By Cassandra Balentine
Part 1 of 2
Direct-to-textile printing is a growing area for garment production and decoration. While the technology can be used for one offs, industrial presses support production-level quantities.
Depending on the desired look, feel, and use of a finished garment, textile printers work with clients to select the appropriate inks and fabric for the project.
In part one of this two-part series on the topic, we look at fabric and ink preference for high-volume direct-to-textile printing.
A variety of fabric options are available for direct-to-textile printing in garment production.
Mark Krzywicki, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc., sees interest in both woven and knitted fabrics depending on the end application and garment type. “100 percent cotton fabric is popular, but there is also increasing interest in blended fabrics, which can be printed with pigment ink technology. It is important to consider the quality of the fabric and make sure it’s well prepared for digital printing to ensure good results.”
Popular fabrics include nylon, polyester, and cotton. Careful consideration to how the fabric stretches when fed through the printer is essential. “Two-way stretch tends to produce a higher quality result compared to four-way stretch when run through a roll-to-roll printer,” suggests Tony Simmering, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc.
Fabrics selection is often determined by the buyer of finished garments. “In production textile printing, we see a lot of cotton, linen blends, polyester, and polyamides. Much of this is determined by the buyer’s desire for a specific look and feel in addition to overall cost of materials and production method,” says Mike Syverson, textile manager, North America, Durst Image Technology.
John Ingraham, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America, says textiles for garment printing typically include polyester and polyester blends for performance fabrics and cotton/cotton/polyester blends. He says swimwear printing consists of nylon blends and some polyester, and silk is common for fashion accessories such as scarfs.
Direct-to-textile printing inks include sublimation, pigment, acid, and reactive ink sets. Pigment inks tend to be the most popular for this application due to their flexibility and lower post-press requirements.
“There are four types of direct-to-fabric printing inks—reactive, acid, disperse, and pigment,” states Krzywicki. “The choice depends on the customer’s application, fabric type, existing workflow equipment, and investment budget.”
“Pigment, reactive, acid, and disperse dye inks are the most commonly used in digital printing. All of the ink types have advantages and disadvantages with things such as color gamut, adhesion to different fabrics, and washability,” admits Simmering.
“Pigment inks offer the most flexibility to print on a variety of different fibers, but typically have a smaller color gamut compared to the other types of ink,” says Ingraham. He notes that sublimation inks can only be used with polyester fabrics, reactive inks provide excellent color results on cotton fibers, while acid inks work best with nylons and silk.
Specifically in North America, Krzywicki feels pigment is a good solution as it offers a simpler workflow, flexibility to print on a wide variety of fabric types, and is less water intensive.
Syverson says this is also the case globally. “Worldwide, pigment inks are more utilized than any other ink set. They are relatively inexpensive and require the least amount of post-processing to create a finished, printed fabric. In the digital printing world, pigment inks allow for a single-step process to print textiles, as you can print and fixate the ink with a single process, assuming the ink and print technology is designed for printing pigments,” he explains.
When it comes to direct-to-textile printing, a variety of inks are available. The choice of which to use boils down to fabric choice and desired look and feel.
In part two of this series, we look at additional processes—washing, drying, and steaming—which are essential parts of the direct-to-textile printing process.
Sep2022, Digital Output