By Steve Urmano
Until recently, dye-sublimation printing was treated as a “black art,” by which many members of the industry were intimidated due to its complexity. But as more companies enter the competitive arena for wide-format printers and equipment, print media, inks and post-processing equipment, this view is changing.
Dye-sublimation technology has its benefits. It allows differentiation from paper and vinyl because fabric is more prominent, it gives an upscale perception and provides a more sophisticated look, it reduces costs because lightweight fabric costs less to ship, it allows higher margins due to less competition and higher perceived value, and it offers sustainable products and processes.
IT Strategies, a consultant to the digital printing industry, predicts that retail expenditures for finished output with digital textile printers will grow to $1.6 billion in 2012 worldwide, from $1.1 billion in 2008. About 70 percent is for signage applications.
When setting up your shop for dye-sublimation printing, first consider your user requirements and the type of applications you want to produce. These factors will influence the size of the investment you make and will determine the type of equipment you purchase. Keep in mind that the format size will determine the size of the printer, and that prices climb steeply when you move beyond 64-inch printer width.
In the past, large format printing on textiles implied long print runs and mostly rotary screen-printing machines. Now, increasingly on-demand short run production is required that can be better accommodated by inkjet technology.
Until now there was some reservation about productivity and running costs in digital textile printing. While many current solvent wide-format printers can be configured to accept dye-sub inks, enhancements, such as a “ditch,” a gutter placed under the print platen, and a “dancer bar,” which tensions the fabric, are often required to obtain the best printing results.
For printing on stretchy media, like spandex, a “sticky-belt” acts as a carrier to the stretched media while it is being printed upon. Two new Mimaki printers have these enhancements: the TX400-1800 D (for direct printing), and the TX400-1800 B (using the sticky belt). Both are 74 inches (1.8 meters) wide and are made specifically for dye-sub printing.
While screen-printing involves cumbersome production processes that cannot economically produce short runs, digital textile printing is designed to do exactly this. Inkjet printers feature an economic and cost-saving workflow and production process that requires only the exact amount of ink needed for the application and less water usage, which significantly lowers the environmental footprint for production of short run textile printing.