By Jos Notermans
Digital textile printing started in the late 1980s by Stork from The Netherlands. The market leader in rotary screen printing, Stork envisioned that one day digital printing would become the leading print technology. It was therefore obvious that the company needed to play a significant role in the development of this printing technology, and it launched the first digital textile printer in 1994.
For more than 20 years, projections of huge growth in digital textile printing, done by reputable market research bureaus, have proven to be wrong. The high cost per linear yard of digital printed textiles was the main reason for this. These costs were mainly determined by high ink prices, low printing speeds and low reliability of the inkjet printing process. In the last few years, ink prices have came down significantly and inkjet technology has become mature. The latest generations of printers are 400 times as fast as the first printer from 1994, and reliability is not an issue anymore.
The final push for the acceptance of digital textile printing came through the economic recession of 2009. Up to that point, digital printing was mainly done by relatively small companies—often entrepreneurial enthusiasts that served a local niche market. The recession caused many traditional textile printers to review their opportunities in digital printing and sent them searching for new means and new markets to improve their margins. They found that digital textile printing was quickly losing its disadvantages.
In 2010, the digital textile printing market grew with an estimated 60 percent in volume. In Italy, some large textile printers are now printing more yards in digital than in rotary. New, faster printers are coming to the market quickly, pushing the price per yard further down and moving the break-even point between rotary and digital to higher run lengths per design.
With upcoming Fespa Digital and ITMA Europe, it is fair to conclude that 2011 will become the year that digital textile printing will claim it’s definite established position in the world of textile printing. The technology is ready and the suppliers of printers and inks have the products that fulfill the customer’s needs. So now it is up to their customers to start printing digitally.