A print project is only as good as the media it is printed on. If the chosen media is not tested to work with a particular printer or ink it may fail to deliver the desired print quality and longevity. Incompatible fabric and hardware leads to bleeding and other concerns.
Leading textile vendors address the evolving digital print market by researching various printer platforms and new inks.
The Match Game
Textile, ink, and hardware vendors make the media selection easier for print service providers (PSPs) by partnering to find a good product marriage. A typical approval process is a few weeks to several months of testing under different conditions and variables.
The testing and approval process varies based on the type of ink system used and the nature of the textile. “Older technologies such as full solvent inks for grand format printers are well understood and require little change to existing coatings. Newer, emerging ink systems such as latex mean more time is needed to understand the interaction between the ink; the coating on the fabric; and printing parameters such as drying temperature, curing temperature, and heat airflow,” says Angela Mohni, VP marketing, Neschen Americas. Current Neschen relationships and programs include collaboration with EFI, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard (HP).
Cooley Commercial Graphics partners with Durst Image Technology US LLC, HP, Roland DGA Corporation, and Seiko Development Co, Ltd. Materials ship to OEM testing facilities where material is tested for processing through the printer, ink adhesion, image quality, drying, color density, and other elements, which take approximately 30 days. The textiles also go through weathering tests to confirm outdoor durability, which are done in accelerated and real world test conditions. This testing takes up to several years depending on the overall objective.
Dazian LLC works closely in confidential agreements with many printer producers in the early stages of production. The company supplies fabric, knowledge, and guidance and the hardware vendors test until they profile each fabric.
“The improvements in the flexibility of UV-curable inks open up sizeable markets for DHJ International products, especially with the Durst Rho 320R and 500R UV printers. More recently the HP machines with latex inks also look promising for us going forward, as more wide format machines in this technology come to market,” states Blaise Humphries, product development, sales and marketing, inkjet media, DHJ.
Verseidag seemee US Inc. and, its recently acquired company, 3P InkJet Textiles AG partner with Agfa Graphics, Durst, EFI, Mimaki USA, Inc., and Polytype America Corp. In-depth print testing with the specific output/ink set are completed, followed by a quality review, summary, and possibly further research and development if improvements or alterations are required. If a formal warranty is required, QUV accelerated weathering testing is completed to ensure that a product will not fail in the marketplace for a specific time period.
Most crucial is the ink/media harmony. “The printer is a paintbrush. It doesn’t care what substrate the operator puts into the printer. It is the ink that most determines good quality and the print profile,” states Michael Katz, president, Jacquard Products, adding, “fabric is relatively forgiving compared to paper.”
Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF) works closely with ink developers DuPont and Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. The company’s other longstanding relationships include Mimaki, Mutoh America, Inc, and Splash of Color, Inc. Jeff Sanders, digital sales, PCF, says there is no typical test length. “The area where it can take a long time is with the longevity testing of the fabric. This includes taking a print up to the roof of a facility and looking at it again a week or 60 days later to see how the material and ink are working together. I know of one case where it was duct taped to a car and run through a car wash several times,” he says.
Korographics partners with X-Rite, Incorporated for testing purposes on all new introductions and profile development. Testing includes fire resistance, shrinkage, scrub, physical properties testing of tensile and tear, and print compatibility testing.
Korographics also relies on relationships with end users in the field to gain information on performance and best practices. Feedback from a strong partnership with Chicago, IL-based Andres Imaging and Graphics is compiled and made available online for other end users as technical data and tips. “It is this partnership with printer manufacturers and customers that allow fabric suppliers like Korographics the opportunity to be a more successful vendor,” shares Garry Hollis, Korographics business manager, RJF International.
Benefits of Teaming Up
Partnerships allow product vendors to provide recommended settings or write ICC profiles when a textile is launched. “This saves PSPs time and money they would otherwise have been forced to spend testing and tweaking their printer and RIP configuration in an effort to reach the desired print results,” explains Mohni.
The hardware/media collaboration brings piece of mind to the PSP as well. “When partnerships are made with large hardware vendors, media companies are forced to vigorously test media,” notes E. Tyler Reich, director of marketing, Que Media Inc. The company runs harsh scratch, water, and tape tests including immediate, one hour, and 24 hour; as well as UV, wind, and absorption to see how much ink can be absorbed before smearing occurs.
“Many times the manufacturer provides the print settings, which shortens the learning curve for the PSP,” notes Mike Richardson, director, sales/marketing, print media, Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. The company works closely with HP’s Latex Developer Program and their SP fabrics were tested and approved at HP’s facilities in Barcelona, Spain.
Fisher Textiles, Inc. is also part of the HP Latex Developer Program. Added in April 2011, eight of its uncoated polyester fabrics underwent extensive testing by HP. This includes its GF 600 Poly Duck (FR), GF 4201 Flag (FR), GF 4417 Soft Knit (FR), GF 4480 Heavy Knit (FR), GF 4831 Heavy Knit (FR), GF 8874 Tri Poplin (FR), ET 9499 Firesafe (FR), and ETP 9372 Reclaim Soft Knit (FR).
The core, resulting benefit is savings for the PSP. “It saves time and money having a solution or giving the printer a profiled fabric and setting criteria. The process is seriously reduced in time by having a baseline to start with. The other true benefit is that the printer gets many solutions to present to the end customer,” points out Steve Weiss, director of sales, national accounts/print, Dazian.
Weiss travels with some printer manufacturers to show customers what they can achieve with a particular machine and media. “If a new operator knows they can print on 40 fabrics and present that as solutions to customers needs, it that much easier to sell. On the other hand, it’s also important for us see what a new machine can print on and it’s flexibility,” he comments.
The close development and testing between media developers and ink and printer manufacturers also aids in the advancements in ink and printer technology. “Without wanting to mention any names, on occasions our lightweight Decoprint Pearl media has enabled a number of manufacturers to improve their machines and ink offerings. The hardware vendor gets to improve their products, adding speed, quality, and reliability, and the printers get better throughput right down the line,” states Humphries.
Textiles require unique properties for compatibility with large format digital printers and inks. Their special coatings and pre-treatments allow ink to lay on the surface or penetrate while capturing desired detail and color and avoiding bleeds.
The digital print industry fosters interaction between hardware, media, and ink developers. This collaboration helps develop products that perform well together. The relationships lead to specific information PSPs use for success. The resulting approvals and recommendations make it easy for PSPs to choose a textile for a job, to market opportunities to print buyers, and to get new projects off the ground in less time and with minimal waste.
Click here to read part 1 of this exclusive online series, A Perfect Fit.