FESPA 2015 in review: textile possibilities in a material world

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Dara Jegede

Written on 06/08/2015 | Posted 2 years 6 months 15 days ago

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Epson heavily featured its UltraChrome high-density black ink at the show Epson heavily featured its UltraChrome high-density black ink at the show

From the line-up of textile solutions seen at FESPA 2015 it was evident that both manufacturers and print houses are intent on exploiting the vast potential of fabric-based materials. Digital ink-jet printing is continuing to transform this industry with equipment that helps create a more versatile production environment, integrating ink developments that address environmental interests as well as devices that complement analogue processes. The rich tapestry of products splayed around the Cologne Messe showed that vendors are heeding the demand for tools that allow users to diversify, explore new functionalities and produce quality applications to different ends.

Sign and d├ęcor

Digitally printed textiles are invading the territory of paper, vinyl and PVC for for interior and exterior applications alike. Epson used multiple facets of its stand to illustrate the possibilities. Artwork from Blooming Bryony Designs was reproduced on various home materials and surfaces such as glass, polyester, cotton, paper and films using a range of dye-sublimation, solvent and aqueous systems, showing how print houses could implement the trend. The manufacturer also introduced the SureColor SC-F9200 dye-sublimation machine, which prints on various transfer papers up to 162.5cm wide and covers most bases for textile applications, from flags to sportswear and home furnishings.

Mimaki and Roland DG also showcased their dye-sub wares for this market. The Texart RT-640 dye-sublimation printer from Roland was demonstrated in tandem with the CS-64 calender at the manufacturer's sublimation zone, transferring dye-sub prints from paper onto polyester-based materials, as well printing directly to textiles. In addition to this, Roland flaunted its high-productivity 'beast', the SolJet Pro 4 XR-640, for interior, sportswear and graphics applications. Mimaki, meanwhile, presented various units that focused on volume production for fabrics, such as the TX500-1800DS, which reaches a blistering 150sq m/hr in high-speed mode. 

With staunch competition in this more accessible production area, vendors were sure to incorporate features that deliver value. While Mimaki's mainstay was in advertising breakneck speeds for volume production, it also presented six-colour latex systems that use orange and green for wallpaper jobs. Roland's XF-640 sported a volume take-up system, able to hold up to 50kg and roll prints evenly, as well as an optional dryer to speed up and streamline the post-print process. For Epson, its PrecisionCore TFP print-heads for accurate and vibrant ink deposits, a heater unit and optional air-dryer were favoured tools. This manufacturer also launched a high density black ink for its Ultrachrome DS series which, with its proprietary ink deposition system, is intended to enable high throughput and longer service runs while keeping costs moderate.

Rich gamut

In ink development, manufacturers focused on environmental credentials in tandem with proposing greater lay-down efficiency. Kornit débuted its entirely biodegradable NeoPigment Pure ink for direct-to-garment printing, which it says offers an increased colour gamut of more than 15 percent, as well as an improved hand feel on virtually any fabric. This ink claims to eliminate the need for pre- and post-treatment with natural or synthetics fabrics and meets the OekoTex 100 and GOT environmental standards. Likewise, Mimaki recently announced OekoTex accreditation for its SB300 dye sublimation inks, making it suitable for direct skin contact.

The show was significant for ink developer Bordeaux Digital Printink, which officially launched its dedicated digital textile printing division, Velvet Jet, which aims to address wide-format needs for fashion and soft signage. Developers demonstrated their commitment to broadening ink options in different ways. Some focused on accreditation; Bordeaux introduced a new line of printer-specific UV-curable inks; Sawgrass promoted its SubliJet-HD range of high-viscosity sublimation inks for the Virtuoso HD product decorating system it launched at the show.

Fast fashion; challenging screen

While digital printing has the advantage over screen of shorter runs and customisation, the biggest challenge confronting manufacturers is that they dare not compromise on quality when luring users that were previously analogue. Kornit's stable of direct-to-garment printers features several contenders, such as the Avalanche Hexa, DC Pro and Storm II which cater to the apparel and interiors divisions – but its heavyweight was the freshly-launched one-step roll-to-roll system, Allegro.

Kornit launched the Allegro direct-to-fabric engine at FESPA 2015

Accommodating diverse fabrics in a robust workhorse, this machine targets established firms looking to add short- to medium-length fashion, sportswear and home décor runs to their remit. To ensure the standalone piece is truly a worthy match for screen, Kornit has incorporated a new generation of print-heads; these benefit from ink recirculation within the tanks, new algorithms for dynamic control of drop firing conditions in all printing modes, and its new ink development, NeoPigment, is a formulation it says wholly removes the requirement for pre- and post-treatment on different materials.

"Our strategy continues to be focused on enabling a revolutionary change of the printed textile supply chain," states Guy Zimmerman, vice-president of marketing and business development at Kornit. "The addition of the Allegro is yet another step towards change the way people print on textile." Alongside Allegro and Kornit's comprehensive line up for direct-to-fabric applications, the manufacturer addressed short runs, customisation and flexibility challenges in screen production with its lauded Paradigm II.

On this front, Durst introduced the Rhotex 322 and Rhotex HS, which it claims offer a production quality on par with traditional processes. The 905sq m/hr engine uses the QuadroZ print-heads Durst developed for its high-performance Kappa textile machinery. Applying this technology to new fabric platforms, Durst is looking to create greater quality of image on the substrate that will at least match its analogue rivals. The technology enables bi-directional printing with ink jetting at droplet sizes of between 7 – 21pl; the Rhotex 322 is specifically geared towards established wide-format houses looking to diversify their offering with machines offering speed and versatility on higher volume applications.

With digitally printed textile encroaching on applications previously produced on rigid materials, particularly within advertising and decoration, manufacturers are extending their capabilities into the rapidly growing apparel and fashion sector. In each of these realms, current consumer demands are geared towards short-run collections of multiple designs and personalisation – areas where digital will easily thrive. 

However, screen standards still remain the benchmark of quality and take precedence when it comes to garment printing. Users are seeking this in combination with throughput speed, smaller batches of designs and improved environmental considerations, all at a reasonable price point. The developments shown at FESPA indicate that manufacturers are responding to these evolving trade demands but whether digital will disrupt established and favoured screen practices across the board remains to be seen. 

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