Web Exclusive: Digital prints come out from under cover (with photo gallery)
Retail Editor 3 -- Home Textiles Today, January 14, 2014
Frankfurt, Germany - Brightly colored abstract designs, meticulously detailed mélanges and sharp photo-realistic images characterized the wave of digitally printed home textiles on display at here last week at the Heimtextil international trade fair.
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Home textiles manufacturers have been slower than apparel houses to embrace digital printing technology, but the first concerted showing of digitally printed bedding and accessories was hard to miss at the show.
For the full digital gallery click here.
Home textiles just over 10% of digital prints
The digital printing industry now generates about $100 billion in sales worldwide, according to Professor Hitoshi Ujiie, director of the Center for Excellence of digital inkjet printing of textiles at the Philadelphia University School of Design & Engineering. Ujiie was one of several speakers who addressed the European Digital Textile Conference held at Heimtextil.
The home textiles sector accounts for just $12 billion of that figure on an annual basis. While the speed of digital output has improved dramatically - from about 150 sq. meters per hour in 2003 to 8,100 sq. meters per hour on the latest model MS-LaRio printer today, said Ujiie - some tweaks are still needed for the process to become more fully embraced by manufacturers.
"We have to have a refinement, [but] the technology is already here," he said.
Digital printing: The upside
There are a number of benefits to digital printing, according to Barry Forester, managing director of Standfast & Barracks, a commission printer that is one of the largest in the UK. They include:
- Easier scaling of designs;
- The ability to do more multiple layering with more colors;
- More sophisticated tonal work;
- Cleaner water color effects;
- Finer detail.
"With screen printing, we go up to 24 layers," said Forester. "We digital we go up to 30, 40, 50 layers of color."
Jungle Fever by Vandyke
However, there are other issues to be resolved.
- Dye stuffs are specific to each printer's manufacturer, making it impossible to shop for low-cost alternatives;
- More inks for digital printing right now are reactive, which has inferior colorfastness compared to vat dyes;
- Cloth preparation is more complex and critical for digital printing - and almost always requires mercerization;
- Special effects such as metallic are not yet available.
Weighing the costs
On the whole digital printing remains a more expensive prospect than traditional print methods as of now. One manufacturer involved in the practice told HTT the cost runs about 40% higher. Standfast & Barracks' Forester said one must weigh the lower upfront cost of digital - no need to cut screens - with everything else that goes into production.
"Getting the first meter off [the printer] is less expensive, but the cost of getting the second meter off is higher," he said.
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