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A Digital Alternative

Digital Inkjet for Fabrics

by Gretchen A. Peck

A decade ago, textile printing—the application of ink to some sort of fabric—relied largely on traditional screen printing technologies and electrostatic printers of the time, according to Patti Williams, consulting partner, I.T. Strategies. Electrostatic printers used for textile work have since fallen by the wayside, and while screen printing solutions continue to be popular for long-run or mass-produced printed textiles, digital inkjet is quickly becoming the technology of choice for short runs and sampling.

There is a plethora of digital inkjet solutions available today that are promoted as fabric friendly. Among them are a handful of printing systems that are designed to meet the specific needs of the textile market.

VUTEk, for example, manufactures the VUTEk FabriVu 3360, a dye-sub printer that can be used to produce a range of fabric applications through the transfer process, and can even print directly onto some substrates, such as flag material and poplin.

The DuPont Artistri 2020 was designed specifically for textile applications ranging from apparel and home furnishings to soft signage and trade show displays. The roll-to-roll solution can print up to 71 inches wide on even challenging fabrics, such as knits and woven materials.

Gandinnovations engineered its jeti 3312/3318 DS (Dye Sublimation) printer to be compatible with any fabrics that have at least 50 percent polyester content.

And while other manufacturers don’t have solutions dedicated exclusively to fabric applications, many are adaptable enough to compensate the occasional fabric job that comes through the shop door.

"Now, there are new machines on the market that are direct-to-fabric dye-sub machines that take away the need for transfer paper. So, that’s one fewer steps in the process. So, we’re seeing an increase in productivity as a result," Williams suggests.

Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, for example, has the VIRTU TX, a hybrid—roll-to-roll and flatbed—solution capable of printing directly to uncoated textiles.

Productivity and throughput is the name of the game when choosing a digital print solution, according to Ziki Kuly, director of marketing for Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) digital inkjet business.

"When you’re talking about fabrics, you’re talking about a labor-intensive process. You have to print on paper, then transfer it to the fabric using a hot-press machine. Those steps take time and money, obviously. And of course, you need a dedicated piece of equipment for both steps—a dedicated printer to apply the dye-sub inks to paper, and another machine for transferring the image to the fabric," he explains.

But for the average digital print supplier, the market may not support the investment in a dedicated printer for fabric-based jobs, in addition to the other digital print engines it may be using for vinyl and paper jobs.

"So, we came up with a solution—a dual machine, the XL 1500—which can switch between solvent inks and dye-sub. In 30 minutes, you can switch from one to the other, and you don’t have to invest another $200,000 or more on a dedicated dye-sub solution," HP’s Kuly explains.

The types of applications customers request should drive the decision on which printer to choose, suggests I.T. Strategies’ Williams. "You have to look at the types of fabrics your customers are demanding. Certain fabrics require certain types of inks. And, if you’re printing on one type of fabric and need to switch to another for the next job, it’s not often that easy to purge your machine and change the inks," she explains. "I think what you’ll start seeing—as businesses are built up—is that a lot of printers may want to buy more than one machine, to accommodate an even wider range of fabrics."

Fabric-Friendly Digital Inkjet Solutions
AGFA
www.agfa.com

:Anapurna
100
:Grand Sherpa Universal AM

DUPONT INK JET
www.dupont.com/inkjet/
DuPont Artistri

DURST
www.durst-online.com
Rho 350R
Rho 600

GANDINNOVATIONS
www.gandinnovations.com
jeti 3312/3318
jeti 3312/3318 DS (Dye Sublimation)
jeti 5000
jeti 3150 UV Flatbed
jeti 3324 UV Roll-to-Roll

HEWLETT-PACKARD
www.hp.com; and
www.scitexvision.com
HP Scitex XL 1500
HP Scitex Grand
HP Designjet 9000 series

JHF Digital Science & Technology Development
www.jinhengfeng.com
VISTA-3312A/3312A+

LEGGETT & PLATT DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES
www.lp-digital.com
VIRTU 36
VIRTU 72 Superwide Flatbed Printer
VIRTU TX

MACDERMID COLORSPAN
www.colorspan.com
DisplayMaker 98 UVX
DisplayMaker 72 UVR

MIMAKI USA
www.mimakiusa.com
JV5-130S/160S
JV3-250SPF
JV3-160SP, 130SPII and 75SPII
GP-604S

MUTOH
www.mutoh.com
Falcon
Viper

NUR AMERICA
www.nur.com
NUR Tempo

ROLAND DGA CORPORATION
www.rolanddga.com
SOLJET SJ-1045
SOLJET PRO II
Hi-Fi JET PRO II FJ-540/FJ600

SAWGRASS TECHNOLOGIES
www.naturaprint.com
Natura Digital Apparel System

VUTEK
www.vutek.com
FabriVu 3360
UltraVu II 150/260/3360/5330

ZUND AMERICA
www.zund.com
UVjet 215-Plus

 

Jun2006, Digital Output

 

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