|It may not occur to many people outside the industry that ink plays a role in fashion. Though the size of the market is often dependent on fashion trends, textile printing is expected to grow by 3.3 percent during the next 10 years.
Some estimates place the size of the textile market at 25 billion square meters annually, which makes it a sizable market for the ink industry. Ten percent of the total ink printing market is currently devoted to textile printing, according to Dr. Juergen Weiser, head of BASF global business management for ink jet inks.
According to BASF, printing is unique among textile methods as it gives designers unlimited opportunities for creating colored textiles. A textile printer has a greater range of potential patterns and styles at their disposal than is possible with other methods of coloring fabric.
Traditionally, textile printing has been the realm of screen printing, but ink jet technology has shown a great deal of potential in this market.
“There will always be a place for conventional screen printing because of longer production runs, but there has been a change toward runs becoming shorter,” said Dr. Andrew Barton, research analyst, specialty chemicals at Frost & Sullivan. “Where textile manufacturers used to order 10,000 meters per design, that has now become much smaller due to a demand for greater choice and a more individual outlook in fashion.”
“In the textile market, rotary screen, flat bed and table are the major application methods,” said Dr. Mickael Mheidle, head of new business applications, textile effects segment at Ciba Specialty Chemicals. “Ink jet printing is an emerging technology with fast growth and strong market penetration.”
Though it accounts for only approximately 1 percent of the total textile printing market, ink jet is finding its niche in the market and is starting to make gains.
“There are two sides to ink jet in textiles,” said Dr. Barton. “The first is the apparel and home furnishings side, which is dominated by BASF, Ciba and DuPont. There is also soft signage, such as exhibition displays hanging from the ceilings.
“Textile banners for retail and conferences offer a fantastic opportunity for ink jet because each event or promotion will require only a small number of customized prints to be displayed over a relatively small period of time,” Dr. Barton added. “This type of end-use application demonstrates the unique value of ink jet because such a job would not be undertaken by traditional screen printers.
“By adopting ink jet, traditional textile printers have expanded their portfolio by picking up shorter runs that were too expensive considering the time and cost to run conventional screen presses,” Dr. Barton added.
“Since 1998, with the introduction of textile plotters, samples, catalogs and short runs, dedicated designs were basically produced with ink jet technology,” Dr. Mheidle said. “Textile inks are being used on all fibers for all sectors, e.g. fashion, flags, automotive and home furnishing. Small ink jet textile production shops were able to produce limited yardages especially for the fashion and event industry.”
“Currently, producers of high-quality designer goods, such as silk ties and scarves, are major buyers of textile ink jet inks,” Dr. Mheidle said. “As ink jet textile printing is also suitable for large designs, customers include flag producers. The introduction of the new Reggiani high-speed printer now allows medium-length production.”
At present, the major role for ink jet in the textile industry is in proofing.
“Digital textile printing has over the last five years generated a lot of interest and success for proofing what I’d call the proofing equivalent of graphic arts,” said John Kane, new business development manager, DuPont. “One of the challenges of process color ink jet printing right now is to replicate the look of screen printing. Many people want to use ink jet to provide sampling without making screens, and then later produce the actual finished product with a screen. As a result, ink jet has to mimic the rotary screen look as best it can.”
Creating a screen can cost up to e400 per color, which becomes expensive for elaborate proofs.
Dr. Weiser sees the potential for fast growth for ink jet in the textile field.
“Due to the limitation of the classical screen printing technique, ink jet printing will be adopted in textile printing faster than in other industrial printing segments,” said Dr. Weiser. “Due to its unlimited design possibilities, ink jet technology is being adopted by numerous new print shops right now and will be adopted by more consumer-oriented entities to print new motives, actual pictures, on textile.”
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