By Steve Urmano
Leather is one of the oldest and most widely used materials in fashion, home décor, furniture, footwear and personal accessories. Leather has been finished using traditional tannery methods. In the past, there have been many attempts to decorate leather in niche ways, including digital printing, but no technology has been able to make the leap from small quantity to high production—until now.
SIF Technology, a Sarasota, Fla.-based technology company, and its strategic printing equipment partner Mimaki are about to make a technological leap with a new leather surface decoration material and process called SIF, short for Smart Imaging Film. SIF Technology founder and inventor Bob Mabbott says that SIF is a true enabler for the leather industry, giving both leather designers and manufacturers the ability to use digital surface decoration technology to its fullest advantage, whether it is for one or a million pieces.
SIF’s advanced film technology, coupled with Mimaki’s drop-on-demand inkjet, allows for extremely high-quality images not possible with other direct or indirect leather printing technology.
“The secret is in the film, which apart from being the world’s thinnest printable media (one third of the thickness of a human hair) has some very unique characteristics that allow it, after application, to be completely impervious to the leather to which it has been applied to,” Mabbot says. “The unique combination of the SIF film and Mimaki’s JV33 print engine and inks results in the leather having all the benefits of high quality digital imagery, while allowing for the natural leather feel to dominate the finished product.”
When asked about the performance of SIF finished leather, John Crumbaugh, SIF Technology’s R&D manager, explains that the uniqueness of the film means that SIF finished leather no longer needs a traditional top coat because the film itself provides the necessary scuff, abrasion and chemical resistance, while maintaining a leather feel like human skin.
SIF Technology has been called a game changer and a paradigm shift for the leather industry, but it can be applied to other materials, including synthetics, non-wovens, wood and molded plastics. Its impact on the digital printing arena could be far more reaching than just leather itself.