Recent Developments In Printing On Fabric

For a process that is ancient printing on fabric has gone through a very rapid period of development and change in the last ten years.

Screen-printing fabric using flat screens has been the well-established technique for applying colour and design to fabric until recently. This process was suitable for medium to large runs. For very high volume, rotary screen-printing was the normal process. The set up costs to engrave and produce the screens were very high but because of the size of runs they were the most economic.

Small runs were not economic using either of these techniques for fabric printing. This made the small runs very expensive because of the high set up costs and in the flag and banner market small runs were usually either hand printed, appliquéd or embroidered.

Then along came the new technique of fabric printing. Digital fabric printing introduced a completely new concept whereby small runs could be done at a far lower cost. Printing digitally onto fabrics made from polyester has now reached new heights thanks to continuous development work by fabric manufacturers who are dedicated to this form of printing on fabric.

Stunning results are now being achieved on fabrics and this can be seen in a wide range of applications from flags, banners, artist’s canvas, exhibition graphics, mobile displays, stretch display systems, theatrical back drops, point of sale displays, home furnishings, window blinds, roller blinds etc. Printing on fabric for this ever-increasing range of applications demands careful and continuous research and development. This ensures the fabrics perform well when used on a wide range of digital printing machines with the wide combination of inks from dye-sub water-based inks to UV, solvent and latex inks.

Printing fabrics using dye-sub water-based direct to polyester textiles requires complex chemistry applying to the fabric to ensure the printer gets the optimum performance from the ink, machine and rip used. This will then give high definition, brilliant strong colours and when required for flags excellent print through, for all types of printing on fabric.

Although dye-sub printing polyester fabric probably produces the best results advances in UV inks means that results have improved dramatically in recent years. The inks have become more flexible making suitable for textile printing. In addition to this Latex ink technology also means that these inks are suitable for textiles. This is further evidence of the importance of fabrics for digital printing where textile is replacing traditional media such as PVC. Machine and ink manufacturers have responded well to this challenge by adapting machines and the inks.

A recent development has seen the introduction of two environmentally friendly compostable and biodegradable fabrics called Gossyp (cotton) and Chorus (jute). Printing on fabrics that are compostable and biodegradable is becoming more and more important as landfill taxes continue to rise and not forgetting that polyesters fabrics can of course be recycled. This is especially important for those companies who are aware of the growing demand for more green products.

Article by Chris Drury

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