Material benefits

This textile printing feature by Peter Kohn was published in the April edition of ProPrint.

Listening to ABC Melbourne on the radio recently, my ears pricked up when host David Astle began talking about fabrics – very serendipitous as ideas for this ProPrint feature on the technology and business dynamics of textile printing were brewing in my head.

Astle enlightened his audience about the origins of well-known fabrics – that suede came from Sweden, damask from Syria (Damascus), jeans originally from Italy (Genoa) and calico from India (Calicut).

This got me thinking about the diverse range of substrates a creative printing enterprise could introduce in a sector that is brimming with potential and ranks with packaging and signage as among the most future-proof.

Print businesses can, to a point, use skillsets developed in paper printing to bring textile printing to reality.

While we should beware of being cavalier about the specific skills needed for textile printing, in a broad sense, these skills are universal and adaptable.

So, what your team has learned from applying ink to paper is a good start in this lucrative segment.

Whether it’s pigment-based direct-to-garment (DTG) printing for short-run or personalised merchandise or volume projects using roll-to-roll dye-sublimation with paper transfer or flatbed direct-to-fabric (DTF) for soft signage, apparel or home furnishings, the future looks bright for fabric printing.

So, what do the textile printing vendors have to say about this exciting space?

Canon

Garry Muratore, product manager at Canon Production Printing, says the figures are compelling with the interior décor market recording double digit growth since 2016.

“We take a wider view of where textile printing can fit and consider it a core part of our interior décor suite of applications,” Muratore said.

“The capability of digital inkjet technology to print to almost any surface, with longevity, along with an explosion in the development of new digital media and the trend for personalisation, is driving volume growth in this sector. Not only is market growth high, but printed décor products can command high value, and therefore high prices.”

Interior décor covers a range of categories including retail, exhibition, corporate fit-outs and museum and gallery spaces with each presenting a long list of applications for digital print, he explains.

Many interior décor products are manufactured using traditional analogue methods and switching to digital techniques would allow some to be created faster and more cost effectively.

To respond to this demand, Muratore says Canon Production Printing offers UV cured technology that allows a wide range of substrates to be printed at high speed and at near photographic quality.

Durst Oceania

Matt Ashman, managing director, Durst Oceania, says textile print production falls into two categories: soft signage and home/apparel decoration. “Soft signage is a steady, solid sector, not a huge growth area, not double-digit, but it certainly is an area that people in wide format are looking to go into. The people who started doing this five or ten years ago – such as Vivad in Melbourne are very strong,” Ashman said. “If I was advising anybody in wide format, I would tell them to look at soft signage.”

Durst’s Alpha industrial textile printer

The real growth is in home and apparel decoration and, Ashman says, this combined with an increased push for onshore production but in shorter and higher value run lengths can only be a good thing for Australian operators.

Ashman says digital textile printing’s key benefits are its ease and cost effectiveness to only print the amount needed and as such dramatically slash waste and water usage.

“Fabric decoration historically has been done in Bangladesh or India using traditional methods that use phenomenal amounts of water, so the environmental impact on those developing countries is becoming unsustainable,” Ashman said.

“The advantage of digital is you are producing the correct amount and the amount of water required is proportionate to the amount produced. For sustainability, that’s much more attractive.”

Ashman says Durst’s pigment inks do not need steam or water treatment and, unlike conventional pigment-ink decoration, Durst’s new-generation pigments offer strong, fade resistant colours. “There are still some playoffs like certain fabrics that can’t be printed with that technology, however, there are a lot that can be.”

The rise in the popularity of short-volume high-value textile decoration particularly in the swimwear and niche apparel categories is also a big advantage for local producers, Ashman says.

“Australia will get on board with home furnishing, fast fashion and apparel and when it happens, it will happen quickly.”

Durst’s Rhotex dye-sublimation range comes in medium, large and superwide formats up to five metres and are designed for direct-to-textile and transfer printing (from paper to textile) at up to 300 square metres per hour. For apparel and home furnishings, its Alpha industrial direct-to-textile press can print at speeds up to 1,500 square metres per hour.

Epson

Gordon Kerr, Epson Australia’s Business Marketing Manager – Professional Print, says figures in a recent IDC report show the textile printing market grew between 30 and 50 per cent over 2018 and 2019. Driving a significant part of this increase is the shortening of the fashion season.

“Retailers are struggling with decreased trade and are responding with increased attention on differentiation, increased promotional activity and more frequent sales,” Kerr said.

“Customers are continuing to purchase but they are buying when they see value; what is new, what is fresh, and what is offered at a ‘reasonable’ price point.

“The ability to provide just-in-time delivery is becoming as important, and in some cases more important, than the ability to offer the absolute lowest price.”

Soft signage is another undeniable growth space and is continuing to eat into territory once preserved for paper, canvas and vinyl, Kerr said.

“We are really starting to see a shift in focus from film to fabric particularly in regards to light boxes and point of sale and point of purchase applications,” Kerr said.

Epson has got both the DTG and dye sublimation markets covered.

In the DTG space, Epson offers the F2160 press for low to medium volumes on light and dark shirts. In 2020 it will launch the F3060 for the high-volume producer.

In dye sublimation, Epson has the F560 for merchandise and hard surface imaging; the compact F6360 for 44 inch roll-based media for medium volume garment and hard surface imaging; the F7200 for medium volume fabric and soft signage producers with roll-based media up to 64 inches; the F9460 / F9460H for high volume fabric and soft signage production up to 64 inches and a soon to be launched very high speed production model with roll support up to 76 inches.

HP

In the past decade, digital inkjet printing has become the fastest growing printing technology for textile decorations, says Craig Hardman, country manager, large format, HP. Dye-sublimation represents an important sub-sector of it and is a key process within digital textiles printing, he adds.

Quoting data from the Smithers-Pira report, The Future of Dye Sublimation Printing to 2023, Hardman says volume growth is expected to continue at 11.6 per cent year-on-year from 2018 to 2023 – significantly higher than the three to four per cent expected in the conventional textile printing market to 2023.

“It’s hard to deny the impact of fast fashion on both the fashion industry and the retail landscape as a whole,” Hardman says.

“Digitally printed textiles offer innovative solutions to support the fast fashion industry as designers and brands are able to react quickly to changing trends and consumer demand.

“The rapid turnover of fashion means brands will attempt to minimise holding significant inventory, which is often what happens with traditional analogue printed fabrics – to make this process viable you need to produce significant yardage.”

Increasing pressure to examine the lifecycle of printed products is also driving a trend towards more sustainable solutions and, where possible, recyclable materials, Hardman says. Polyester and R-Polyester textiles (made from recycled PES yarn), coupled with dye-sub inks, present an ideal opportunity to help deliver short term displays and expo components without the ‘throw away’ waste of typical PVC-based materials.

Hardman says the newly released HP Stitch S series of digital textile printers delivers fast and precise colour-matching with efficient and simplified processes.

Sydney’s Next Printing is the first Asia Pacific wide format printer to install a HP Stitch S1000 with managing director Romeo Sanuri saying he chose it to meet a growing demand for vibrant backlit light box applications.

Impression Technology

Steven Richardson, director of Impression Technology, quotes a Keypoint Intelligence report which forecast a 14 per cent CAGR rise to 2023 from a 2018 global base of $US7.5m in garment print value to illustrate the power of this sector. Again the message was clear about the role of digital technology in the rise of fast fashion.

“Digital technologies – from machines and software to workflow management systems – are considered as the enabler to fast fashion,” Richardson said.

Richardson says while large department stores opt for traditional summer and winter seasons, it is boutiques and online stores that are driving the spike in quick-to-market digitally printed garments.

DTG offers some unique selling points – including short lead times, no makeready, minimal set-up costs for design, variable/personalised product and scalable production through hardware investment.

Impression Technology’s DTG range includes the G4 entry-level shirt printer; the M series large-field industrial range; the PTM garment pre-treatment machines and GoTx 1900mm-wide roll-to roll textile printer and fixation systems for natural fabrics.

Kissel & Wolf

Since the new millennium there has been significant growth in streetwear, says Jon Field, sales and business development director (digital) ANZ at Kissel & Wolf Australia. At $US185b in sales, streetwear comprises around 10 per cent of the global apparel and footwear market. Sports apparel is also booming with Field pointing to an Allied Market Research report which says it accounted for around $168b globally in 2018 with this expected to grow to $250b by 2026.

A combination of online ordering, digital workflow and the take-up of digital DTG and DTF technology has allowed brands to benefit from just-in-time production and the opportunities of an on-demand customer experience.

Field points to opportunities in dye sublimation printing on polyester for exhibition graphics, POS, sportswear and home and hotel furnishings and pigment print on cotton, silk, rayon and mixed fibres.

Kissel & Wolf caters for the high production roll-to-roll textile inkjet print markets with solutions including the Mutoh VJ 1638WX 64 inch dye sublimation printer, which runs dual CMYK bulk dye sublimation inks for high productivity sportswear printing; the Mutoh VJ 1938TX 75 inch roll to roll printer which uses dual CMYK bulk disperse dye inks for direct-to-polyester printing or CMYK, orange, green and blue bulk pigment inks for printing direct to cotton, silk, rayon and mixed fibres.

The Kornit Presto 1800mm direct-to-textile printer runs CMYK plus red and green Neo Pigment Robusto inks for unparalleled direct-to textile production speed and quality on cotton, silk, rayon and mixed fibres and the Homer 3200mm HM3200R industrial large format high-speed dye-sublimation graphics printer.

Kornit Digital

On-demand printing of fabrics and garments is the new wave in non-paper printing, says Ashley Playford-Browne, regional manager ANZ, of textile print hardware developer Kornit Digital. Playford-Browne says the push away from analogue technologies is fuelled by the on-demand flexibility of digital print.

Kornit Digital has got DTG covered

“Fast fashion has revolutionised the industry and improved the customer experience, however, we also must be mindful that this has come at a cost – more clothing manufactured means more waste. The challenge now is to reduce the excess waste.”

Playford-Browne says DTG’s strength is that a relatively cheap garment, with some ink added, can be sold for a much higher price. “This is down to the fact that it’s customised to the client’s requirements. It also allows you to set up a cash-flow-positive business, as most of the sales channels in DTG are B2C, therefore you don’t manufacture until the orders come in and it’s paid for.”

Kornit’s print technology is based around its pigment inks with in-built pre-treatment, notes Playford-Browne.

“This is a unique and patented process which means you literally can take a garment and print on it, there is no pre-treatment required. Being a pigment solution means we can print on virtually any fabric type – think cotton, rayon, silk, polyester, and so on.”

Kornit Digital’s DTG range includes the entry-level Breeze, the mid-range Storm and the high-end Avalanche and Atlas platforms. Its Presto roll-to-roll range is designed for high-volume fabric decorators or micro-factory operations.

Mimaki

Australians are among the most sports-minded in the world, Mimaki Australia’s textile channel manager Iman Monem says. “We have competitions on every sport field, in every age group, and they all need customised jerseys with their names and numbers.

“Although we face competition with overseas products, the Australian government is supporting local manufacturers by offering grants for those who wish to start up production and employ local people.”

Monem notes that with the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closing Chinese factories, demand for reliable local suppliers has risen significantly.

As part of its response, Mimaki has set up its first TX300P-1800B press with reactive ink in Melbourne to print the work of textile design graduates.

Monem says the ability to wash and re-use dye-sublimated banners is a major benefit for events and exhibitions.

“Those who have already purchased a frame or tubular shape stand just need to order a new skin if details change,” he said.

“This is why in shopping centres and exhibitions we see printed fabrics almost everywhere. Customised table cloths, lamp shades, tapestry and furnishing is another growing sector,” he says.

DTG is also a growth area due to its ability to print down to one on cotton.

But Monem says this is problematic when printing on dark polyester as the only way to do this is with heat transfer vinyl, which isn’t as durable as dye-sub printed fabric.

Mimaki Australia offers dye-sub printers in 1.3m, 1.8m and 3.2m widths. It does not offer any DTG technology at this stage but does have the TX300P direct-to-textile press available.

Pozitive

For Phillip Trumble, managing director at Pozitive, an increasing focus on sustainability and using recycled polyester is giving digital printing a big green tick. Its other benefit is the relatively smaller physical size of folded textile which means less space in landfill and savings on shipping. “For big media roll-outs it is easier to ship and have more impact with fabric than it is with multiple boards or other unrecyclable media,” Trumble said.

Pozitive supplies the Summa range in Australia

Re-usable framing systems are the other benefit of this application.

“Framing systems that are installed by professional sign makers can also have skins easily installed by a shop owner or business owner and can be easily reskinned so once you make the investment in the hardware you are only replacing skins,” he said.

Trumble says the rise in on-demand garment customisation will only increase, with sportswear leading the charge.

“Individual garments can easily be customised with dye sublimation and certainly in DTG and HTV (heat transfer vinyl) where premade garments are customised prior to sale,” he says.

“These markets are booming due to the short run length required and the high level of customisation the market now knows is relatively easily available.”

Crossing between DTG and dye sublimation doesn’t commonly occur but Trumble sees no reason why it can’t.

“Certainly, in this diverse world where many are looking to widen the net, clients can migrate from one to the other, or more likely, combine technologies and offer more to their same customer base,” Trumble said.

“It really has a lot to do with understanding your business and more so understanding your clients.

“Many sportswear companies could easily offer textile banners and soft signage, but don’t. It may be harder for signage companies to offer sports team jerseys though because the printing is only one small part – making a garment is a whole additional skillset.

“It really is about understanding that printing is the common link between these different industries and applications, but what happens after the print can be completely different skill sets and abilities.”

Pozitive does not currently supply DTG products but does offer products for heat transfer including printable and cuttable films that can be applied with a heat press onto shirts, apparel, sportswear, garments and bags.

For high volume dye-sub and direct-to-textile in soft signage or sportswear markets, Pozitive offers RIPs from Caldera and Ergosoft. It also distributes DGI’s range of dye sublimation paper transfer and direct to textile technology from entry level through to industrial. Also on offer is a range of industrial printers for dye sub transfer and direct to textile from MS Italy.

Pozitive also supplies a range of Mimaki entry level and production textile printers.

It also represents: Kiian, an Italian-made global leader in sublimation ink; Transjet sublimation transfer papers (manufactured by Sappi in Italy); Italian-made Monti Antonio calender and flatbed presses and rotary knife and laser cutting systems from Summa in Belgium.

Ricoh

Mass-customisation, personalisation and increasing environmental and social pressures have opened the door for digital textile printing, says Henryk Kraszewski, senior product manager, commercial and industrial print, at Ricoh Australia.

“Online stores for customised clothing – and other items – is a trend that has exploded in recent years,” Kraszewski says.

“Organisations such as Cimpress, The Dream Junction and Amazon have invested heavily in IT infrastructure, online communications, manufacturing and quality assurance to drive demand.”

The other big plus for digital textile printing is the textile and apparel industry’s unenviable position as the world’s second-largest polluter – after oil, says Kraszewski.

“In analogue processes, tonnes of discharged water generated from the dyeing process causes significant social and environmental problems.

“Significant waste is also generated during the manufacturing process – spinning, dyeing, cutting and sewing – as well as through transportation and disposal of unsold stock.”

The global increase in inkjet hardware and ink sales further proves the rise of textile.

“IT Strategies Inc has projected that global sales of inkjet hardware and inks for industrial printing on textiles has grown from $US130.5b in 2015 to $US231.4b this year,” Kraszewski said.

“Fashion is by far the largest segment of the printed textile market.”

Texintel estimates fashion accounted for 39 per cent of all printed textiles in Europe in 2018, measured in turnover. The next largest segment was sportswear (29 per cent), home décor (19 per cent), contract décor (nine per cent) and events (four per cent).

“While events and soft signage represented the smallest market segment – by turnover – of printed textiles, it had the highest digital penetration of 83 per cent. With a low growth – and high digital penetration – the digital opportunities in this well-established segment are limited,” Kraszewski said.

All segments combined represent 96 per cent of turnover of printed textiles in Europe, with digital penetration at a low 11 per cent, he added.

Ricoh’s Pro L5160 wide format printer uses Ricoh’s aqueous resin ink to print on impermeable and permeable media. The Pro L5160 prints on synthetic material, cotton, tarpaulins and canvas for indoor and outdoor use. For DTG, Ricoh’s Ri 100 can fit on a bench top and its ease of operation means a product can be finished in minutes. The Ri 100 can print t-shirts, outerwear, polo shirts, pillow cases, towels, socks and wall prints.

Starleaton

Starleaton marketing manager Ines Eaton says reports from Fibre2Fashion and Smithers Pira point to textile printing continuing to grow as digital printing costs reduce, new applications become available, the trend for personalisation continues and the growing potential of pigment inks.

Eaton says Dutch substrate developer Neenah Coldenhove has recognised the gap between pigment analogue printing (analogue printing with pigment ink is 52 per cent of the total) and pigment digital printing (digital printing with pigment ink is only three per cent of the total) with the development of Texcol, a special paper for pigment transfer on an industrial basis.

She adds two factors are driving the fast fashion boom – outsmarting counterfeit operators and the demand for personalised goods.

“Brands are protecting themselves against the copy industry by increasing the frequency of new designs – a new collection every six weeks kills the market potential for the copied products,” Eaton says.

“The other driver is the trend for individualised products – a t-shirt costs a few dollars but a shirt with your own picture or artist’s impression makes it unique and the pricing can easily reach $US25.”

Choosing whether to go DTG or high volume, or a blend of both, is a calculation each print enterprise must make for itself, Eaton says.

“The equipment can do both but how you organise the production is what matters. Handling four high-volume production orders or 2,000 single print orders simultaneously in one day requires a completely different organisation,” she says.

Starleaton offers a comprehensive range of textile printing and finishing hardware and consumables.

Its EFI VUTEk FabriVU 180 and 340 dye-sublimation printers offer production-level speeds, outstanding image quality and optional inline fixation capability in 1.8m and 3.4m formats.

It also offers Epson’s dye-sublimation printers, the SureColor 64in SC-F9460, 44in SC-F6360, the world’s first 24in SC-F560 plus the SC-F2160 Desktop DTG printer.

Finishing gear includes high-quality transfer printing and fixation calenders from Kliervik, thermal transfer papers from Flexa of Italy and fabric sewing solutions from Impulsa. Included in its consumables range are the Neenah Coldenhove sublimation papers, ranging from 45 to 140 gram.

Taking on textiles

Technology vendors offer advice for print enterprises pondering a move into fabrics.

Garry Muratore of Canon Production Printing says vendor support is critical for any printer looking to successfully expand into textile printing. “We regularly help customers complete the story with professional solutions and well-managed implementation. Our purpose-built Customer Experience Centre in Melbourne is often used to test various fabrics and substrates in a range of applications on our various technologies. This means our customers know that they can rely on us for R&D and proof-of-concept samples.”

Matt Ashman of Durst Oceania says with the cost of entry now lower than ever – and skillsets that are similar, although not identical to those for paper printing – textile decoration is becoming an attractive transition target for some conventional print businesses. But he says up-skilling in this area needs close attention particularly in hanging fabric, laser cutting and choice of materials. “You can’t print with dye dispersion or sublimation on just anything. It has to be minimum 50 per cent polyester so there are all these rules that come in and there is no way around them. Durst has huge knowledge and we will happily act as consultants and advise people about what they need,” he says, adding Durst’s Experience Centre in Brixen in northern Italy is a magnet for print enterprises fascinated by expanding into textiles.

Nathan Fulcher of Epson says migrating to dye-sublimation would be relatively easy for someone experienced in signage production as it uses the same RIP software. “The considerations are investment in a suitable heat press (flat model for cut sheet or pre-cut garment work, calendar style for roll to roll fabric, specialty type for merchandise), time spent getting used to new media and press settings, the need to change mindset towards profiling of output media rather than print media and reversing images.” DTG isn’t hard to manage as a portfolio expansion. “While operators can print using the same types of images, they will need to learn some new software that manages layouts and image positioning. They also will need to work out how to fit production into their existing business. In addition to a heat press (flat style for low volume, tunnel style for higher volume), they would be well advised to invest in a pre-treatment machine unless their intention is only to print on light coloured fabrics.”

Craig Hardman of HP says there is a learning curve as with moving into any new market. “With HP entering into the textile printing market, we have retained a similar workflow and interface for our Stitch textile printers to our other devices, so those already producing wide format print on our DesignJet or Latex printers can make the transition simply. The biggest hurdles to overcome relate to the finishing of textile products. This often means new cutting machines or additional tools for existing cutters, and the addition of sewing. Whilst not technically complicated, these are additional considerations many print companies may have never thought they would be seeing in their factory. But it is hard to ignore the growth and additional profit opportunity in the textile market.”

Steven Richardson of Impression Technology says transitioning to textiles should be hassle-free, but some basic cautions need to be observed. “Knowledge of various ink types and pre and post-printing processes are critical. Textiles themselves have great variances – they can be knitted, woven, stented, starched, pre-shrunk, bleached, silicone processed, they can be non-stretch, one-way, two-way or four-way stretch, or a combination. There isn’t a single rulebook that applies when it comes to digitally printed fabrics.”

Jon Field of Kissel & Wolf advises paper printers against moving into this market unless they partner with someone who is experienced in the roll-to-roll sector but says success in the DTG space is more attainable. “The DTG market is more straightforward, although like moving into any new market, it still provides its own set of challenges. With that said, we already have customers here in Australia and New Zealand who have successfully navigated from a paper print background into the DTG market and have had to learn quickly about getting ink to successfully adhere to textiles and fabrics, along with factors such as wash and rub fastness.”

Ashley Playford-Browne of Kornit Digital says it depends on where you enter the market. He says roll-to-roll is more demanding due to the finishing that is required. DTG does not have this issue but there needs to be an understanding about quality. “Textile is not just about a good-looking print, you need to consider the wash-and-rub fastness, durability is key as prints need to withstand wash after wash. You also need to be able to adapt your production methods to the different fabric types and batch types. Fabric itself has many variables that operators need to be mindful of.”

Brad Creighton of Mimaki Australia sees dye sublimation as having its complications. “There are a number of factors involved in determining the finished product’s quality. Mimaki is one of the few companies that’s in control of all major elements. We supply printers, software, ink, paper, ICC profiles for all papers in the market and support customers from A to Z. Some fabrics definitely require different press temperature and time but most print businesses that are our clients know how to tackle most issues that come up.”

Phillip Trumble of Pozitive says the key barriers are price and finishing. “If you can print wide format and understand the files and how you manage this workflow  then you can easily print onto textile. You can even do this with your existing printer – there are textiles available that work with UV, eco solvent, aqueous and latex. It is a foot in the door to develop your business but you won’t get the same result or colour vibrancy as dye sublimation, and eventually the options are limited.” So, depending on the market, volume and finish you are after, you may need to invest in dye-sublimation and in that case the barrier to entry is also setup cost. This is attractive for those who can invest as there is comparatively less competition in this space.” Finishing is the other barrier.  “How you finish the printed textile – the pressing (in the case of dye sub), cutting and sewing of the textile to make a finished product – this is new equipment and potentially a new skill that may need to be acquired.”

Henryk Kraszewski of Ricoh Australia says like any transition there is a learning curve and adjustments to make. “The first issue is the printing process itself – learning about how ink interacts with the different substrates – various textiles and materials rather than paper varieties – followed by the curing process, that is, ensuring the printed product is ready for hand-off or finishing. The second issue is workflow – the management of jobs, print controller, colour management, operations management and fulfilment. Solutions continue to evolve to help printers move jobs seamlessly through the print business from concept to fulfillment. Print providers should talk with suppliers of substrates and with equipment manufacturers to get guidelines on what works best.”

Ines Eaton of Starleaton says printing on textiles brings challenges compared to other substrates. “It is not as stable as many other substrates and a number of small variations – in the textiles, the printer, the ink, the paper, the environment, humidity, the calender – all may affect the colour. A certain level of expertise and stable good quality equipment are required to turn textile printing into a commercial success.”

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