By Cassandra Balentine
Part 2 of 2
The direct-to-textile printing process considers for ink and fabric selection. Beyond this, it is important to review the post-printing processes, including washing, drying, and steaming of fabrics. In addition, automation of these steps, is growing in demand.
Both the ink set and fabric play an important role in the steps needed to produce printed textiles for garment printing. For example, Mike Syverson, textile manager, North America, Durst Image Technology, explains if using reactive dyes for cotton or linen, or disperse dyes for polyester, the fabric must be steamed and washed after it is printed to fixate and remove excess dyes and chemistry from the fabric. However, if printing nylon-based fabrics with dye, an acid dye is normally used, which also requires steaming and washing.
The various ink types require different processes to maximize their advantages and minimize their disadvantages. “For example, pigment ink requires the fabric to be pretreated for proper color output, disperse dye needs steaming for proper adhesion, etc. These steps are determined by both the fabric and ink set in combination,” offers Tony Simmering, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc.
John Ingraham, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America, adds that dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and pigment require minimum post processing after printing and as such are considered dry printing processes. “Reactives and acid inks need steaming and washing after printing.”
“For dye-based inks like reactive, acid, and disperse the process includes pretreatment, print, dry, steam, wash, and final stage post treatment as needed,” comments Mark Krzywicki, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc.
For pigment ink the process includes pretreatment, print, dry, and final stage drying/fixation; with post treatment as needed to improve fastness and/or hand feel of the printed fabric. “Since the pigment ink process does not require steaming or washing, it reduces turnaround time, investment and infrastructure required, and overall water use,” adds Krzywicki.
“The advantage of pigment-based textile inks is they can require little to no post processing after printing. This reduces overall cost, energy consumption, water usage, and labor. Additionally, it streamlines the process and reduces steps,” stresses Syverson.
Digital and Automation
The adoption of digital print technologies and automation for direct-to-textile production is growing, however manual processes—particularly in finishing—are still very much in use.
“We are seeing a high rate of growth in the digitally printed textile market. In many cases, traditional analog—rotary and flat screen—print companies are adding digital solutions alongside the rotary presses to increase versatility and speed to market. These systems may be configured with reactive dyes, disperse, or pigment,” says Syverson.
“Many of the major custom fabric producers are using digital printing systems to produce high volumes of material,” agrees Simmering. He says the quality of life advantages of a digital system are moving print providers in that direction.
There are several benefits to the digital process, including the advanced ink sets utilized.
“The digital process, especially pigment inks, is a more streamlined approach to printing textiles. There are no post-processing requirements, which drastically reduces resource consumption. Additionally, one operator can run a digital system or in some cases, multiple machines,” says Syverson.
He points out that rotary screen presses require multiple operators in addition to the finishing equipment required for rotary printing. Further, setup time on a rotary press can be costly in terms of time and wasted fabric preparing for the production run.
“Digital printing offers many advantages over analog technology,” agrees Krzywicki. He says benefits of digital direct to fabric are in many ways similar to those in other printing markets. “For example, the ability to better serve shorter runs jobs more efficiently with minimal setup time and cost, the ability to print new types of high detail designs, and less space required to house equipment.”
Krzywicki admits that despite this, a majority of the global market continues to print using analog technology. “However, as in other digital print applications, there is a growing demand for digital. Cutting and sewing of garments remains primarily manual due to low labor costs in the countries that are leaders in apparel production.”
Migration is happening, and Ingraham sees many companies moving some or all of their textile print production to digital in an effort to reduce power, water, and space requirements. “For bespoke applications, digital textile printing offers shorter setup times and reduces material needs to produce very short printing runs. Digital printing offers the ability to print photo images and continuous tone images.”
Time and money savings remain the biggest advantages of going from analog processes like screen printing to a digital direct-to-textile process. “Depending on the equipment, the setup cost can arguably be less as well as the ability to drive the per piece cost down significantly on custom or one-off work,” offers Simmering.
“While digital printing of textiles continues to increase, analog printing with flat and rotary screens remain the dominant printing method,” summarizes Ingraham.
So why hasn’t everyone migrated all processes to digital, considering the advantages?
“One concern is that digital printing systems go obsolete much faster than analog printers,” points out Ingraham. However, he stresses that digital printing provides advantages in terms of power and in the case of dye-sub and pigment printing reduces water consumption and extensive post processing.
“There tends to be a resistance to change when it comes to ‘the way we’ve always done it,’” adds Simmering. While he admits there is a fairly significant learning curve transitioning to digital printing, once that hurdle is jumped the pure versatility and productive capability of digital far exceeds an analog system.
Krzywicki feels that digital print offers an opportunity for North American print shops to regain some volume outsourced to other global locations. “Comparatively, the high labor costs required to convert the roll of fabric to the garment remains an issue for companies to adopt a local, fully digital/automated garment production solution. Manufacturers may be swayed by a desire to better control inventory and supply chain issues as well as consumer demands for improvements in sustainability and worker safety.”
“For many companies that already have analog print systems such as rotary screen presses, the challenge is the capital investment required to bring a digital system online,” notes Syverson.
However, he feels the long-term advantages of a production-level digital system can easily offset the capital expense when factoring in speed to market, ease of product changeover, savings in producing and storing screens, labor to run the device, and sampling.
Direct to Textile
Garment production benefits from the advantages offered by digital, direct-to-textile printing, including the versatility and flexibility to cost-effectively produce customer work demanded by clients.
Sep2022, Digital Output