Digital Fabric Printing

The digital fabric printing revolution continues to gather a pace and will do so for a long time to come. The factors that are fuelling this revolution are a number of factors including advances in technology, fabrics and ink but also the versatility such printing methods offer. Looking at each of these factors we can begin to appreciate why this revolution – which is probably one of the best words to describe it – is happening.

Technology advances at a rapid pace in many areas with new rips, machines, machine developments, inks and even chemicals for pre-treatments for fabrics to make them suitable for digital fabric printing. In terms of rips these have become more sophisticated and are easy to set up and use. The rips allow all manner of print effects possible enabling a wide choice of media options. Many are now compatible with Mac, PC’s or Unix workstations enabling networking possible and facilitating multiple printer operation.

In the same way as rips that drive the print machines have become easier to use so have print machines. There is such a rich choice of machines possible. Even new technologies such as HP Latex printers enable digital fabric printing on a wide range of media including polyester fabrics. Dye-sublimation will probably continue to be the pre-eminent method of choice to print polyester fabrics, as the results are stunning.

When digital fabric printing to get the very best results from any pre-treated fabric it is essential to complete full profiling. This allows the inks and manner in which the ink is printed onto the fabric, to be manipulated to get exceptional results. In the same way as rips and machines have advance so have pre-treatments. It is not a simple case of putting the same pre-treatment on all fabrics, as the amount of pre-treatment has to be fine-tuned to help necessitate the best possible results. The difference between profiling and not is like chalk and cheese.

The developments in machines particularly with dye-sublimation systems has resulted in higher throughput, greater versatility, in-line slitting, advances in head technology (greater dots per inch D.P.I., more accurate ink delivery), in-built heat-fixation units (seen on Agfa aquajet, D-Gen teleios, Hollanders colorbooster, Roland ATP color etc) and the future will no doubt see further advances.

Pre-treatments also need to be offered in non-Flame Retardant (NFR) and Flame Retardant (FR) options. This ensures that FR treated fabrics can be used and specified for applications where it is essential i.e. public buildings, places of entertainment etc. FR treatments have no effect on the results possible, in fact the same results, if printing direct-to-textile dye-sublimation, are possible on NFR and FR treated fabrics. This makes digital fabric printing easier to embrace giving companies alternative revenue streams.

As further advances are made so fabric suppliers must adapt and respond. At the same time consumers of printed fabrics place greater demands on fabric suppliers for new and exciting applications because the digital fabric printing possibilities are now being recognised. Brook International has and continues to respond to this challenge but are you participating in this revolution?

Article by Chris Drury

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