By Tim Greene
One advantage of some of the new digital printing ink formulations is that they allow direct printing to industrial textiles. The advantage of digital printing is the ability to more cost effectively print short runs or turn jobs around quickly. Recently, I saw some examples of digitally printed carpets. I spoke with representatives of Ultraflex about its carpet product and the applications.
Ultraflex’s UltraCarpet Extra is a white, tufted pile carpet that can be digitally printed using wide format solvent or eco-solvent inkjet or UV-curable inkjet printers. It can also be screen printed. The material is only available in white because solvent inks have not been available in white, and, so far, UV-curable inkjet has not provided the one- to two-year durability printers are looking for.
UltraCarpet Extra has a basis weight of 300 gsm and is available in 71-, 126- and 196-inch rolls. Neil Baker, vice president of sales at Ultraflex said the weight of the carpet is one of the challenges for digital printing companies. Baker said Ultraflex has had printable carpets for about five years and that it has been continuously “perfecting” the product for optimum performance with the latest digital printing systems and technologies.
Inkjet printing systems are very precise mechanical devices. It is relatively easy for stray dust and other particles found in standard carpets to clog up inkjet printers without the application of the right materials and treatments. Still, UltraCarpet Extra is competitively priced at about $1 per square foot. Some print service provider websites show that digitally printed carpets are selling for between $12 and $15 per square foot.
Baker says that the best market for digitally printed carpets has been trade shows. Whereas most screen printing equipment is not able to print on 10-foot wide rolls, digital printing is the only option for the application of logos and promotional graphics onto carpets. Ultraflex is having success with some of the nation’s largest trade show operations companies, and has had some of its customers provide digitally printed carpets used in airports. Some potential markets are museums that frequently change their featured exhibits, restaurants, theatres, office waiting areas and homes.
Many manufacturers in the inkjet ink business are working to develop more durable UV-curable inks. Development of these inks, especially if they could print in white, would enable more growth in the digitally printed carpet market because it would allow trade show booth designers to use carpet colors other than white.