interaction with the coating.

 Corona treatment is a different form of plasma. It produces plasma by applying high voltage across two electrodes with an air pocket between them. The high voltage ionizes the air in the gap to produce the corona, which usually looks like a blue flame. Ozone is generated from the oxygen in the air of the corona. How the corona modifies the surface is not precisely understood, but one theory states that the energy of the high-charged electrical corona breaks the molecular bonds on the surface of the substrate. The broken bonds then recombine, creating a stronger chemical affinity for coatings, resulting in improved adhesion. The increased polarity of the surface heightens surface energy that translates into improved wettability, a preferred characteristic when using textiles as a substrate with resin, composite forming.

Types of Fabric Finishes

While there are too many fabric finishes to list, they generally fall within two categories that improve performance — standard and decorative.

Standard finishes are mainly used to alter a textile’s performance or durability in specific environments or against a particular element. For example, you can find finishes designed to add flame resistance to a fabric, enhance a textile’s softness, prevent fading from sunlight and environmental elements, or improve a fabric’s ability to prevent bacterial spread.

Decorative finishes improve a fabric’s aesthetic qualities, such as its texture, firmness, and colorfastness. A company might apply a brightening finish to increase the clarity of a fabric’s colors. Some decorative finishes are used to change how a fabric feels, such as sanding, napping, sueding, and crushing, a popular crinkle effect used in apparel and home textiles. Decorative and standard finishes can be combined to achieve top-tier performance and a desired aesthetic.

New finishes are continually introduced to address our well-being and comfort. Today, advanced finishes can add unique wellness properties to fabrics such as aloe, CBD, Capsaicin, and lavender. Other finishes are added for temperature control and cooling comfort. Click here to learn more.

A Deeper Look at Standard Finishes

Categorized as standard, there’s nothing ordinary about these fabric finishes. Standard finishes are used for different applications in different industries. A company may use a chemically resistant finish for uniforms if their workers interact with dangerous chemicals. Another company may choose an antibacterial fabric if their professionals are in close contact with infectious substances. Firefighters and safety workers require fire retardant fabrics as a protective barrier as they face harsh conditions.

Here are a few of the main types of standard fabric finishes:

1. Anti-microbial

Anti-microbial fabric finishes are used by product engineers who want to create products with self-sterilizing features. An anti-microbial fabric finish helps prevent the spread of odor and bacteria that can grow on a fabric’s surface. Many clothing companies, especially athletic and athleisurewear, use this kind of finish to safeguard their products from unpleasant smells and bacterial growth. Healthcare companies, safety, and military applications also favor this treatment for their applications.

2. Anti-static

Anti-static wet-end finishes stop fabrics from building a static charge and clinging together. These add value for clothing manufacturers and are sought by carpet manufacturers, automobile companies, and are used on medical instruments to prevent dust from attaching to the fabric fibers.

3. UV Resistant

UV-resistant finishes prevent the fabric from deterioration and fading. Fabrics treated with this finish won’t degrade or become damaged when exposed to UV radiation from the sun or other environmental elements. UV-resistant finishes are ideal for textiles used outdoors including, shading, boating, and outdoor playsets.

4. Fire Retardant

Fire retardant finishes protect the fabric from burning when exposed to high temperatures or flames. Fire retardant finishes are a staple for firefighter uniforms and other applications, including hospital cubicle curtains, aircraft dividers, and seat pockets, military vests, and certain automobile fabrics.

5.  Chemical Resistant

A chemical-resistant finish is necessary to reduce the amount of damage a fabric takes from dangerous chemicals and can protect those wearing them from harm. Companies may rely on these fabrics to make protective gear for various healthcare and science sector workers exposed to chemicals and other hazardous materials.

Contact Apex Mills for Custom Application Driven Designed Textiles

If you’re looking for high-quality fabrics and fabric finishes, turn to Apex Mills. We regularly work with engineers and product designers to craft textiles meeting a customer’s specifications. Our application-driven design process ensures we create products that will pass testing, generate increased performance, and adhere to our customer’s end goals. All our products are made in the U.S., and we’re proud to offer in-depth custom solutions to our customers.

Review our textile capabilities today to find out more about how we can help you. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us today.

 

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