By Tim Greene
The most interesting application for fabrics using digital printing I have seen lately is digitally printed leather, available from SIF Technology Corporation, Sarasota, Fla.
Printers have been using screen printing and dye-sublimation inkjet printing onto leather for a long time. The SIF technology enables “on-demand mass customization of leather products” by providing a photographic image quality, no change to the feel of the material, and improved durability compared to sublimation-printed leather.
“Think Zazzle for leather,” says Chris Cudzilo of SIF. Zazzle allows people to put their own images onto stamps and greeting cards by submitting images online. The big advantage of digital printing is that designers have the flexibility to cost effectively get samples of any of their designs. Digital printing saves a lot of steps in the production process, especially in terms of sizing, vs. screen printing. And digital printing at 2880dpi provides a superior image to dye sublimation.
The process is simple. SIF gets the leather crust, treats it for brightness, then applies an adhesion layer. They then reverse-print the digital image, using wide format solvent inkjet printers with pigment-based inks, onto the SIF-developed film. The film is tacked onto the leather with a heat press, and then finished with a 100-year-old leather press.
The SIF process provides environmental benefits, especially compared to the old leather manufacturing process. “By printing solid white, brown or black—the most common colors—we eliminate the dyeing process and a lot of the “dirty” processes used in traditional leather manufacturing,” Cudzilo says. “We make more leather useable and decrease waste.”
The SIF technology is basically a reverse-print thin film applied to leather. Images can be logos, patterns or solid colors, allowing the use of digitally printed leather for products like handbags, luggage, shoes, furniture and automotive interiors.
SIF expects to sell finished leather for about $29 per square foot. Leather industry experts are saying that is very high because they are used to selling it for $3 to $5, and $20 to $24 for really fancy leather.
“Designers really get it,” Cudzilo says. “Digital printing eliminates a lot of the cost because capital required to take leather products to market is drastically reduced. The leather industry has been confined by technology; we’re changing all that.”
SIF is working with some of the biggest names in fashion and footwear, and is taking orders from customers from all over the world. Check it out at www.digitalleather.com.