By Fran Gardino
Why has digital fabric graphics printing become so popular and the current focus of the wide-format printing market? One reason is because of the varied benefits of using fabric, it’s estimated that the volume of graphics printed on fabric will more than double from 2011 to 2014, while the benefits of using fabric are endless. Another is that new and upcoming printing technologies make it possible to customize short runs of printed textiles at an affordable cost, which opens up exciting possibilities for designers and creative professionals in a multitude of industries.
So what has changed? In the recent past, digital printing equipment was modified to print fabric for third-party resellers and not truly engineered for printing custom fabrics. Ink and software for design and print were usually added on by the third-party resellers or the customer was left to their own devices to complete a working system.
Today, printers are built from the ground up to specifically print and handle a range of characteristics for a variety of fabrics. Printheads have improved significantly relative to durability, longevity and ability to print high viscosity inks with excellent color gamuts. Some digital printers, like the Mimaki Tx400-1800D, are capable of printing on-demand directly to fabrics, as well as on transfer paper for sublimation printing. The Tx400-1800D enables the user to adjust ink volume according to cloth type for amazing design effects and broader product portfolios, while cutting ink costs.
There is a growing number of vendors supplying a wide variety of fabrics coated specifically for digital printing. The graphics industry has largely adopted printing onto polyester due to its ease of printing and finishing and because polyester can mimic most other fabrics. Printing graphics on polyester requires a printer, disperse or dye-sublimation inks and a heat press to set the ink and bloom the color. Whether you print onto heat transfer paper or directly onto the fabric, the process has become relatively simple and cost effective.
So now we combine state-of-the-art large-format color printers, customized software, and specially formulated textile inks with today’s most popular textiles to meet most fabric sampling and short-run production needs, all at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional strike-offs and short-run production. This helps to satisfy current market demands that are changing from volume purchasing to timely purchasing.
These trends favor digital printing’s capabilities and advantages by reducing inventory, risk, and response time from design to delivery.