By Cassandra Balentine
Digital textile printing is applicable for a variety of products. With a range of methods, including dye-sublimation (dye-sub), transfer dye-sub, and direct to textile, wide format digital print engines are an increasingly attractive solution for use in the manufacturing of home décor products like curtains, tablecloths, and other drapery items.
“Compared to other methods, digital printing currently comprises a very small percentage of this market. That means there’s plenty of room for growth and new opportunities,” suggests Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation.
Above: Roland’s Texart series dye-sub printers-the RT-640 and XT-640- are equal for decor applications like drapery and bedding.
Mixed Print Benefits
Traditional print methods remain prevalent in industrial textile decoration. However, as digital print engines continue to advance and customer demands evolve, digital technologies are adopted for use in décor. Manufacturers bringing digital to the mix do so by incorporating it into existing processes, creating a mixed print environment.
Tom Wittenberg, Americas LF marketing manager – sign and décor, HP, Inc., points out that one of the best ways for digital and traditional print technologies to work together is by using digital as a prototyping unit. “With traditional print, the turn times for prototypes are too long. With digital, the prototype is turned around quickly for the end user and the selling process driven much more quickly for the manufacturer,” he says.
Digital allows for cost-effective sample making, which keeps all the sampling in house. “Digital also allows for small production runs in an almost immediate time frame,” agrees Randy Anderson, product man-ager, Mutoh America, Inc.
“Digital textile printing offers a cost-effective way to test designs and potential fabrics in a real-world setting before engaging long production runs,” adds Tommy Martin, product manager, textiles and apparel, Mimaki USA, Inc. “Digital printing also affords designers more freedom due to the wider color gamut available.”
Mark Sawchak, partner, PremEx Solutions, notes a manufacturer printing home furnishings with both traditional and digital high-speed production capabilities who found that for an order consisting of at least eight colors and two different color ways, digital is more efficient to produce run sizes of 16,000 yards or less. He adds that the manufacturing cost is also less in this scenario.
“This type of technology allows for gradients and photographic images, which can’t be easily archived through traditional processes like screenprinting,” says Hunter of digital textile printing. “By digitally printing in house instead of outsourcing, manufacturers can shorten turnaround time for proofs and/or production, increase quality control, and make changes more quickly. Used in conjunction with traditional print methods, digital printing can increase versatility and efficiency, allowing users to customize different types of décor faster and at a lower cost,” she adds.
In addition to environments that feature both traditional and digital print capabilities, hybrid solutions combine the technologies on one machine. “Hybrid printing offers many advantages, this goes far beyond inkjet imprints and the insertion of digitally printed supplements. Entire production lines combining both offset and digital presses are set to increase the economic viability of print production,” foresees Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Incorporation.
He explains that when the hybrid printing concept was introduced it was more like adding an analog process on a digital workflow. “Digital, single-pass inline inkjet printing modules are added more easily than ever onto many different analog printing processes, including textiles. It adds variable data marking or spot varnishing to an existing process with minimum investment. So this approach will accelerate digitization everywhere without requiring a huge burden of full conversion into digital for large and fast facilities,” suggests Kim.
Those interested in digitally printing onto textiles have options, including dye-sub, transfer dye-sub, and direct to fabric printing. These processes also involve different ink types.
The best process is really about the intended final output, suggests Martin, adding that it relates more to the ink set, rather than the printer.
He brings us through the different technologies, their strengths, and primary applications of traditional digital textile inks, including dye-sub, reactive, acid, and textile pigment.
Martin says dye-sub—also known as dispersion—inks yield vibrant colors with lower exterior longevity, but increased wash fastness. “This ink is primarily used in active sportswear and exhibit graphics. It is limited to polyester based on polymer-coated materials,” he continues.
While dye-sub inks are typically used in a transfer process, they are also used to print directly onto fabrics. Direct to fabric printing eliminates the need for transfer paper, making the overall process less step intensive. However, Martin explains that fabrics for direct printing need to be coated, which increases the cost of fabric. “Coated fabrics prepared for print are also limited in types and weights. When directly printing to the fabric, the images are not as sharp and colors don’t pop like in the transfer process. This process also requires post processing to set the dyes,” adds Martin.
Reactive ink is a chemical process using a molecular dye that yields excellent wash and light fastness for applications like home furnishings. According to Martin, it can be used on pre-treated natural fibers such as cotton, linen, silk, rayon, hemp, viscose, and bamboo. The printed fabric must be steamed and washed. The steaming process sets the dyes in the fabric. The time it takes to steam depends on the type of steamer and can be anywhere from ten to 20 minutes. “Washing is necessary to clear any uncured ink and pre-coating—required for bed linens and apparel. It is simply a hot water process, no detergents or chemicals are necessary. This adds a soft hand back to the fabric that was lost after the pre-coating,” offers Martin.
Acid ink offers improved exterior longevity, making it ideal for flag and banner applications. It etches into synthetic fabrics and can be used in swimwear. Acid ink is also used on pretreated synthetic materials such as nylon and spandex, as well as pretreated natural fibers including silk, wool angora, alpaca, and some leather. “The same steaming and washing process used for reactive ink is required to finish fabrics printed using acid ink,” says Martin.
Textile pigment ink offers excellent light fastness and can be used on all fibers. “This ink uses a heat fixation process and requires a resin-based carrier to bond to the fabric. The inclusion of resin removes pigment, resulting in lower wash fastness. It is a general purpose ink, more commonly used in offset and traditional analog printing methods,” explains Martin.
He points out that transfer dye-sub is popular for home décor applications. “This is an easy process and can be used with simple printing technology and simple heat transferring equipment.”
Anderson adds that dispersed pigment can be printed on a variety of fabrics—basically any coated fabric. Pigment also provides the best UV resistance. “This process works well for home furnishings.”
He explains dispersed dye can be printed on coated polyesters, but requires a sticky belt for stretch fabrics and the coating will add some hand to the product that may require washing.
Reactive die can be used to dye natural fabrics, suggests Anderson, but requires high-pressure steaming and washing as well.
“All methods of digital coloration have their place,” admits Sawchak. “It depends primarily on the market and the desired fabric type, which will define the type of ink required. This will then define the optimum method of printing. For example, a polyester product will be decorated by sublimation, direct disperse, or pigment ink depending on the end use product. Cotton products would be printed direct with either reactive ink or pigment.”
Before investing in a digital textile printer for a manufacturing setting, several factors should be considered.
Valloy suggests thinking of the number of colors, printing width, ink compatibility, speed versus the number of printheads, accurate registration to print, and variable data control software.
Manufacturers should also consider the fabric types needed. “Polyesters are usually best done with dye-sub, natural fabrics need direct printing, and each fabric may use a different ink process to optimize the printed output,” says Anderson.
Color is another consideration. Anderson suggests eight channel digital versus four channel digital will give a greater color pallet where color gamut is critical.
“Keep in mind there will be a learning curve,” warns Hunter. “Printing is just one part of the equation, you will also need to focus on finishing—fixing the inks onto the textiles. For instance, in order for sublimation to take place, you’ll need a heat press.” She suggests factoring in the space available to accommodate the equipment required, including the printer and finishing devices.
Martin agrees, noting that primarily, the finished application including fabric type and maximum width should be considered when manufacturers are looking at digital print technology. “The target fabric and the type of finishing process will determine what type of ink can be used.”
Anderson notes that for bedding applications—sheets, comforters, and quilts—that the width is critical.
Hunter says a lot of fabric rolls are about 60 inches wide, so a 64-inch printer is ideal. “If you need to go wider, grand format printers can accommodate much wider media. Consider the widths of the fabrics you’ll be working with to determine whether a 64-inch printer is sufficient for the type of décor customization you’ll be doing.”
“Media handling is critical for natural fabrics to hold the fabric flat for good imaging, but stretch materials require a sticky belt system,” offers Anderson.
Manufacturers should consider speed to market. Sawchak points out that digital technologies allow rapid response and better customer service, flexible design, and custom printing. This provides new business opportunities to support e-commerce activities and the ability to consider restructuring supply chains that enable local manufacturing for local markets.
Wittenberg understands that every manufacturer wants to maximize the utilization of their equipment. “The key is asking this, ‘what else can I do with the printer besides décor?’”
Products on the Market
A variety of digital textile printers serve the décor market.
Within its FABRIJET Series, DGI offers its FD-1908 direct textile printer for mass production, including home textile applications. The device features a maximum print speed of 195 square meters per hour, a maximum resolution of 600×1,800 dpi, a print width of 1.9 meters, and eight colors—yellow, magenta, cyan, black, blue, red, orange, and gray.
The Durst US Alpha series offers print widths of 6.2 to 10.8 feet and can be configured with up to eight colors and 64 Alpha-S printheads that achieve a native resolution of 600 dpi and a print speed of 15,800 square feet per hour (sf/h). The series provides continuous ink circulation in all ink circuits for constant ink quality and reliable stand-by availability. A new intelligent feed system adapts automatically to different textiles and roll diameters. It combines new process technologies to control the interactions of printheads, ink system, textile material, tissue type, and pre- and post-treatment.
Within the series, the Durst Alpha 330 is used for the industrial production of home textiles including décor products such as duvets, linen, table cloths, curtains, and drapes. Depending on the number of printheads, the production output varies. Fully configured with 64 printheads, the Alpha 330 produces up to 460 running meters per hour and the Alpha 190 up to 620 running meters per hour.
The EFI Reggiani ReNOIR FLEXY is a digital textile printer equipped with the new Dynaplast system, which provides the ability to print with complete confidence on a variety of fabrics, ranging from knitted and woven to low- and high-stretch materials. For both sampling and production, the device features a production speed of over 400 square meters per hour maximum, with 240 square meters per hour with one pass. Typical print speed is 120 square meters per hour. It features eight printheads and a print width of up to 185 centimeters and up to 2,400 dpi resolution.
Epson’s Robustelli division manufactures the Monna Lisa printer in three wide format sizes, including 70-, 86-, and 126-inch options for roll to roll, direct to textile printing. It prints on cotton, silk, rayon, linen, wool, and polyester and leverages four individual ink sets—acid die, reactive dye, dye-sub, and pigment for the mass production of textiles. The Monna Lisa Evo Tre is the first industrial digital textile printer to integrate Epson PrecisionCore proprietary printing technology, which contributes to high productivity, with 402 square meters per hour in high quality.
HP offers a number of HP Latex technology printers for draperies from the HP Latex 365 to the HP Latex 3600. Wittenberg recommends always using media that is HP Certified for Latex inks for the best results.
Among its extensive line of textile printers, the Kornit Digital Allegro is a direct to fabric roll to roll system that offers a resolution of up to 600×800 dpi. Its maximum roll width is 70.8 inches. It features seven colors—CMYK, red, green, and grey. The Allegro prints to most common woven and knitted fabrics with Kornit’s water-based NeoPigment Intenso ink and fixation agent.
Media One offers the 3.3-meter Teleios Grande H6, which is a direct print and fixation solution. It features a maximum print width of 130 inches and resolution of up to 1,800 dpi. Printing up to 1,884 sf/h it offers six colors and six printheads. Ink sets include disperse dye, sublimation, and textile pigment. It includes a heat fixation unit that enables printing and color fixation at the same time without color difference in the front and rear/right and left.
Mimaki offers both transfer dye-sub and direct to textile printers. Its transfer dye-sub products include The TS30-1300, TS300P-1800, and TS500P-3200. The Mimaki TS30-1300 is a 54-inch, entry-level device available with fluorescent inks. Ideal for smaller items such as pillow covers, it can also be used for proofing designs. The Mimaki TS300P-1800 is a 77-inch production speed device available with fluorescent inks. It is used to create seating surfaces like pillow covers. The Mimaki TS500P-3200 is a 130-inch production speed device with bulk ink for long runs. It is used to create draperies and bedding without seams.
Mimaki’s direct to textile presses include the TX300P-1800, TX300P-1800B, and TX500P-3200DS. The Mimaki TX300P-1800 features a 75-inch dual-ink capability, which can print on materials with textile pigment ink or on polyester materials with direct dye-sub inks. The Mimaki TX300P-1800B is a 75-inch device that features a belt drive for stable. It can be used to create seating surfaces. The Mimaki TX500P-3200DS is a 130-inch production speed device featuring bulk ink for long runs. It can be used to create draperies and bedding without seams. This model includes an inline fixation unit that eliminates the need to calendar press the printed fabric.
Mutoh offers a variety of products for either dye-sub or direct printing. Dye-sub products are available from 25- to 104-inch widths. Its direct to textile products are available in 74-inch widths only.
PremEx Solutions provides a range of textile printers that include high-speed direct print and sublimation machines down to slower speed sample and prototyping equipment. The company also offers a range of finishing equipment to meet the production needs of a customer. In addition, it sells fabric, ink, and software as part of a total solution.
Roland’s Texart series dye-sub printers—the RT-640 and XT-640—are ideal for décor applications like drapery and bedding. These inkjets incorporate a host of advanced features that optimize sublimation output while minimizing operating costs. These include a bulk ink system, a choice of ink configurations, a heavy-duty take up system, and a specialized RIP.
SPGPrints offers the JAVELIN printer—available in either 72 or 126 inches in width. The machine has six Archer Technology print bars, each of which includes six Fujifilm Dimatix Samba printheads to achieve excellent and precise printing quality. It offers a print resolution of up to 1,200×1,200 dpi. For inks it offers reactive, disperse, and acid—six colors each.
Valloy offers the Topazet UV LED, which is a flatbed printer that can be used to print piece to piece, not with rolls.
Industrial Textile Decor
Digital textile printing technologies bring many benefits to industrial settings. While some devices are successfully used for prototyping, production runs are also possible for items like drapery, curtains, tablecloths, and bedding.
Jan2018, Industrial Print Magazine