The growing impact of digital textile printing


Photo courtesy FESPA

By Peter Saunders
One of the hottest trends in digital wide-format printing today, thanks in no small part to ongoing technological developments, is textile graphics. Vince Cahill, owner and president of technical market research and consulting firm VCE Solutions, has been keeping a sharp eye on this market as it evolves.

Cahill began screenprinting in the 1969, developed a method for printing silk fabrics in the mid-’70s and was introduced to digital carpet printing in 1980. He went on to help develop two transfer material distributors, Specialty Materials and Newhill Technologies, and to lead digital printer manufacturer Datametrics in the late ’90s, followed by Industrial Printing Solutions (IPS) in 2003. Along the way, he tracked continual developments in the industry.

Sign Media Canada recently caught up with the long-standing expert to hear his thoughts on the current state of the market.

Q: How big is the overall market for digitally printed textiles?
In 2015, digital reportedly accounted for 3.6 per cent of all textile printing, which is estimated to represent about 1.15 billion m2 (12.4 billion sf) out of a total of 32 billion m2 (344 billion sf). The World Textile Information Network (WTIN) projects 1.7 billion m2 (18.3 billion sf) of fabric will be digitally printed in 2017, accounting for 4.9 per cent of a total 34.7 billion m2 (373.5 billion sf) of all types of printed fabrics. So, both printed textiles in general and digitally printed textiles in particular are continuing to grow. And digital textile printing has begun to replace rotary and flatbed textile screenprinting for some companies.


As inkjet printing speeds increase, the automation of cutting and sewing will be key to preventing production bottlenecks.
Photo courtesy Expand Systems

WTIN expects about 100 industrial-speed single-pass inkjet printers to be installed around the world by the end of 2017. According to the equipment suppliers I spoke to at the organization’s 2016 North American Digital Textile Conference, the current number is between 20 and 30. The reason hitting that projected total of 100 in 2017 is possible is because a number of new manufacturers are joining those that are already selling single-pass machines in the market.

Q: Within that overall industry, how big is the wide-format market?
Soft signage, including applications for both indirect dye sublimation and direct-disperse dye inkjet printing, accounts for a significant portion of the market. I estimate soft signage and related inkjet-printed display textile graphics represent about 39 per cent of all digital textile printing.

They will likely decline as a percentage of the whole, however, as digitally printed apparel and home furnishings gain further traction. By the end of 2017, WTIN projects, ‘home textiles’ will grow to 14 per cent of digitally printed textiles. Inkjet pigment printing currently accounts for about seven per cent of all digitally printed textiles.

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