Get ahead with direct to garment printing

Epson’s high performance PrecisionCore MicroTFP print head

Despite the pandemic, investment in DTG print production systems remains steady. Nikolaos Vardakastanis, DTG product manager at Epson Europe, discusses how cutting-edge print head technology and its ability to deliver assured quality at high speed is a key persuader in purchasing decisions.

At the start of 2020 the DTG printing industry was flourishing. The European textile and clothing industry had a turnover of €166 million and in the UK the supply and manufacturing segment of the fashion and textile sector was worth £11.8 billion.

Then the pandemic struck. Allianz Research predicted a 19% fall for the European textile and apparel industry turnover in the year, followed by a 15% bounce back in 2021 and a return to pre-crisis levels in 2023.

Against this backdrop we have seen interest in our DTG systems remain high due to operations exploring ways to add new applications to their service offering or enhancing their DTG capability to respond to a lift in demand. In today’s case, the climate of heavily restricted social engagement has resulted in increased demands for gifting and personalisation, a growing trend that has opened many doors for DTG print production.

Essential to all those interested in investing is the need for high output quality at high speed. Something that is delivered by the Epson designed and manufactured PrecisionCore print head technology.

The science behind the technology

Epson’s PrecisionCore print head technology was born from of one of Epson’s largest investments in research and development – two recently completed inkjet print head production lines in Japan, costing €125 million. These lines are responsible for the production of the new MicroTFP print chip and a whole range of new print heads. They merge the company’s expertise in MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) fabrication with advances in materials science.

MEMS technology is used to create accelerometers for automobiles and mobile phones, parts used in hard disk drives, and other devices. By merging MEMS processes with its advanced piezo material science, Epson has been able to create microscopic, high-performance actuators and form high-accuracy ink channels, enabling precise, high-speed ink ejection.

Six-axis scara robots work in unison with proprietary image processing and assembly technology to produce a steady flow of encased chip assemblies, which form the platform for the respective print heads. Inch for inch, the high-resolution Epson print chips are one of the fastest inkjet printing technologies in the world. These print chips are then connected to ink reservoirs, filters and electronics, and finally encased on fully automated assembly lines featuring Epson’s leading-edge factory automation, with almost no human intervention.

What the technology delivers

What repeatedly remains a key deciding factor in purchasing decisions is the high performance and quality results achieved by the print heads. They include:

  • Fine detail assured by PrecisionCore’s piezo elements that each fire nearly 50,000 times per second. A piezo crystal flexes when an electrical voltage is applied to it. This motion is the driving force of the tiny ‘ink pumps’ in every nozzle of Epson’s print heads. In general, the thinner the piezo element, the more it flexes. MicroTFP doubles the piezo actuator’s flexing power compared to the original TFP print head.
  • Dot precision, particularly important for creating sharp text, aided by up to triple the nozzle density of conventional Epson piezo printheads. These nozzles are roughly 20 microns in diameter and deliver small, round, repeatable dots about 40 microns across.
  • Reliability through the power of the piezo crystal, and the ability to almost instantly self-diagnose its health. The piezo element is able to generate a voltage that can detect in milliseconds whether it is firing normally.
  • The ability to print on a much wider range of substrates due to PrecisionCore’s micro-mechanical firing element that avoids the material limitations faced by heat-based systems. It allows for more colourful and durable ink formulations, which contain higher concentrations of colourants and binders than heat-based inkjet systems.

Supporting the consistent and reliable performance of the print heads is Epson’s own developed UltraChrome DG Ink Technology. Compatible with 100% cotton and cotton blends, it creates clean, bright images with superior washability on dark and light garments.

Delivering increased productivity is the 1.5-litre bulk ink solution. It makes reloading and resetting ink a quick and easy job.

Assuring approved use for a number of applications is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for Epson’s inks and cotton pre-treatment liquid. The worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres defines the organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, to labelling. The inks are also Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Certified meaning that they have passed strict criteria on harmful substances.

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