Wherever you look, whether at custom apparel, in-store advertising, trade show exhibits and custom products are all covered with or composed of an array of printed fabrics. While historically these results were achieved using screen presses, digital printing is playing an increasing role in this field. The digital garment printing industry is starting to make its stamp upon this industry and has enjoyed significant growth in recent years and it looks set to grow even further in the future. The potential for digital printing to influence the $165 billion printed textile market has long been promised, yet less than 1% of printed textiles are digitally printed today, according to InfoTrends report. Today’s inkjet printers, designed for both direct and transfer printing, are available for short run production printing. These printers can seriously challenge traditional analog printing technologies.
Demands from clients are also changing, and the combination of new demands and the technologies to meet them will transform the market. Understanding the transformation is crucial to being able to profit from it. In this month’s article, we will examine the pros and cons of printing on fabrics with wide-format inkjet printers.
At drupa this year, there were eight exhibitors under the “Inkjet textile printing” category and so interest is growing in textile inkjet technology.
History of Textile Printing
Screen-printing is still by far the most widely used technology for fabric printing today. There are two types that exist: rotary screen-printing and flat bed screen-printing. A blade squeezes the printing paste through openings in the screen onto the fabric. Pretty simple, you’d think.
Digital textile printing on the other hand, is often referred to as direct to garment printing or DTG printing, and is a process of printing on textiles and garments using specialized or modified inkjet technology. Since the early 1990’s, when wide-format inkjet colour printers first came to be more widely used, the desire to digitally print on textiles grew and specially developed water-based inks (known as dye-sublimation or disperse direct ink) offered the possibility of printing directly onto polyester fabric. Initially, wide-format printer manufacturers like Mimaki and dGen modified the inkjet printers to print with sublimation dye inks either directly onto synthetic fabrics or onto transfer media, which was then applied to the fabric. In either case a heating step was required to transfer or diffuse the dyes into the interior of the fibers of the synthetic fabric. Today major inkjet technology manufacturers can offer specialized inkjet printers designed for direct printing on textiles, not only for sampling but also for bulk production. This is where the real opportunity lies.
Different types of inks are used for different applications. Printing onto nylon and silk can be done by using an acid ink and reactive ink is used for cellulose-based fibres, such as cotton and linen. Digital textile printing allows for single pieces, mid-run production and even long run as an alternative to screen printed fabric.
Production Textile Printers
Over the past 20 years, we’ve made great progress with inkjet technology, utilizing an ever-wider array of nozzles, higher resolutions and smaller droplet sizes. Printing speed has also significantly increased and so has the quality for textile printing applications. Here are a few of the higher end digital textile inkjet solutions.
The Xennia Osiris
On the high end of industrial textile printing, the Xennia Osiris takes the prize. With astonishing print speeds of up to 31,000 square feet per hour, the Osiris is designed for printing of fashion and furnishing fabrics with unrivalled productivity, reliability and cost per print, providing an excellent solution for low cost digital textile printing at short and long runs. The Xennia Osiris, has an impressive print width of 1.6m (64″ wide) and uses up to 8 colours (process or spot colours), and can accommodate up to 12 colours by request. This industrial inkjet printer is certainly not for everyone and is very expensive, but it shows the capability of digital inkjet printing as a viable substitution for analog screen-printing technology. If you want to be impressed, just google the video from Xennia Technology Ltd.
d.Gen Textile Printer
The d.gen Teleios GT, is a large-format, direct-to-fabric printer that has a unique textile feeding system for easy printing on textiles without curvature or twisting. With a large volume ink cartridge, the GT allows 24/7 printing and easy colour control without loss of quality. It is considered an eco-friendly machine; there are no paper, phenol or solvents needed and the d.gen inks fully comply with the European Union REACH environmental regulations. The printer is ideal for printing flags, banners, table throws, tents, tension-frame and retractable displays. Some have called this inkjet printer a flag-printing monster. It utilizes a 8 or 4 colour Reactive dye ink , Acid dye ink , Disperse dye dye ink or Pigmented inks. The d.gen Arachne Combo claims to be the best price performance and best selling industrial textile-printing machine in the world. This 3.3m width digital textile printer will cost about $120,000.
Durst Kappa 180 – High Volume Industrial Textile Inkjet Press
The Durst Kappa is a powerful digital textile printer — with a printing speed well in excess of 600 m2/hr and with excellent printing quality. This high-performance digital inkjet digital printer is made for the textile industry and is a genuine alternative to flat bed screen printing. Combining Durst’s proprietary Quadro printhead technology and its high-grade inks (Kappa Inks) allows for textile printing based on dispersion, reactive and acid inks. The Durst Kappa 180 has fully automatic feeding-in and guiding facilities for textiles with a maximum printing width of 195 cm and a printing blanket with an integrated washing system. The drying unit is a hot air dryer powered by gas, steam or electricity.
The modified Durst Quadro Array technology, makes it possible to print on textiles by way of a specially hardened, fray-resistant nozzle plate with a drop size of 7 to 21 picolitres. 6,144 jets per colour produce a resolution of up to 1680 dpi, while a single automatic nozzle cleaning system ensures uninterrupted operation. The Kappa 180 inkjet technology opens the door to completely new creations, since there are no limits as far as design or colours are concerned. Unlike conventional printing methods, there are no pre-printing processes – printing orders and changeovers are processed directly via the workflow software. Setup times and screen-making are things of the past, and the system is ready for printing within a few hours. Water consumption during the production process is reduced by up to 90 percent and only a fraction of the chemicals normally used are required. In addition to these environmentally friendly and cost-effective benefits, printing orders remain reproducible at all times. It is expected to carry a price of around $675,000.
Since the rotary screen-printing machine was introduced in the middle of the 1960’s, there have not been any significant developments in textile printing technology. With the emergence of these new inkjet technologies, the coming years should prove to be a pivotal time for the textile printing industry. Digital inkjet printing technologies will redefine a new workflow and textile design paradigm.