Textile printing, or the art and science of impressing colorful designs or patterns on fabrics is one of the largest printing markets in the world. This industry has been around for centuries, beginning around the 4th or 5th century B.C but the techniques used have changed considerably over the years.
Digital fabric printing has been used many times in the past, but only as a way to validate textiles before performing a larger run on conventional press. The first digital printers were slow and not practical for large runs, but this is not the case anymore. High-end digital fabric printing systems are now able to deliver prints on over 8,000 square metres of material while maintaining high image quality with their 600,000 inkjet nozzles.
Advantages of Digital Printing
- Reduced downtime.
- Increased efficiency – Digital printers are generally easy to setup and cleanup in very little time, after which they can print 24/7, 365 days per year.
- No need for screen expense in sampling and associated short-run production.
- Eliminating the need for screens also eliminates associated registration problems while allowing for mass customization.
- Option for designers to make instant changes to patterns and colours, and print the sample before they can start engraving screens for mass production in the final run. Digital production machines make it possible for the printer to produce a minimum of a single repeat of a number of patterns using different colourways, within a few minutes.
Until recently, most of the development in digital printing has been focused on the home/office printer industry. The print head technology for these markets has a short life span – from 500 hours to a maximum of one year. As a result, most of the available ink jet print heads were not adequate for industrial use or production printing.
Fortunately, quite a bit of work has been done on digital textile machines in the last two decades. There are not many companies working on making high-pressure jets and computer controlled lasers that directly inject ink into the fabric, allowing for increased detail and production speed. This translates to better personalization and customization of garments.
However, the high operating costs with regard to energy, changeover, and costly inks still limit the use of digital fabric printing in mainstream markets, so a lot still needs to be done.