Once again, we look back at Heimtextil in January and focus on the innovations of “Textile Technologies”: Neenah Coldenhove from the Netherlands presented its version of a world change in digital transfer printing on natural fibres.
In the era of ebooks, emails and newspaper apps, a paper manufacturer that was founded in 1661 needs to come up with something different, so as not to end up as a sheet of paper in the wind. “Six of our 144 employees are exclusively engaged in research work”, says sales representative Gijsbert Harmsen. In addition to producing paper for envelopes and cardboard for folders, the aim is to develop completely new paper applications, in order to “play a major part in every chosen sector”. The innovative, long-established company could soon find success in the field of digital transfer printing on home textiles made from natural fibres, such as cotton.
Taking fibres “captive”
By way of background: analogue pigment printing is mostly used for printing cotton towels, cushion covers and bed linen with colours and patterns. In order to do this, paint droplets are projected directly onto the textile base material. Pigment ink is considered to be colour brilliant but fibres are stubborn; in order for the ink to stick to the material permanently, the fabric is usually pre-treated chemically. This means that the colour pigments can only be permanently fixed onto the textile by coating it with bonding agents. “The quality of the pre-treatment largely determines colour fastness and print result”, Harmsen explains.
Digital transfer printing, on the other hand, takes fibres “captive” in a smart way. Here a sublimation transfer paper is printed with ink, and this is then vaporised to fix it properly to the textile. When the material cools down, the colour pigments are “captured” in the fibre – without any chemical treatment. Everyone knows the brilliantly coloured effect that you see on football shirts, exhibition walls and neon signs. So far, though, digital transfer printing has only worked with polyester fibres, Harmsen explains, whilst cosy cotton blankets have been stuck with the analogue option, because no one has yet managed to print pigment ink digitally onto natural fibres with transfer paper. Until now.
Comparable to the invention of the iPad
For two years, a team of chemists, paper engineers and print experts has worked meticulously at Neenah Coldenhove in Eerbeek, until “we achieved the impossible”, says sales representative Harmsen proudly: a completely new pigment transfer paper that makes digital printing on cotton fibres possible. “It’s a small revolution”, says Harmsen with glee. With this new type of paper, the abrasion resistance, colour brilliance and colour fastness of polyester fibre transfer printing can be transferred to cotton curtains, decorative cushions and cotton-type bed linen for the first time. When asked which non-textile innovation this development can be compared to, Harmsen replies, after a short pause for thought: “with the invention of the iPad.”