The New Wave of Digital Fabric Printing Technology


Historical review in textile printing

Textile printing is a method by which fabrics are printed in various colors, arts and designs. It is a very old art developed and created on fabrics in Egypt during 5000 B.C. Fabrics also found printed in Greek during 4th century. B.C, also it is noted that printing blocks were sourced from India in 5th century. B.C. During that time, France acknowledged as popular center of this type of cloth production and printing. Japan was popular for adding stencil work in wood by making blocks and further by pasting dies and prints it in fabrics.

In the Mid-15th Century, with the invention of printing press by John Gutenberg there was a drastic change seen in printing technology and textile printing. After practicing by William Caxton in England, there was a remarkable widespread seen in relief printing technology in 1476. In sixteen and seventeen century with the export of spices, India became major provider of printing fabrics and products, like calico, pajama, gingham, dungaree, chintz and khaki according to the requirement of European countries. Then by the efforts by Grant, Thomas Bell and many printers, with the invention of wood block (1760), copper block (1770) and copper roller (1797) printing technology in the eighteenth century, especially the trend of cotton printing spread, still it can be seen at the Toile de Jouy Museum.

The history of fabric printing in Dartford goes away with Augustus Applegath’s acceptance of a silk printing works in the town and it sustained until 1865 when James Keymer established a new fabric printing works on the banks of the River Darent. In 1907 Samuel Simon was used a fabric printing system in which the designs were shaped from stencils through screen printing machines. In 1940’s first photographic stencil was built up by Colin Sharp. After development of computers, the printing process and its developments geared up in their colors.

Development in last two decades

With the improvement in the printing technology, color inkjet printers played an important role in digital fabrics for the consumer market in the late 1980s. That time Canon and Hewlett-Packard became leaders in the printing technology. Canon’s Bubble Jet printers were received so acceptance in the market. Again latest technology geared up in their improvement with the existence of a large format color inkjet printer – the Iris printer in the 1990s, but that technology was not considered as ideal tool for the fabrics due to light sensitive color problem, rather it was accepted for paper printing.

Earlier, direct printing method used for fabric with the computer and the printing is made with the computer inks; it was the time where fabric was printed using only black images or text because of the availability of only laser printers and ribbon printers and there were no color printers. In 1999 Bubble Jet Set printing technology developed, which permits fabric to be treated, amalgamated to freezer paper with an iron and then operate through an ink jet printer.

The meaning of Digital fabric/Textile Printing

The digital fabrics printing technology is existed since last decade, it emerged after 1994. It is a skill that prints the designs on fabric, immediately from your computer, without extra efforts just like printing and designing a paper. Digital textile printing is a flexible tool and a key acceptable to the vision of mass customization. It permits the user to evade the screen making process, offering the chance for quick changes to color or design elements prior to printing.

Advantages of digital fabric printing over traditional printing technology

Generally, textile printing has been operated through transferring media, such as screens and rollers. Each transferring media is designed and allocated for a specific color. A block printing and engraved copper printing are operating through these methods. A number of woodblocks that are designed in block printing give a number of colors in design. Advantage of using this type of method is that you can have three dimensional effects due to its color separation and layers, and still today rotary screen printing method is used in designing of traditional floral patterns and toile designs. Mechanical or traditional fabric printing methods some times manipulate in both way, by design aesthetics and styles, while in the field of printed textile design with the latest digital fabric printing technology it enhanced the style and meaning of printed textile design. It is a fact that the new latest methods of digital printing on fabrics have exposed new horizons to the designers and manufacturers. Digital printing methods have facilitated manufactures to make a digital sampling and have advantages of change in designs before engraving. By adopting digital printing techniques you can re-adjust conventional printing design and can able to give new looks in design.

Today, many customers are demanding fabrics to be printed with various color combinations, styles, designs, traditional designs and looks, but to co-up with these customization demands there has been a limitation to attend the entire mass market with traditional printing technology. Digital printing profits over conventional printing it provide noteworthy benefits like quick turn-around, efficient set-up and speed, economical and great flexibility, takes less time, alteration possible etc. And in today’s customer oriented market the printing technology is not limited to wearing wears; but it bounds to its limits and reaches to the requirements of trade show graphics, picture of huge fabric posters of television and movie stars, advertising purposes, flags and banners and many mores.

Unlike any traditional textile printing technology, the main benefit of digital fabric printing is in its process color application with its latest printers, software applications. Photographic and tonal graphics shaped millions of colors with Photoshop and can be printed on fabric according to the color combination requirement. Wider color scope and finer printing quality are available with the latest development of inks, color management software. In the traditional process colors of CMYK, you can have various color combination with addition of extra preset colors like orange, blue, green, and also there is availability of various type of software with these complex color combination. These preset colors reduce importance of screens or rollers for printing, and there is no need of repeat the size and other combination with no limit with color combinations in designs.

From digital textile printing technology you can have latest innovative and creative deigns like concepts of shadow, shimmering, vibration, reflection, moire, optical, translucent, netting, blurring, layering, superimposing, etc., instead of making special efforts with traditional methods of printing. Today, the printing technology developed so tremendously and became so eco-friendly, user-friendly that, even designers can make its products without taking help from textile designers.

Digital Printing Advantages

. Design achieved with greater flexibility, without the limitation of on repeat size, colors, engineered designs and gets outstanding depiction of continuous tone (photographic) images

. The digital printing equipment not requires much infrastructure and it is comparatively available in less cost

. Drastically trim down time to market the products

. It also decrease the use of water, dyes & solutions hence acts as an environmentally friendly tool

. It decreases industrial waste and print loss, provides centralize manufacturing facility

. Mass customization requirements easily available in short time

. Availability of fast greater speed of operation, high resolution / drop Size & configuration with spot colors combination or color control without lack of standards

Types of digital fabric printing technologies

There are various types of digital printing technology available in market like thermal DOD Ink jet
Piezoelectric DOD ink jet, airbrush/valve jet, electrostatic (sublimation & resin), thermal transfer, electro photography (Laser, LED), photographic development, continuous ink jet (CIJ) etc.

DOD Ink jet fabric printing method: DOD Ink jet printing method bring a drop of ink or dyes only when needed for printing that is why it is called drops on demand ( DOD ), i.e. it works on the principal “only when and where required in the design” . This system works as environment friendly, because of its “no paste, no waste “method, and the complete color reaches to the fabric.

Piezoelectric DOD ink jet fabric printing method: It uses electrostatic forces for arrangement and spraying of micro drops of inks or dyes in fabric printing. Here high voltages are applied to piezoelectric crystals for producing directional current. The advantage of using this methods are it formulation directional ink, where inks not heated , hence less expensive, printing heads works at its cycles per second and provides high resolution by applying small drop size of inks or dyes.

Electrostatic Sublimation Transfer Printing : Sublimation is a method whereby a solid dyes turns exactly into a gas without passing through a liquid state, can be transferred to a fabric (e.g. polyester) and re-solidify as a solid color again. Dye sublimation is a two-step process that needs additional equipment to the electrostatic printers for dye-sub. Also it requires a special paper for heating at the heat press; electrostatic printer. It is also called sublimation transfer printing. These inks or dyes can be printed onto paper from either a silkscreen process or from printers attached with ribbons with the sublimation inks. These papers then can transmit images onto fabrics.

Direct ink jet transfer method: The direct ink jet transfer method is direct transfer, or printing directly onto fabric with an inkjet printer. This process expensive and the fabrics require to be coated in order to effectively allow the inks or dyes.

Continuous ink jet fabric printing method: The ink is constantly pushed out of the ink channel by a pump by a nozzle attached with a PZT material and it generates an “ink-jet”. Using an electrical power on the PZT material, the nozzle shakes, breaches the ink jet into droplets of ink and used for printing fabrics. Continuous ink jet fabric printing method also available with its binary hertz operation and multi-deflection system.

Software application in digital fabric printing: For digital fabric printing Color management Systems (CMS, Calibration), Raster Image Processor (RIP), printer driver software, design lay out software (CAD), etc are widely used.

Development in printing equipment

At present Ichinose ImageProofer, Stork Amethyst, Dupont Artistri2020, Mimaki TX2-1600, Encad, NovaJet 880, Zimmer Chromotex, ColorSpan, FabriJet, Aprion Magic, Leggett and Platt Virtuetc, Imaje-Osiris, Reggiani DReAM, Robustelli Mona Lisa, Leggett & Platt UV-dye, Mimaki TX2 & TX 3 etc latest printers or equipment with their developed brand name or version are widely using for getting effective results.

Latest digital inks: Today most fabric printers or manufacturers uses reactive & acids in various colors, dispersed inks, finishing inks for light, color, pigments etc. Ink specialist such as Ciba Specialty Chemicals, DuPont, Dystar ( BASF), CHT, Lyson, Brookline, ECS and Kimberly Clark have developed digital form of conventional dyes such as reactive, acid, disperse and pigment. These inks permit printers to make prints on their specific type of fabrics.

According to Ray Work of DuPont, the worldwide market for textile chemicals is at $22 billion, of which around 36% is dyes and pigments. Finishing and coatings includes 38%. A foremost improved, according to Work, is that now almost every type of fabric can be digitally printed by ink jet, be grateful to progress in inks

For DuPont Artistri 2020 Printer DuPont Artistri 700 Series Ink is (acid dye ink chemistry) used for Nylon, Nylon/Lycra, Silk, Wool. For Polyester, Nylon, Nylon/Lycra processing disperse dye ink is used, for Cotton, Polyester, Cotton/Poly Blends, Viscose/Rayon Linen, Nylon*, Nylon/Lycra, Silk, Wool pigmented ink chemistry available. DuPont Solar Brite Ink is used especially for active wear, swimwear, intimate apparel, flags and accessories.

Digital textile printing technology in present market

For digital textile printing technology, there are three types of demands exists in market, which are sampling, strike-off, and mass customization.

Sampling: The sampling demand involves printing on paper and fabrics with an intimate concentration and compliance to the usual screen printing which is used for manufacturing.
Strike-off: Strike-off is a product of sample for a single, salable item for markets such as luxury, entertainment, or special events.

Mass customization: Mass customization is the third main products area and it creates an immense deal of concentration by mass customers.

The future markets: Besides the above existed segment, the digital fabric printing technology will be booming with their batch production printing and low volume demand fabric printing.
Its industry size is calculated: 300,000 Retailer “Doors” and 20,000+ Manufacturer “Doors”,

400 Companies Manufacture 80% of all apparel,

Apparel & Related Volume is $180B,

All Others’ Goods represent $36B.

Textile Printing Trends

The world wide trends: Decline in US print production, there seems growth of Asian print production and decreasing production run lengths, demand for greater design variety, demand for shorter production cycles and demand for reduced inventory risk.

Cotton is the most frequently printed material (48% of printing production), followed by cotton/polyester blends (19%), polyester (15%), and viscose (13%). From a worldwide viewpoint, other material (e.g. polyamide, polyacrylic, wool and silk) involve with a little part.

Prospecting Market

There are a range of new textile industry products you can print with digital printing, which covers wall covering, Info-banners, car covers, artworks, and flags and including museums, galleries, and exhibitors for multi disciplinary products, used in printing of education system or related products and there are many prospects for both direct and transfer digital printing e.g. for printing mouse pads ( new fabric surfaces and base materials), apparel prototyping for spot color, linking prototyping to production, and digitally-generated screens etc.

Digital textile production has been increasing at about 13% worldwide. The worldwide volume of digitally-printed textiles has been reaching about 44 million square meters by 2005. Duo to the high quality performance, in short time the availability of products, multidiscipline design, eco-friendly , cost- effective , etc advantages in digital textile printing technology, there exits a new market opportunities for this technology and it will be applicable to, backgrounds printing, scenes for theaters, film studios, photographers, music and sports events, road shows, parades, high profile catering, presidential campaigns, promotion organizers, advertising agencies, universities, churches, parties, for hanging signs, displays systems, packing, for sampling, for prototyping and new designs sampling, short run production, for interior designers to make curtains, upholstery, table cloth, bed ware etc.

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