As discussed in previous articles, penetration of digital textile printing remains relatively low compared to conventional screen print production. Many fabric printers typically assert that low print speeds limit the transition from conventional to digital textile printing and relegate the digital output strictly to sampling and strike-offs. While historically lagging behind conventional screen printing in terms of throughput, technology advancements in print heads, printer design and ink formulations over the last 10-12 years make the speed argument against digital textile print production less relevant. The increases in speed in concert with the advantages of mass customization become compelling factors for printing fabrics digitally. This article describes the division between digital sampling and production and highlights some of the available digital textile production in the market today.
Sampling and Production
Let’s look at the delineation between sample/niche printing and production printing throughput. Sampling/Niche printing refers to small quantities of printed fabric prints used to assess the quality and look of a design before printing on commercial screen equipment. Goods requiring small print runs and can demand high profit margins (e.g. ties and scarves) also fall into this category. Production printing would include printing at higher speeds with longer run lengths for fashion as well as office/home furnishings. The digital textile printer for production may replace work done on commercial rotary press today or may involve printing specialty designs that cannot be easily achieved with rotary screens (e.g. customer sheets and bedding). Speed segmentation for this article relates specifically to direct-to-fabric (DTF) applications, where one prints on a roll of material, as opposed to direct-to-garment (DTG) applications such as T-shirt printing.
Industry feedback indicates that a digital textile print shop needs to print at least 1000 linear meters of material in an eight-hour shift for commercially viable production. A shop can then allocate enough time to print, post-treat and ship to a customer with a minimum two-day turnaround. At this throughput level, a production speed of two linear meters per minute would be necessary when one takes printing, roll changes, and setup/preparation work into consideration. Digital textile printers running at print speeds exceeding two linear meters per hour would be categorized as production level systems while sampling/niche printers operate below this threshold.
Based on this information, the following table segments a number of printers available today into these two speed categories:
|Sample/Niche Printers||Production Level Printers|
There are a number of printers that fall in the middle of these categories, which include the Ftex JS BT-180, the Dgen Grand Telios and the Ichinose 2030. Manufacturer rated speeds of the production printers (expressed in m2 per hour) range from 300 to over 4000 m2 per hour for the MS LaRIO.
As one can see, digital textile production printers exist in the market today that clearly meet or exceed the two linear meters per minute mark necessary for commercially viable production printing. So this leads to the following question: If print speeds are achievable for production printing, what additional factors prevent greater adoption of digital textile printing?