The tradition textile market
produced over $43 billion in worldwide billings last year,
apparel textiles made up the largest portion of that amount
at almost 90% of the total, also included in this number are
automotive trimmings and carpets.
As little as 15 years ago
digital printing of textiles, compared with paper for the
relatively benign office environment, no doubt looked impossible.
The demands of the textile application are extreme. Among
- more than a half dozen common types of synthetic and
natural fibres, each with its own ink compatibility characteristics;
- dealing with a stretchable, flexible, often highly porous
and textured surface;
- extreme use requirements including light, water fastness
(sweat, too) through finishing operations and often outdoor
use, heavy wear, abrasion, and cleaning;
- for some apparel applications, challenging registration
requirements since separate pieces need to be assembled;
- not just sight, but also touch requirement; - much
greater absorbency, requiring many times the ink volume
compared with printing on papers.
In the face of such odds,
digital textile printing is happening. The traditional valve
jet machines are digital and have been around a long time,
but they are appropriate primarily for large-volume, centralized
manufacturing. The newer digital printing technologies open
things up for a wide variety of incremental applications.
Tremendous progress has been made, but there are still many
challenges. However, the opportunities for high-value digital
printer applications are so large that many hardware and chemistry
vendors are investing heavily in textile and textile-related
products and systems.
I.T. Strategies defines the
present markets of digital textile printing to include sampling,
strike-off, and mass customization. The sampling application
requires printing on both paper and fabrics, close attention
to accuracy, and conformity to the conventional screen printing
that will be used for production. Digital printing can dramatically
reduce turnaround time for sampling from six to eight weeks
with traditional technology to perhaps just a few days.
The second major application
area is strike-off , defined by I.T. Strategies as producing
a sample of a single, salable item for markets such as luxury,
entertainment, or special events.
"Mass customization" is the
third major application area and one which generates a great
deal of attention. Basically, this refers to a simplification
of the path from apparel specification through manufacture
to finished product. Also referred to as "agile manufacturing,"
the various production steps-print, cut, sew-are combined
in one area where there will be a mix of varied with standard
There are a variety of new
textile industry products made possible by digital printing,
including a number of specialty printing applications, "limited
only by the imagination." For the military, there is inflatable
dummy equipment. For the home, car covers and wall hangings.
And great potential in education.
Almost all digital textile
printing requires pre-and post-processing of the substrate,
and then converting, i.e. cutting patterns and sewing into
the finished product. How can all this be done outside a plant,
on a decentralized basis? Clearly there still needs to be
a lot of development, especially if the emerging digital textile
printing industry tries to mimic the traditional industry.
But maybe thinking outside that box will change everything.
A lot of the innovation will be coming from outside the traditional
industry. It looks like almost everyone in wide format digital
color printing could get into textiles. The traditional textile
industry shouldn't get too complacent. There are clearly hurdles
galore. But digital textile printing is developing quickly.