Dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing is ideal for polyester fabrics, but print providers interested in printing on natural fibers such as silk or cotton need to look elsewhere due to ink compatibility and dot gain. One option is to directly print onto fabric digitally. A digital printer places dye directly onto pre-treated fabric during the printing process. Different inks are required based on the type of fabric. A reactive dye is used on cotton, while acid dyes are used for fabrics such as silk and wool.
Digitally printed textiles drive productivity. "Color activation and printing are done simultaneously. There is no need for separate steaming or heat activation. This is a revolution and evolution," says Kilhun Lee, CEO/president, d.gen.
The Heracle textile printer prints at up to 460 square feet per hour. "Limitations on speed originally masked the true benefits of digital textile printing," says Lee. "Because of speed limitations, digital textile printers were only used for sampling. Now, printers like the Heracle are fast enough for mass production." d.gen also manufacturers the Teleois line of direct textile printers.
Textiles produced with direct digital print then go through a finishing process, which includes steaming, washing, and drying. The amount of labor required to finish a textile after it is directly digitally printed is deterrent to wide spread adoption. "New ink technologies requiring no post process will grow the market for digital textile printing," admits Patti Williams, consulting partner, I.T. Strategies. "The ability to print directly onto natural fabrics without post processing will expand current opportunities in signage as well as open new areas such as furnishings and apparel to current and new print shops," she adds.
Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. recently released the new M-Textile water-based, pigment binder-free ink, which is specially formulated with reactive elements enabling binding to all fabrics—natural and synthetic. Others may argue that inks used to print direct digital are more expensive, however ink price has little to do with the overall print cost. "Ink quality has a much better impact on total costs. Ink that runs better in a machine reduces maintenance costs and improves uptime. An ink that dries faster produces crisper dots," explains Mike McEvoy, director of commercialization, Sawgrass.
Mark Sawchak, textile product manager, conVerd, explains the cost savings associated with direct fabric printers like conVerd’s Green Machine P3. "As far as printing direct versus sublimation in terms of cost, you eliminate transfer paper, which runs from $0.07 to $0.10 per square foot. Plus there is no excess ink left on the media, all of your ink is in the fabric, which translates to lower ink consumption. In general you can expect a cost savings of $.10 to $.12 per square foot by printing directly onto untreated fabrics," he shares.
Gandinnovations launched the Aquajet textile printer in the last year. The printer prints on any polyester-based fabric using water-based inks. Pre-treatment is required on some fabrics before printing. The Aquajet features a built-in infrared heater, rather than a separate system. "We feel there is better control on the quality of the output with a built-in infrared heater. It eliminates relying on another product," admits Cory Brock, director of marketing, Gandinnovations.
This past May, Graphics One, LLC (GO) began shipment of the GO RIO TX 42-inch direct to fabric printer, designed specifically for the flag and banner market. Priced at $14,995, the RIO TX images on multiple types of fabric with an integrated, high-performance ink delivery system, fabric drying system, and fabric media handling system. The RIO TX uses GO’s Xtreme Ink. GO plans to introduce new ink that will image on uncoated cotton, nylon, wool, and other fabrics.
Mimaki USA, Inc. manufacturers the TX2-1600 and GP-604D for direct digital printing. The TX2 creates high-quality output at 720 dpi with either reactive or acid dye ink. The GP-604D is primarily used for printing directly to t-shirts using textile pigment ink.
Next week the final part in our series focuses on fabric for dye-sub and digital printing. Vendors discuss the advantages of textiles, such as their flexibility and high-quality feel, and share their newest products.