Things to consider…

Encarna Luque, senior product manager for inks and textile for Roland DG EMEA, explains why now is the time to consider diversifying into large format textile printing.

The textile and garment printing market is strong, so it’s a good area for print businesses to target as a primary, or additional revenue stream.

Given the constantly changing consumer trends and demands in the fashion and textile industry, there’s room for print shops to innovate and experiment with new techniques, materials and processes to carve out their market area to help bring consumer needs to life.

Technology innovation in the textile market offers print businesses exceptional versatility, high-quality output, and cost-effective solutions, providing huge profit opportunities to forward-thinking companies.

Large format textile printing can be used for a wide range of applications from soft signage, including banners, flags, backdrops and outdoor advertising signage, to custom fabrics for interior decor, fashion, and sportswear.

But before undertaking large format printing on textiles, there are several things print professionals will need to consider.

Equipment

The digital nature of direct to textile printers means that the machines can print almost any image, regardless of intricacy, and they do not require rigorous training like screen printing which needs significant technical knowledge.

However, designers must know what device is being used to print the design, taking into account the various features of each printer to achieve maximum performance and versatility.

The maximum size of textile you can print ultimately depends on the machine you purchase. You can find a broad range of sizes, from desktop printers working in A4 or A3 size right up to a 5m machine for roll-to-roll printing or a huge flat-bed for printing piece to piece.

Large format printers can print much wider and longer. This means that while print professionals can still produce hundreds of small items such as mugs, caps, T shirts, bags, drink coasters, bar runners and mobile phone covers, they can also diversify into larger items such as soft signage, sportswear, home décor and fashion.

Once you’ve chosen the machine that works for you, it is essential to carry out regular maintenance and keep print heads in good condition to ensure the best quality output.

Fabric

The right machine makes it possible to print onto a vast range of fabrics and coated surfaces in many widths and lengths, including stretchy sports fabrics, heavy canvas, fire retardants and ultra-light voiles. This means print professionals can deliver a vast range of applications.

But it’s important to remember that when printing direct to textile, some fabric has to be pre-treated with an inkjet receptive coating. This is usually done by the manufacturer or fabric wholesaler, so the cost is generally higher than uncoated polyester for heat transfer of inks from paper.

However, the continuous evolution of pigmented inks and digital printing is allowing printing companies to save costs, reduce water and electricity consumption and attend more customised jobs.

Other inks like acid and reactive are in the market as specific solutions for certain fabrics like cotton, silk, wool, etc. but they require more expertise and longer processes such as steaming and washing.

Print professionals must ensure that fabrics are pre-treated with the right coating and in the correct quantity. Wrong pre-treatment or wrong inks will produce poor colours and undefined images.

Other characteristics of the material must also be taken into consideration. For example, printing directly onto textured fabrics can be complicated, and it is not always possible to achieve a sharp image.

The thickness and texture of the fabrics can affect the absorption/ penetration/ fixation of inks as not all textiles can be printed on directly while still maintaining good quality. Instead, these will require more traditional printing methods.

Inks

The type of ink you choose will depend on the substrate, as not all inks will work on every substrate.

Our recommendation is always to talk to reputable advisors, check information from different sources and do tests before final printing decisions.

The final colour of the printed image will not be achieved until the ink is fully cured and dry. This means that testing the print beforehand is key, as the desired result is not always immediately visible.

It is essential to consider whether a finishing process will be required. The extent to which finishing is required will depend entirely on the application and the substrate. Some applications don’t require any finishing at all. But others require more complex finishing processes, whereby ink must be cured and fixed.

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