Part 1: Digital textile printing: Quality for the masses
From carpets to clothing, from home textiles to banners: many modern designs would simply be impossible to realise without sophisticated textile printing techniques. Although rotary screen printing and flat screen printing have long been the dominant technologies in the market for printed textiles, there is a quiet but ever louder voice calling for a sustainable, high-quality alternative suitable for large format textiles: digital textile printing. Yet many companies are still unwilling to invest substantial sums in the installation of new digital printing machines – a mistake. After all, as became apparent at the latest Heimtextil trade fair and the parallel Digital Textile Conference, this new technology also offers previously unimagined opportunities for manufacturers of home textiles. Here is an overview.
Just six years ago, who would have believed that it would be possible to supply 30,000 m of digitally printed textiles by the very next day? At the time, an order of this scale would have required around 40 days. Yet the digital technology has developed so rapidly in recent years that it has been able to match its competitors in terms of speed and quality for some time. Another example: when the technology was launched 15 years ago, digital printing machines were capable of producing only 10 m² per hour. Today, their capacity far exceeds 3,000 m² per hour. By way of comparison, conventional textile printing machines can print up to 8,000 m² per hour – but with far greater consumption of energy and water.
The benefits prevail
In his presentation at the conference, Burak Tan from Menderes Textil explained his enthusiasm for this technology. Over the next few years, his company will switch part of its production to digital printing. And with good reason: this type of textile printing places no restrictions on the number of colours or the maximum dimensions of the design. Furthermore, the new technology offers a higher resolution of 600 dpi that far surpasses the 150 dpi possible with traditional textile printing methods. Digital printing machines require only between one and two days to produce samples with a speed of around 75 m/min – and with consistently high quality.
Above all, it is the shorter, simpler printing process that makes it possible to deliver so
much faster – after all, pre-printing, halftone and multi-stage printing techniques are not required. Consequently, the technology uses only around one third of the water required by other textile printing methods. So while conventional printing processes consume the majority of their water in cleaning the grid, tubes and rollers, digital printing technology uses water mostly only in the prepress. Moreover, many of the inks have been awarded well-known sustainability certificates, such as GOTS, Ecolabel and Oeko-Tex 100.
Digital printing: So where is the growth?
Despite all these advantages, little has changed so far in the textile printing market, as Dr. John Provost, an expert in the sector, explains. China produces around one third of all the world’s printed textiles. Moreover, digital textile printing currently has a market share of only between one and two percent. By way of comparison: 65 percent are produced by rotary screen printing, 25 percent by flat screen printing and the remainder by hand or transfer printing. Contrary to expectations, digital printing has barely had any impact on conventional printing processes – despite the dramatic improvements in the quality and speed of digital printing over recent years.
However, the major textile producing nations of Asia, including China, Pakistan and India, are starting to integrate this technology more intensively into their production processes. And because manufacturers in Europe and the USA have also become aware of digital printing technology, Dr. Provost expects annual growth of up to 25 percent between 2012 and 2017 – a stark contrast to the 2.5 percent growth expected for conventional printing methods. Digital printing will therefore soon account for up to 5 percent of the market, i.e. from a current level of 29 billion m² up to 32 billion m² by the year 2017. Although Dr. Provost does not include Chinese growth in this forecast, it nonetheless highlights a clear trend and marks a profound change.
Does this mean that the future will be digital? And what about the home textiles industry where things are a little bit different? Read more about that tomorrow.