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Digital printing is coming of age

Graphics | September 1, 2011 | By:

The benefits of digital printing are well-known. You don’t have to make any screens, which saves time and costs. There is no material wasted at the start of your print run. You can realize more complex patterns, especially if there is no repeat required. And the price per meter for digital is coming down, while the quality is going up.

One of the drawbacks of digital in the past was the speed, but that is now changing. The latest digital printers achieve speeds of 5 meters per minute. As the preparation time is considerably shorter than with conventional printing, the output is comparable to 15 meters per minute in conventional printing when you take the total time into consideration. And development is ongoing; within three to five years it could be possible to print digitally at the same speed as with rotary screen printing (typically 40 meters per minute).

But it’s not only the machine capabilities that are important for the end result. The choice of ink, for example, is critical. Good quality ink causes less nozzle blockages and printhead failures.

For the time being, the real advantage of digital is that it is cheaper for print runs up to a couple of thousand meters. It is especially suitable for prototyping new designs for exhibitions and presentations because the startup costs are so low. In the traditional way, you have to separate your artwork, engrave a screen and then run your printing press to produce, in some cases, a few meters of material, which is both expensive and labor intensive.

With digital, you can just scan an artwork and then print a sample. But what happens if your design proves to be hugely popular and someone places an order for, say, 10,000 meters of this alluring new fabric? Then it will almost certainly be more efficient to produce it using rotary screen printing—and this can throw up a new dilemma.

The industry has developed solutions for this. Stork Prints’ bestIMAGE software separates the artwork in a way that is suitable for both digital and rotary screen printing, so the results will be matching even to the standards of the most critical customers. Therefore, if you switch from one technique to another, you can still deliver what you promised to your customer.

In the end, the most important aspect is being able to get a high-quality end product to market as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

Jos Notermans is the business unit manager for digital textile printing at Stork Prints, the world market leader in rotary screen printing, digital printing equipment and consumables for the textiles and graphics industry. He has over 20 years experience in digital printing in graphics and textiles.

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