It is no secret that more and more digital graphics and sign shops are getting into digital textile printing. Not only are printed textiles in huge demand, particularly in the retail signage, trade show and exhibit markets, but in the custom clothing industry as well.
The industry has made great strides in the past two years, with increased speeds, better inks and printheads, improved material handling systems, transfer and direct-print options. Many grand-format textile printers have gone that extra step and include a heat press in the unit so that small shops in particular don’t have to take up valuable floor space with two large pieces of equipment.
Mike Syverson, director of special projects for PrinterEvolution at Global Imaging Inc. in Colorado, says that grand-format printing has advanced a lot in the past five years for 10-foot-scale machines, but there was a “certain level of quality you couldn’t get much higher than that traditional poster/billboard printing machine.”
In the past 18 months, “we’ve had major quality advancements at the photographic level for a lot of our equipment. We see that across the board for other manufacturers as well,” Syverson says.
The other major advancement is the 5-meter dye sub printer. Many manufacturers are moving toward this much bigger textile printer.
“Five years ago, there was a very distinct difference in output quality between directly printed textile and transfer printed textile,” Syverson says. “There were color and quality differences. Those have largely gone away.”
Greg Lamb, CEO for Global Imaging, agrees, saying that “direct printing technology is incredible, what it can do now, compared to what it was.”
He credits that with advancements in ink technology and the coatings applied to the different fabrics.
Global Imaging offers an inline grand-format textile printer that allows small shops to have both a big printer and heat press in one unit.
“It can do everything in a single step with inline solutions. That’s a huge advantage,” says Syverson. It also saves money to print direct rather than use transfer paper. Overall output yield goes up as well because it is not a two-step process.
Lamb points out that a printer printing on transfer paper prints 1,000 square feet per hour, but by the time a shop prints on the paper, runs the fabric and paper through a heat press, the yield may drop to about 600 sublimated square feet per hour.
Advancements in printheads and mechanical technology on grand format textile printers have increased the throughput as well.
Global Imaging offers an inline collection of printers with a sublimation unit built into them, one series that uses Ricoh printheads and another that uses Kyocera printheads. The Kyocera printheads are very dense and about twice as fast as the Ricoh-based product, says Lamb.
The company also introduced its new 5-meter, inline calendar, “which we think is going to be a big deal in 5-meter adoption because if you consider a 5-meter heat press weighs 26,000 pounds and takes up 25 linear feet of a shop floor, having that in one compact footprint is a pretty big advantage,” Lamb says.
One of the challenges to getting into textile printing over more traditional printing methods is that a few more things need to happen with textile.
“It is a bit more challenging product to produce,” Syverson says. Global Imaging has stepped up to work with companies just getting into the textile businesses to help them overcome the hurdles they would have had to figure out themselves in years past.
“It can be a steep learning curve depending on the level of shop that is getting into this,” he adds.
EFI has some unique technologies that help shops save money on textile printing. The main one is that its textile printers recirculate all of the ink that is used, recovering about 95% of the ink that would typically be lost in a purge, says Mike Wozny, senior product manager for EFI in Foster, California.
“That could save customers thousands of dollars a year as a result of that,” he says. There’s also an environmental impact by recirculating the inks because the company is “putting 95% back into the primary ink tanks. That is technology specific to EFI.”
The company also uses a high-resolution printhead and medium viscosity inks, which allows the company to maximize every drop of ink it lays down. There is more pigment in it, more color and less water.
“We can fill a grid in a couple passes and there is less chance of dot misplacement or error resulting in overlap,” Wozny says. “That gives us, combined with printhead recirculation, one of the lowest costs of ownership in the marketplace.”
Front end color management is a key to the soft signage market for consistent repeatable color, he adds. EFI is also expanding its color gamut by adding fluorescent magenta and yellow to its CMYK color palette.
The fluorescent colors give extra color pop, which is in high demand in the signage and graphics market.
EFI chose yellow and magenta because those are the colors most in demand as part of worldwide consumption of inks.
EFI’s grand format textile printers print direct and paper transfer, which “gives you the widest range of applications. You can print or sublimate to multiple substrates,” Wozny says.
EFI also offers two UV printers that can print to certain textile products along with the typical vinyl and paper. Many sign shops are buying this type of machine because they want to get into the soft signage market and it is easier and cheaper to do it with a universal press.
The EFI VUTEk FabriVU series are digital fabric printers that work well for soft signage. They print direct or indirect via transfer paper enabling a print shop to offer more materials and save money by using lower cost materials. EFI Reggiani PRO series printers are great fabric printers that work well for industrial apparel and signage.
Noel Mareno, director of sales for Inkjet Technology, Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas, says that because of technology, ink and media handling improvements, his company is able to offer printers that offer dual mode, allowing them to print on everything from very thin paper to material with some elastic properties.
ITI’s printers have a couple of dancer bars, heavy rollers and coarse rollers that help control tension and movement of the material through the printer and, like Global Imaging, offers printers with either Ricoh or Kyocera printheads.
The company’s inks give a client the same results whether they print on paper or sublimate on fabric and heat set it, says Mareno.
“It’s mainly in the inks where you see the development and I think you’ll see some nice developments in material and paper. People will tend to want lighter paper and more versatile material,” Mareno says.
ITI primarily prints on polyester-based materials. The other growth area in the industry is being able to print on cottons, silks and natural fibers. That requires another set of inks and a pre-treatment, which ITI has chosen not to pursue.
Printheads add to the versatility and speed of the printer, he adds. The more heads you add and the faster the heads are themselves, the faster you can run the printer, he says.