By Lisa Guerriero
Part 2 of 2
Digital print shops have the option of printing directly onto fabric, much as they do with vinyl, paper, and other substrates. There is a broader selection of coated textile products on the market, which facilitates direct printing. In addition, printer and ink manufacturers developed technology in recent years that improves this type of output.
There are several options for direct fabric printing, including latex, UV, solvent, and pigment technology. Each approach has unique benefits. As a group, however, they share many of the same benefits and are suitable for the same type of applications. One-step printing has an obvious appeal, and so does equipment that can print on other media in addition to fabric.
Digital Output examines the settings and applications where direct fabric printing is most effective. We also spotlight some of the printers and textiles available for this method.
Direct to Fabric: When It Works Best
There are many reasons to choose a direct-to-fabric alternative. Arguably the most compelling is versatility, and how it affects profit. There are many devices on the market capable of printing directly to textiles but also to other types of media.
For many print shops with a flatbed printer, there’s no need to invest in special equipment just for textile jobs. If they invest in direct to fabric inks, they are ready to start accepting textile jobs.
Hary Gandy, president, Gandy Digital, acknowledges alternative methods are a good fit for some users. “If you have very small demand for printing on fabric, and for very short term,” he says, “it saves you from buying another piece of equipment if you already have a latex or a UV printer.”
Unlike dye-sub, generally these inks don’t require any post-print treatment. The one-step process is part of the appeal. “Once printed, you are done. There are not additional steps or pieces of equipment that are needed to provide a complete product. This saves time, money, production speed, and cost to produce,” points out Kelly Gornick, marketing manager, Seiko Instruments U.S.A., Inc.
Most direct to fabric methods are suitable for indoor and outdoor applications, both short and long term. The durability makes them popular for banners, flags, and other soft signage, although they’re used in a variety of applications.
“By offering lightfastness, many direct to fabric technologies are excellent for long-term applications such as bed sheets, seat covers, but also fashion items that are worn intensively and for longer periods,” observes Jos Notermans, commercial manager digital textile, SPGPrints BV.
Latex offers many benefits for printing fabric graphics. The ink sits on the surface of the textile. Because it doesn’t have to penetrate the media, it is useable for a variety of fabrics.
“Latex printing poses a potential revolution for textile printers and is sure to penetrate the market since it enables printing with a single ink of a variety of fabric types, whether natural or synthetic,” observes Guy Evron, marketing manager, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd.
UV LED is another popular method of fabric printing. “Many printing companies—and some print buyers as well—want to reduce the use of solvents in printing, so UV LED inkjet textile applications are growing in popularity,” explains Ken Hanulec, VP, marketing, EFI.
This method also offers convenience. “UV inks can be used with a variety of uncoated fabrics, while eco-solvent inks require coated fabric to in order for the ink to be accepted,” notes Lily Hunter, product manager—textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation
Many vendors say pigments could be the next big thing in textile printing, offering durability as well as substrate variety. “Much progress has been made in the machinery, printheads, and ink technology and so we should see the digital era reaching this segment also,” predicts Dr. Christophe Bulliard, marketing director, Sensient Imaging Technologies.
The lightfastness of pigment printing makes it well suited to outdoor applications like furnishing and awnings.
“Use of pigment inks is great for all applications. With UV rating of nearly 500 hours, long-term applications can be achieved with confidence,” notes Marty Silveira, VP-sales, DigiFab Systems, Inc.
Pigments are useable on many textiles, including denim, wool, silk, and leather. As water-based, non-toxic inks, they are designed for fabrics that come in contact with skin. “In other words, it is ideal for fashion, apparel, and home textiles,” explains Oliver Luedtke, marketing manager, Kornit Digital.
Alternative Inks, Printers
Many vendors serve the direct to fabric space, offering options for latex, UV, solvent, and pigment printing.
Bordeaux offers a latex ink designed for piezo drop on demand printheads. It handles a competitive range textiles, performing well on both synthetic substrates like polyester as well as natural fibers like cotton. Evron describes it as a game changer that’s able to replace many textile printing technologies.
Coveris Advanced Coatings offers a variety of options under the Magic Ink umbrella, including solvent and eco-solvent, latex, and aqueous. These include products designed for use with top printers like Canon and Roland. With such a broad array, customers can choose the product that suits their needs. Common uses are banners, table skirts, and outdoor flags.
EFI offers the VUTEk GS5550LXr Pro, VUTEk GS5250LXr Pro, and GS3250LXr Pro roll-to-roll printers. Paired with its EFI VUTEk GSLXr 3M SuperFlex UV Ink, the printers have the versatility, productivity, and quality needed to produce high-end soft signage on a variety of textile substrates. The ink provides an extended color gamut and can withstand greater than 150 percent elongation. It is suitable for soft signage as well as many other applications.
Gandy Digital offers the Pred8tor and Domin8tor UV flatbed printers. The two devices can print with flexible UV ink on fabric, offering print shops a chance to print textiles as well as other types of output. The UV is cured on top of media, so any fabric can be used, notes Gandy.
Kornit Digital offers NeoPigment ink, which works in direct as well as sublimation fabric printing. It was developed in house to work with Kornit printers.
Roland features a range of eco-solvent and UV printers that are ideal for fabric printing applications. One of the newest options on the eco-solvent side is the Roland VersaEXPRESS RF-640 and the VersaCAMM VSi series printer/cutters. For quality UV fabric printing, one option is the VersaUV LEJ-640 hybrid printer.
Seiko recommends its high-speed ColorPainter M-64s. It features new seven-color eco-solvent inks that are low-odor and provide a wide color gamut and dense color saturation. The SX inks offer fade and scratch resistance, which increases outdoor durability. Though the ColorPainter M-64s can print on a variety of materials, the company suggests using solvent-rated media.
Sensient offers the ElvaJet PE 500 series, a new range of high-performance, water-based pigmented inks optimized for direct to textile applications. The series fits all printers based on Epson DX4, DX5, DX6, and DX7 printheads. In addition, the ElvaJet PY 570 water-based pigmented inks are optimized for Kyocera printheads, and ElvaJet PK 550 water-based pigment inks are suitable for printing onto cotton for most wide format printers with Konica Minolta printheads.
SPGPrints enters this space with the forthcoming Pike, a single-pass printer for textile printing. It prints directly to natural fibers using reactive inks, with speeds up to 50 linear meters per minute.
A Direct Route
As the textile graphics market expands, there are more opportunities to use direct to fabric technology. There are many ways to accomplish direct fabric printing. These methods continue to attract new print providers.
“We expect alternate fabric printing methods to increase over the next few years. Personalization is trending, especially in the wallcovering industry, which is likely to carry over to the fabric industry,” concludes Kristina Devine, marcom and product support specialist, Coveris.
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Jul2015, Digital Output DOTP1507