Fabric Ink Leaders
Aqueous-Based Inks Favored by Textile Printers
by Melissa Tetreault
Part 5 of a 6-part Series
Textile inks include aqueous, oil, and solvent. Aqueous-based inks are broadly used due to their compatibility with most printers. Nick Constable, sales and marketing manager, US Sublimation, believes that dye sublimation inks are the prime reason fabric signage is growing. He points out, "The strong color gamut that aqueous-based digital dye sublimation inks provide on polyester fabric is unmatched compared to other applications."
But why are oil and solvent-based inks lagging behind? Terry Hickle, VP of sales, Hilord Chemical Corporation, points out that one disadvantage is oil-based inks require a printer that is oil-based as well. Solvent inks on the other hand seem to only have advantages, their one flaw being inexperience. New to the textile print scene, these types of inks are actually far superior then both oil- and water-based inks. "They are an ideal solution for extra wide and grand format printers. These inks make it possible to obtain superior densities to that of both water- and oil-based and allow printers to be dual functional," clarifies Hickle. He adds that although aqueous-based inks are their most popular products now, solvent-based inks will become so in the near future.
Success Watered Down
Hilord Chemical Corporation begins its ink process at the molecular level. The company has been testing and creating inks from scratch for 37 years. "Color is created with chemistry," Hickle explains, "and with strict batch to batch control and superior quality control." Hilord’s scientific outlook reflects on their products. They offer aqueous, oil, and solvent dye sublimation inks. Their aqueous inks are used in conjunction with Mimaki, Mutoh, and Roland printers and their oil inks are used with Océ, Seiko, and Xerox printers. Last year they released their solvent line of inks to be used with Mimaki and Roland printers with much success. All three types of inks can be used with both direct to print and dye sublimation transfer devices.
The most popular type of ink sold by US Sublimation is the Digital LFP ink, an aqueous-based wide format digital dye sublimation ink. "It is a combination of lower cost, color gamut, and color richness," says Constable, addressing the ink’s attractiveness. The company also offers an aqueous-based UV resistant set of inks, UV MAX. Both UV MAX and Digital LFP work well with direct to print and dye sublimation solutions, especially wide format piezo printers by Epson, Mimaki, Mutoh, and Roland.
"With water-based sublimation there is an environmentally clean process, no fumes and no waste." Mark Trimble, sales director, Sawgrass Technologies, reveals another benefit of aqueous based inks. Agreeing with Constable, Trimble believes that fabric signage is growing popular because of a continuing need for green products and businesses are looking to aqueous-based inks to fill that need. Sawgrass Technologies offers three types of aqueous-based dye sublimation inks for direct to print and dye sublimation transfer printing. SubliM inks are used for transfer or direct printing onto polyester in a high-speed, high-production environment. ArTainium, used for transfer printing, has historically been a popular choice among printers. However, many printers prefer the service choices offered for Sawgrass’ SubliJet inks, also used for transfer printing.
Most major print manufacturers offer their own brands of ink. DuPont’s Artistri ink for its Artistri printers is aqueous-based. Durst offers Durst-branded inks. Gandinnovations created Jeti DS inks made specifically for their Jeti Dye Sub printer. Graphics One provides GO RioColor inks for its customers and Hewlett-Packard also sells their own inks. Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies offers pigmented VirtuInks HueV, an UV durable ink or dye. Mimaki created dye sublimation and solvent inks. Mutoh has high speed aqueous-based disperse inks. Through NuSign, d-gen aqueous disperse inks can be purchased for their d-gen Teleios. Roland sells HeatWave inks, used only for sublimation projects. TexPress has manufactured their own set of inks and EFI just created their new UltraTex inks to work with their VUTEk 3360 Fusion.
Bringing It All Together
Ink is just one of the many pieces of the fabric printing puzzle. As Trimble points out, "Truth is, the final output depends on all factors combined—software, paper, fabric, heat press, and ink. We need to ensure that all aspects of the process meet a high standard to achieve quality output." With improvements in hardware solutions, quality fabrics, and color rich inks, those who plan to print on fabric can look forward to that same high quality output.