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Special Feature | July 2017

The lure of digital printing

Digital textile printing is forecast to emerge as the new technology of the future. An ITJ Exclusive explores the new-emerging trend in printing.

“Dgital technology has changed everything, it has touched, including the textile and printing markets,” says Ajay Aggarwal, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Insight Communication and Print Solutions. Digital printing is on the rise and it is clearly visible with many new companies entering the foray.

Humans have worn colourful, printed textiles for thousands of years. There are many ways to print designs on fabric. Textile printing involves the production of a predetermined coloured pattern on a fabric, usually with a definite repeat. It can be described as a localised form of dyeing, applying colorant to selected areas of the fabric to build up the design. Textile printing, like textile dyeing, is a process for applying colour to a substrate. However, instead of colouring the whole substrate (cloth, carpet or yarn) as in dyeing, print colour is applied only to defined areas to obtain the desired pattern.

This involves different techniques and different machinery with respect to dyeing, but the physical and chemical processes that take place between the dye and the fibre are analogous to dyeing.

The digital printing was introduced in 1950 for paper printing. But this printing technique was extended to textiles from 1970 onwards only. Digital printing in simple terms is the process of creating prints generated and designed from a computer, as opposed to analogue printing, which requires printing screens. Among the various approaches for digital printing including electro photography, inkjet has gained a very significant place in the field of innovative printing techniques. This technique is more related to those used in reprographics industry than textile printing. For eg, reference is made to toners and inks rather than dyes, pigments and printing pastes. Similarly, print resolution and speed are defined in drops per inch (DPI) and characters per second (CPS), rather than in mesh/raster and yards/metre per minute.

“Earlier, fabrics needed to be pre-treated before digital printing, but we now offer technology, which eliminates the need to do so, ensuring faster turnaround times. Secondly, we see pigment ink printing gaining more acceptance, due to the versatility it brings with it. As and when costs go down, digital printing is expected to be the next driver of growth for the textile industry”, says Smarth Bansal, Senior Product Manager at Colorjet Group.

Added Bansal: “The main benefit from our company is the efficient engineering that we bring into every machine we manufacture and since it’s a made in India product, we make sure that the machines are produced keeping in mind the requirements of the Indian fabrics printing market. We have digital textile printers to print whether natural fibre or man-made fibre fabrics and also low volume or high volume printing.”

Apart from India, ColorJet has its distribution network in Sri Lanka, Egypt, Kenya, Dubai, Bahrain and many other countries. “Our future target markets are Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam, says Bansal.

During the recently-concluded Heimtextil exhibition, ColorJet displayed its TXF digital textile printer. The digital printer is apt for printing with pigment inks, which can print practically on any type of fabric, including polyester, cotton, silk, viscose, rayon or wool. Pigment printing has an advantage as the fabric does not necessarily require pre- or post-treatment, thereby saving on production times and reducing water pollution. The TXF is also available to work with reactive inks for printing onto natural fabrics and also disperse inks for printing onto polyester fabrics. The printer offers speeds of up to 24 sq m/hour with pigment inks. The printer can achieve print resolutions of up to 1,440 dpi.

“ColorJet introduced this digital textile printer, primarily for home textile applications and fashion designers. Since the printer is apt for printing with all inks – whether pigment, reactive or disperse, all types of fabrics, including polyester, cotton, silk, viscose, rayon or wool can be printed, which opens huge avenues for different applications,” Bansal informed.

Another company which is making a strong foray into the digital printing market in Mumbai-based DCC Print Vision Pvt LLP. The company provides all three technologies to print on textiles.

“There is tremendous scope for textile printing in India,” says Dhaval Dadia, Executive Director at DCC Print Vision Pvt LLP. He adds, “Specifically, with screen printing, a large part of it is still happening manually which will get automated with cheap labour availability decreasing and consumers becoming more quality conscious. With the economy faring better resulting in higher disposable income and more global brands now entering the Indian market, the consumption frequency has quickened. While textile will always be a labour-intensive industry, it has been moving across geographies from the US, to Europe, to China and now to Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam and may even move to Africa eventually in order to save cost at stages like sewing and dyeing. However, printing is a local demand and will not shift. Buying the fabric can be done from any country for any brand, but the final garment will be needed to be printed upon locally. Hence, even in the US the size of the printing industry is still substantially big. The printing industry is not expected to shrink in size any time soon and will always grow in the Indian market.” According to Dadia: “In today’s time, any company needs to be able to provide at least two technologies to cater to the changing demands of customers as per the prices and dynamics of the market. Having all three technologies, makes it easier for our existing customers to approach us when they are looking at expanding their technology requirement portfolio. The firms focusing solely on single technologies will still focus on individual products. For e.g. in sublimation, there are five products: printing machine, paper, ink, transfer machine and software, each being provided by separate companies. Hence, the integration is missing and then the customer is running from one pole to another to resolve and troubleshooting required. But we become the one point of contact for the entire process since we supply and service through all the stages. We support it via IT tools, our app on the Google PlayStore, after-sales call service, etc.”

That said, Epson’s major breakthrough in digital printing include Epson Stylus Pro 4900 SpectroProofing Edition and Epson SureColor SC-S70600. With its 98 per cent PANTONE colours coverage, the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 SpectroProofing Edition printer offers excellent colour accuracy and exceptional functionality for remote proofing making it a valuable tool for digital designers. This production printer sets new standards in colour precision. It is targeted at the pre-printing, packaging, design, professional photography and fine art reproduction industry. Epson SureColor SC-S70600 inkjet printer has an innovative application for the high fashion segment, particularly in the field of accessories and plastic-coated fabric printing for producing bags, shoes, and accessories in artificial leather with customised with the designer’s logo or graphics and drawings embellishments. Designed especially for posters, banners, backlit panels and POS materials production, Epson SureColor SC-S70600 is a printer for rolled material up to 64 inches wide.

Aleph has announced the signing of a binding agreement whereby Wise SGR S.p.A. – on behalf of Wisequity IV closed-ended fund – will purchase a majority stake of the company. Aleph is emerging as a leading player in the digital printing industry providing not only large format textile digital inkjet printers for textile and other applications but also drying systems, proprietary software and consumables. Over the last 18 years, Aleph has installed over 400 digital plotters and provided customers with related consumables in Italy and abroad. In 2015 the company has successfully launched the new series of La Forte large format printing machines and since then is contributing to the further digitalization of the textile market.

Bordeaux Digital PrintInk, an industry leader in developing and manufacturing high quality inks and coatings for the wide format and textile printing industry, will introduce its expanding digital printing possibilities as part of Bordeaux’s philosophy to provide costume made solutions to all print shop’s needs.

Bordeaux’s new rising star in the digital textile arena – a new water based pigment ink for all fabrics accompanied with its longtime industry leading printer specific inks, offers a true wind of change to the digital market. As a continuous effort to offer a wide range of inkjet solutions, Bordeaux recognised the need to simplify digital processes for textile and developed one pigment ink that can print on all types of fabrics and in a single process. This novel solution allows textile print shops to offer their customers prints for every type of textile application, from home decoration to garments.

The TSC was, in fact, recently the scene of an important training session for young designers from different European countries who have been given the opportunity to know and understand all the secrets of digital printing. Printers, high technology and industrial machinery for the pre and post-treatment were made available to children in a day full of important training with professionals specialising in digital printing.

The selected young designers have thus been able to watch the entire digital printing industrial process, knowing the quality of the inks dedicated to printing on fabric and see how digital printing technologies, the inkjet that has revolutionised industrial printing on fabric Mona Lisa Epson printers sublimation, have determined the most recent evolution of printing technology for the textile sector.

The boys were able to print their own work in the laboratories of the centre using both the Mona Lisa—direct printing on silk fabric with acid inks—both the EPSON SureColor SC F-9200 , sublimation printer for high-speed transfer on fabric, using the polyester. Before leaving Como and return to their countries, at the beginning of December the designers will return to the TSC for a debriefing session and to discuss their works made with digital printing.

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