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Digital denim can reduce energy and water consumption

Swatches | January 1, 2022 | By:

Researchers at North Carolina State University have created “digital denim,” an inkjet-based printing process that mimics denim colors and wear patterns. Because the base fabric is printed rather than dyed, the process can lead to greater varieties of colors and patterns, while reducing water and energy use. Fabrics can have a “new denim” look. Photos: Ming Wang.

Remember those treasured jeans from your youth that took you months to attain a certain faded look? Sure, these days manufacturers can replicate that look, but it comes at a high environmental cost. 

In a study published in the Journal of Imaging, Science and Technology, Lisa Chapman, associate professor of textile and apparel technology and management at North Carolina State University, and former grad student Ming Wang note that digital printing could be a viable method for making new jean products in the future, by using less water and less energy. Their research explored the potential for inkjet printing to reproduce the coloration and finishing techniques of traditional denim fabric.

Because patterns are created digitally, the system allows for easy color mixing for any type of denim.

The process begins with high resolution scans of jean samples to create a digital file containing color and transparency information. Then a special inkjet printer deposits droplets of textile colorant ink on the fabric surface in the same way a home inkjet printer prints to paper. The resulting denim can look brand new or replicate the desired faded and worn look. Unlike traditional printing, Inkjet printing offers unlimited colors and is more cost effective because fabrics can be printed on demand.

Wear patterns can easily be duplicated via high-resolution digital scans of traditional denim samples. Photos: Ming Wang.

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