There are increasingly compelling opportunities for digital inkjet printing in the textile industry, according to the latest research from Smithers Pira, which tracks the packaging, print and paper supply chains.
Digital printing can produce single, short and custom runs much faster and more economically than conventional screenprinters. Today, as the capabilities of digital textile presses dovetail with the priorities of printed fabric customers, including fashion designers, Smithers suggests new ‘value-add’ business opportunities are being created for both print service providers (PSPs) and material suppliers.
The company’s latest report, ‘The Future of Digital Textile Printing to 2021,’ shows only 2.9 per cent of the 30 billion m2 (323 billion sf) of textiles printed in 2016 was produced using inkjet equipment, while the rest was principally produced using screenprinters. The digital share has grown rapidly in recent years, however, from 461 million m2 (5 billion sf) in 2012 to 870 million m2 (9.4 billion sf) in 2016. It is expected to break through 1 billion m2 (10.8 billion sf) in 2017 and then nearly double to 1.95 billion m2 (21 billion sf) in 2021. Smithers forecasts the corresponding revenues will grow by 15.7 per cent year-on-year, compared to an average growth rate of just three per cent for all printed textiles.
With conventional processes threatened, global firms are increasingly investing in digital textile printing technologies. Dover Group, for example, now encompasses press manufacturer MS Printing Solutions and textile ink formulators Sawgrass Industrial, Kiian Digital and J-Teck3. EFI acquired Reggiani in 2015, then partnered with DuPont to develop pigment-based textile inks; and in 2016, Mimaki purchased La Meccanica (printer example pictured) and Epson acquired Robustelli.
These and other companies are developing and refining printhead-ink-media combinations to enable higher throughput, reliability and stability. With the resulting, simplified processes, PSPs can tailor their offerings to designers who want a variety of detailed shapes and colourful patterns.
Incremental improvements have been made to ink formulations, dispersions and pigment particulates, driven by the demand to print on multiple fabrics. The machinery developments, meanwhile, have focused on individually addressable ink nozzles, the elimination of banding and the handling of fabric tension during printing. New single- and multiple-pass printers continue to come to market from various manufacturers, including compact machines that require less floor space, which may see rapid adoption among PSPs that specifically serve the fashion industry.