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System Highlights

A Look at Digital Textile Printing

By Melissa Donovan

There are several methods available for those looking to print digitally on textiles—transfer dye-sublimation (dye-sub) (TDS), direct dye-sub (DDS), and direct digital print (DDP).


TDS involves printing graphics in reverse on transfer or carrier paper, which is then transferred to polyester fabric using a roll-to-roll heat press. The heat creates a chemical reaction that bonds the ink to the fabric. DDS is a dye-sub process that prints directly to fabric, without the use of a transfer paper. A coated textile is often necessary to control dot gain.


Both TDS and DDS have their benefits, shares Marty Silveira, sales manager, DigiFab Systems, Inc. “Printing on paper, TDS gives a user unlimited capability of polyester materials. DDS involves coated materials, and some should be washed prior to use.”


DDP is ideal for those looking to print on natural fabrics, such as silk or cotton—ink compatibility and dot gain can pose problems with these materials during the dye-sub process. A dye is directly placed onto a pre-treated fabric with DDP. Once the print is produced, it undergoes steaming, washing, and drying.


Roland Biemans, sales and marketing manager, Hollanders Printing Systems (HPS), outlines the different ink sets and their compatible fabrics. Acid ink is used for nylon, silk, and wool; reactive ink for cotton, linen, and treated silk; dye-sub and disperse direct for polyester; and pigment ink is mostly used for cotton and blends.


“One method isn’t really more user-friendly over the other. Each has a place in the market. For the most part, traditional sublimation—paper transfer to fabric—provides better color, but is limited as it only imparts the image on one side of the media,” explains Jeff Springan, product development engineer, advanced engineering group, Mutoh America, Inc.


System Highlights

Many vendors provide textile printers qualified to output a variety of digitally printed fabrics for soft signage, apparel, home décor, and more.


Agfa Graphics’ :Jeti 3324 Aquajet is a direct-to-fabric printer using water-based dye-dispersed inks, which allow printing directly to any polyester-based fabric. Colors are fade and wash resistant.


d.gen International’s direct-to-textile digital printers feature a low-cost ink solution for various textile fabrics covering a wide range of applications and ink consumption.


StampaJet printers from DigiFab include four-, six-, or eight-color ink sets, to guarantee high print performance and a vast color gamut. The system runs on the company’s Evolution RIP software—a textile industry staple.


EFI manufactures industrial printers that operate 24/7. The company offers high image quality and a vast color gamut, but the primary benefit of its VUTEk line of printers is their ability to cost-effectively print large amounts of custom textiles.


Graphics One, Inc. provides a complete range of solutions, which can be used for both dye-sub and direct-to-fabric printing. A complete system from GO includes the printer, calendar/heat press, ink, paper, fabric, installation, and training, all from an authorized channel partner. This allows the system to be usable from the first day of installation.


Printers in Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) Latex ink technology series include the HP Designjet L25500, an affordable 42- or 60-inch printer, which works with a wide variety of textiles. Latex inks are environmentally friendly, odorless, and do not require any ventilation to get rid of harmful volatile organic compounds or hazardous air pollutants.


HPS’ printer portfolio includes built-in air conditioning systems. A typical ink set includes more colors than the traditional CMYK configuration. Automotive inks offer a higher UV resistance, resulting in prints that last longer and are less prone to fading.


At the recent ISA trade show in Orlando, FL in April, Mimaki USA, Inc. showcased two direct dye-sub printing systems. One is based on the pre-existing JV5-320DS, which prints at over 600 square feet per hour (sf/h). The other is the TX400-1800DS, which is 74 inches wide and prints over 800 sf/h.


Mutoh’s new ValueJet 1628TD and 2628TD textile printers are based on the ease of use found in existing members of the ValueJet family. These printers deliver great image quality at high resolutions as well as higher ink densities for fabrics requiring more ink.


US Sublimation’s Velotex line of printers satisfy a range of needs depending on the application. The devices incorporate advanced media handling systems ideal for designers looking to produce samples or short-run productions of up to 3,000 yards.


Creative Boundaries: McRae Imaging

McRae Imaging, of Mississauga, ON, Canada, knows a thing or two about textile printing. The print service provider utilizes an Agfa :Jeti 3324 Aquajet printer for all of its direct digital print work. McRae observes that over the past ten years the digital textile industry has steadily grown in certain sectors. “This occurred because textiles are easy to work with and offer so many ways to create unique pieces,” explains Bob Murray, president/owner, McRae.


According to Murray, traditional dye-sublimation (dye-sub) technology—transfer—is more demanding, with a highly extensive learning curve. Color management, heat adjustments, and achieving the end product expected by the customer is challenging. Conversely, direct-to-fabric—without the dye-sub process—printing requires a higher level of expertise. But, it is eco-friendly, with no harsh chemicals in the inks if a water-based product is used.


“I would strongly encourage a designer to work closely with an experienced print provider,” notes McRae. It may look easy, but digitally printing textiles is more involved than it appears. He notes that with a successful partnership, the only limitations faced are the imagination.


Creativity is the only boundary. Using printed fabric, McRae is able to maneuver metals and create shapes and figures normally not possible with other substrates. The company recently created a 60-foot car out of fabric. It was lit with LED lights and hung from the ceiling of a convention center at a major automobile trade show.


Click on the link above to get more information on the vendors mentioned in this article.

Jun2010, Digital Output System Highlights
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