By Cassandra Balentine
Print providers look to get the most out of equipment investments by searching for a solution that best suits their specific needs. For some, it may mean several devices dedicated to one specific application. For others, versatility is critical. For print service providers (PSPs) producing a range of textile applications, dual-mode printers that support both printing to transfer paper and direct-to-fabric media are appealing—specifically to PSPs looking for more versatility.
Dual-Mode Textile Printers
Several vendors provide textile printers that support both printing to transfer and direct-to-fabric media.
DGI offers the 124-inch Fabrijet FT-3204X hybrid textile printer. The device prints on both fabrics and papers; an optional dual roll printing system maximizes productivity as two 64-inch rolls can run simultaneously. The device is powered by eight Panasonic printheads. According to DGI, the machine is primarily used in the U.S. market for printing display materials at exhibitions and for home textiles. The MSRP is under $100,000.
For productivity and quality, the Fabrijet FT-3204X offers 720×360 dpi one-pass printing at 150 square meters per hour (sm/h) in its fastest mode; 80 sm/h in its normal, four-pass mode at 720×720 dpi; and 55 sm/h in six pass Interleave mode with 720×1,080 dpi. It uses DGI original dye-sublimation ink and sublimation paper or textile for inkjet.
The Durst Rhotex 325 from Durst Image Technology US is a dual-purpose printing system that combines direct-to-textile printing and transfer paper printing technology. It is ideal for the creation of soft signage—flags, banners, and backlit displays; home textiles, like tablecloths, bed linens, and upholstery; and clothing—sportswear, t-shirts, and accessories.
The Durst Rhotex 325 features Durst’s WTS printhead technology, which achieves high-quality print output using water-based, environmentally friendly, 100 percent free of volatile organic compounds inks with print speeds up to 7,765 square feet per hour (sf/h).
According to Mike Wozny, senior product manager, EFI Inkjet, EFI has one of the most comprehensive digital textile printer lines. This includes the Reggiani portfolio. “EFI Reggiani printers are commonly used for industrial textile and apparel imaging in both direct or fabric and transfer paper applications,” he shares.
In the soft signage market, the company adapted that technology in its EFI VUTEk FabriVU product line, which includes 1.8-, 3.4-, and 5.2-meter printers that print direct or onto transfer paper using the same aqueous ink set. These devices offer ultra-high resolution of up to 2,400 dpi and four-level grayscale printing with four to 18 picoliter drop sizes.
Inkjet Technology, Inc. offers two dual-mode textile printers, including the 126-inch ITI3200-TXR and ITI3200-TXK. The ITI3200-TXR features an industrial construction and Ricoh Gen-5 printheads, a 600×1,200 resolution, and speeds from 1,300 sf/h. It handles elastic media and offers inline heaters and a front take-up media configuration. The printer incorporates a course roller in front as well as heavy feed rollers and two dancer balls, a vacuum system, and can handle a 220 lb. roll of material. The printer itself weighs 2,400 lb. It is listed for $99,995 to $118,995.
A newer machine by the company, the ITI3200-TXK features an industrial construction and Kyocera printheads offering a resolution of 600×600 dpi and speeds from 2,200 sf/h. The device handles elastic media and a 220 lb. roll of material. It features inline heaters, a rear take-up media configuration, and a vacuum system. This printer weighs 3,900 lb. According to Noel Mareno, GM/director of sales, Inkjet Technology, a two-meter configuration will be available soon with this capability.
PrinterEvolution offers several textile printers with dual-mode capability for direct to textile and printing to transfer paper. These include the Evo33 DS, T1800, T2600, and T3200. The Evo33 DS is a 126-inch device that offers speeds of 860 sf/h; the T1800 features a 74-inch width and 1,600 sf/h; the T2600 features a 102-inch print width and 1,600 sf/h; and the T3200 features a 126-inch print width and 1,600 sf/h. The company’s sister brand, Global Imaging, distributes the 126-inch Durst Rhotex 325.
For dual-mode printers, changeover is an essential consideration. The primary requirement for changeover is a media switch, but the complexity of this act varies by machine.
Tara Lamb, president, Global Imaging, says the company’s portfolio of dual-mode printers are developed with ink that prints transfer or direct so that no ink changeovers are necessary. “The only mechanical change is accessing a spittoon tray to catch any pass-through ink that can occur during direct printing,” she offers.
She explains that the Evo33 DS platform requires the printer operator to bypass the tray cover to access the spittoon tray to catch pass-through ink that transfers through the fabric.
Lamb says to print to the PrinterEvolution T-Series or Durst Rhotex 325, the operator “simply mounts a spittoon tray on top of the vacuum platen to catch pass-through ink.”
“Both mechanical changes are very simple and fast,” assures Lamb.
Along with physical media changes, paper profiles are also updated in the changeover. Wozny suggests that along with changing the actual media roll, switching from transfer paper to textile—or vice versa—requires updating the media profile in the printer’s digital front end. “Once the correct media profile is loaded, the printer achieves consistent, accurate color based on the exact type of fabric or transfer paper being printed.”
Versatility is the obvious attraction of a dual-mode printer. However, there are other considerations such as applications regularly created and output quality.
PSP requiring a varied and demanding customer base look to dual-mode printers to help shorten setup and production time and to broaden their market base, says Mareno. He adds that the market served and type of job dictates the mode used.
Lamb agrees, sharing that applications are the biggest driver for print providers that need both methods of textile printing. “Transfer printing is excellent for most needs of textile printing, including stretch fabrics. Direct printing is preferred for backlit, flag, mesh, and other open weave fabrics. In addition, a PSP who handles a high volume of one-off prints on a variety of fabrics will certainly gain efficiencies by printing to transfer paper because they will not need to change material in the printer for each job,” she offers. “For those who do long runs or only a small number of materials, direct printing may be the preferred method.”
Wozny says there was a time when printing to transfer paper was considered the only way to get vibrant colors and higher end detail. “EFI’s soft signage printers, including the Fiery digital front end used in preparing jobs, help to eliminate that disparity.”
He adds that some customers want the option for both based on economics. “You can see which method provides the best results at the best cost,” he says. “If a customer can get the same results printing direct that he or she would get printing on transfer paper, they usually prefer that but it might depend on the design and durability needs. And it can also be an economic decision weighing the cost of transfer paper media plus fabric compared to the cost of treated fabric needed to print direct,” continues Wozny.
When considering an investment in any machine, it is important to outline the must-have and nice-to-have features. For textile printing, and specifically dual-mode printers, several considerations come into play including media handling and labor.
Lamb suggests print providers potentially looking for a dual-mode textile printer consider several factors, such as ensuring the media handling for either direct or transfer media is superior, “this affects image quality a great deal.” A high-quality vacuum system is important for holding down thin transfer paper.
Feeding is important. “Soft signage involves wrinkling in media that you don’t have in traditional signage and our wrinkle detect feature saves a lot of heartache for customers. The same goes for having accurate and reliable feeding,” explains Wozny.
A good bypass tray used during direct printing ensures pass-through ink is not picked up by the backside of the fabric, and a heater should work across the entire platen for direct-to-fabric media and transfer paper. “The higher speed printers require heat assist for the media to dry,” offers Lamb.
Pros and Cons
As with any decision, there are advantages and disadvantages. As dedicated devices, direct and transfer printing have their strengths and intended applications. If a PSP is looking to offer a specific service, a single-mode printer may be preferred over a dual mode.
Direct printing is often used for soft signage applications like flags and backlit. Lamb says this is because the dye penetrates deep into the fibers to create rich and dense color saturation. “Transfer printing does not allow for enough of the off-gassed ink to penetrate, which can lead to flat colors. Flags and mesh require direct to achieve the best backside penetration, ideally in the 90 percent range,” she offers.
On the other hand, transfer printing is ideal for other types of fabric printing and “was long thought to provide the most precise image,” says Lamb. “Transfer is superior when it comes to stretch fabrics,” she attests.
Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Incorporation, suggests that the product concept for direct to textile and printing to transfer paper is different. “For printing on transfer paper, fast drying is the most important, together with printhead height control,” he advises.
However, Wozny says the ability to perform direct and transfer printing with a single device gives customers maximum versatility as long as it can be done efficiently and quickly. “Swapping out ink sets not only adds time and labor to the process, it creates incremental cost in wasted ink from flushing out lines. So there is a definite productivity and cost improvement from using a single ink set,” he continues.
“In my opinion, it is the ability to have that versatility in the manufacturing environment that can be a game changer by not being restricted to one type of job to a specific printer,” says Mareno, regarding dual-mode devices.
“If it is a well-made printer with properly engineered components, there are only benefits,” adds Lamb.
For those with limited space and the need for a variety of textile applications, dual-mode printers are an option. With advanced media handling and inks designed to pop, these solutions step up when a dedicated machine isn’t the right fit.
July2017, Digital Output