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ITMA’s Textile Innovations and the Future They Suggest

Textile inkjet printing and innovative digital printing technology from ITMA 2015.

Held November 12-19 at the Rho Fiera Milano, Italy, ITMA 2015 welcomed 123,000 attendees and featured a record 1691 exhibitors from 46 countries whose displays spanned 11 halls and more than one million square feet.

If you didn't make it to Milan last year, but are adding textiles to your outputs and offerings, add the show to your 2019 calendar (Barcelona, June 20-26). It's an expensive plane ticket for those traveling from North America, but the show's exhaustive range of equipment and ink manufacturers makes this a can't-miss opportunity for those who plan to devote serious energy to textile projects.

We've created a virtual tradeshow visit for you to explore and add to your resources for future reference. Technologies for textiles have followed similar patterns already common in the inkjet arena – slow expansion of single-pass machines, ever-widening scanning head technology arrays, and ink formulations that are evolving to meet the demands of today's newest media and customers' demand for durability and quality.

Pike from SPGPrints
Jos Notermans, commercial manager, digital textiles, SPGPrints, says the company is focusing on dye-based inks for inkjet printing. SPGPrints believes their market opportunity lies with the Pike single-pass printer and scanning head inkjet systems, as well as its Pike Reactive dye inks for printing cellulosic natural fibers, such as cotton and linen, which the company notes, “still represent approximately 70 percent of the business of digital textile printing.”

Speaking of his company’s just-launched Pike wide-format roll-to-roll single-pass inkjet textile printer’s profit potential, Notermans says that it “is able to print approximately 13 million linear meters [42.65 million feet] a year. However, the profitability of it can be proven already at volumes of 3 to 4 million meters [9.8 to 13.1 million feet] per year.” He also underscores the importance of disperse dye inks for printing polyester fabrics, the largest growth market for textiles. While the Fujifilm Dimatix Samba inkjet heads used in the Pike recirculate their ink through each printhead, enabling pigment printing reliability, Notermans did not see opportunities in markets that use pigments, such as home furnishings.

The Pike exhibited at ITMA is a 6-color device. Notermans says SPGPrints developed a strategy and technology that reduced the number of print colors, while delivering the required color and tone. He notes that standard inkjet systems for high color gamut normally use 8 colors, including CMYK, red, orange, blue, and gray. SPGPrints sets its printheads with a 0.16-in. throw distance to the print surface. This relatively high setting reduces the possibility of head strikes from lint or fabric ripples.

The fabric infeed system on the Pike is by Erhardt+Leimer and the transport blanket has been specifically designed in conjunction with Habasit. The inline dryer has extra capacity to handle disperse inks, which – along with acid inks – are under development and scheduled for launch in 2016. Notermans says his company also plans a 126-in. model. Europe’s leading textile printer, KBC Fashion, purchased the Pike printer displayed at ITMA.

Nassenger SP-1 by Konica Minolta
Akiyoshi Ohno, former president and current senior advisor with Konica Minolta’s Inkjet Division, points to printer downtime as the cause of lost business opportunities and user profit. His team at Konica Minolta designed the Nassenger SP-1 to maximize productivity, and he says that clogged and missing nozzles and printhead maintenance, replacement, and realignment resulting in downtime are the biggest hurdles for single-pass inkjet printing systems to overcome.

Scanning printhead systems allow other jets to compensate for some jet-outs due to their multipass overlapping movement. But single-pass does not offer such compensation. Konica Minolta devised a system for its Nassenger SP-1 printer that combines inline jet-out detection and automatic head nozzle-plate cleaning along with a new single-pass version of its KM 1024i printheads. The heads’ grayscale capabilities can compensate for adjacent nozzle jet-outs. The SP-1’s scanning camera and software enable automatic printhead alignment and calibration. I witnessed an operator demonstrate the procedure for replacing and realigning a printhead, which required about five minutes.

Basically, when the camera detects a blocked nozzle, the jet-out’s neighboring nozzle will print a larger drop to bridge over the blocked nozzle’s target area. This strategy can compensate for two adjacent nozzle jet-outs, but not for three. According to operators of the SP-1 at the company’s demonstration facility, they have yet to actually replace a printhead in the three months that their 6-color SP-1 has been printing.

MS LaRio
Mark Sawchak of Expand Systems, US distributor for the MS line of textile printers, notes the series’ successful experience using Kyocera printheads. He illustrates the versatility of the single-pass MS LaRio, launched in 2011, by disclosing that an Italian print company that owns three of the 14 LaRio single-pass printers in the market uses one of them for printing dye-sublimation inks onto rolls of transfer paper for decorating polyester fabrics. He also reveals that that company is able to run the LaRio printing paper faster than the quoted 230 ft/min speed for direct textile printing. MS demonstrated the LaRio printing its reactive dye inks throughout the course of ITMA. MS also introduced its new lower-cost JP3 scanning head printer printing dye-sublimation ink, and displayed its other scanning head inkjet textile systems printing pigmented and disperse dye inks onto fabric and dye-sublimation inks to transfer paper.

Other Single-Pass Options to Note
Other single-pass printers on display included the Vega One of Atexco Honghua, Tacome’s KeraJet Textile TS7, Pyung An’s narrow- and wide-format printers, and Swiss4Tex with its prototype. All of the exhibited single-pass inkjet textile printers used drop-on-demand piezo inkjet (PIJ) heads. The Vega One, Swiss4Tex compact single-pass, and Pyung An’s narrow-format single-pass printers feature Fujifilm Dimatix Samba heads. Pyung An’s wide-format single-pass and Tacome KeraJet TS7 use Fujifilm Dimatix Starfire SG1024 heads. They are among of the most robust multinozzle industrial inkjet heads currently available.

EFI Leverages Reggiani Acquisition
EFI has continued to expand its inkjet business portfolio into the textile industry with its acquisition of the Italian textile screen-printing and inkjet equipment manufacturer, Reggiani Macchine. Ambrogio Caccia Dominioni, managing director of EFI Reggiani, and EFI CEO Guy Gecht spoke of the success of the merger and future plans. Reggiani developed its scanning head ReNoir inkjet line of textile printers and has also partnered with Netherlands print giant TenCate for printing and the soon-to-be-announced novel chemical fabric treatment technology. EFI expertise in software, inks, chemistry, and other inkjet markets worldwide is expected to help EFI Reggiani build toward providing a more vertically integrated product for textile print providers. EFI plans to lend some of the knowledge it gained about single-pass inkjet ceramic tile printing from the development of its Cretaprint line to EFI Reggiani for the development of its single-pass inkjet machine.

Colaris Printers from Zimmer Austria
Other noteworthy scanning head inkjet printers include two Colaris series printers from Zimmer Austria. The new Colaris Infiniti SK uses Seiko SPT 1024GS PIJ grayscale printheads firing drop sizes of 7, 14, and 21 pL. Zimmer can configure this device to print up to 8 colors using 32 heads. The Colaris Infiniti SK can print 70-in.-wide fabrics at 5597 sq ft/hr with 360 x 360 dpi resolution in one pass or 360 x 1080 dpi resolution with three passes at a max. rate of 1830 sq ft/hr. The Infiniti SK prints reactive, disperse, or acid dye-based inks for apparel, home textiles, flags and banners, and technical textile applications. Zimmer also offers a customized 13.8-ft version for carpet printing.

The Colaris3 DX uses Fujifilm Dimatix StarFire SG1024 grayscale PIJ heads with Dimatix RediJet continuous ink recirculation, which reduces jet-outs and ink waste. It’s available with three interchangeable models with primary drop volumes of 10 pL (SA), 30 pL (MA), or 80 pL (LA). The 10-pL system prints light- and medium-weight fabrics for apparel, home textiles, flags, and banners. The 30-pL head prints heavier pile fabrics, such as velour, plush, and terry. The 80-pL head is for deep pile substrates, including carpets, furs, and blankets.

MTex Solutions
MTex Solutions, headquartered in Portugal with operations in the UK and US, exhibited its line of inkjet textile printers and chemistry. Its MTex 5032 HS scanning inkjet textile printer uses Ricoh Gen5 PIJ heads and is 126 in. wide. MTex also offers its Blue Neo 70-in. textile printer with Panasonic PIJ heads and Vision 70-in. machine with Ricoh PIJ heads for printing most textiles. It offers the 500 C and P printers with Ricoh heads; the latter features an inline feed and drying system adapted for acid dye-print processing on polyamides, Lycra, and other stretchable fabrics. MTex inkjet printers are built on Mimaki engines. MTex also provides pre- and post-processing equipment. In addition, the company promoted a new textile ink reportedly offering PIJ printhead compatibility and wash-and-wear fastness.

Mimaki
Mimaki inkjet direct and indirect dye-sub printer technology occupied not only Mimaki’s booth, but also those of other companies including Velvet Jet and MTex. The company displayed its 77-in. TS300P-1800 and 126-in. TS500P-3200 dye-sublimation printers, using Panasonic PIJ heads, as well as introducing fluorescent dye-sublimation colors for printing with its TS300P. Mike Horsten, general marketing manager, Mimaki Europe, says that fashion and sportswear designers and markets want the eye-catching impact that fluorescent colors provide. He indicated garment manufacturers and printers with the new Neon Mimaki inks will be able “to extend the utility of digital printing solutions to the production of high-quality running clothes and other applications that are personalized or have unique designs and stand out for safety or fashion purposes.”

Competitors, including Mutoh with its ValueJet and Roland with its Texart entries, have increased pressure on Mimaki with their offerings to the sublimation market. For example, Epson has joined the dye-sub game with its SureColor F9200 and F7200 64-in. and F6200 44-in. sublimation printers. Epson uses its PrecisionCore PIJ heads and offers UltraChrome DS and HDK Black dye-sub inks for these wide-format devices. Along the same lines, ATP Color announced its Karta 190 inkjet for sublimation printing using Kyocera PIJ grayscale heads with variable drop volumes from 4 to 72 pL for printing high-resolution images on roll-to-roll transfer paper.

The Future
Developments of inkjet printheads, arrays, inks, coatings, electronics, software, and compatible materials will determine much of the future of inkjet machines for textile printing and other applications. PIJ printheads, like the Fujifilm Dimatix StarFire and Samba, Konica Minolta KM1024i and KM1800i, Kyocera KJ4B-Z and KJ4C-0360, Seiko SPT 1024GS and SPT 1020, Ricoh MH5420/5440 and MH2830, and Toshiba Tec CF1 series, are extending the capabilities of inkjet and lighting the path toward their use for an expanding array of applications. Many of these heads now provide in-head ink recirculation that improves printhead reliability, preventing nozzle clogging and jet-outs, particularly with pigmented inks and those using titanium dioxide and other metallic oxide pigments. Both Konica Minolta and Xaar recently announced that they will soon launch MEMS PIJ heads, like the Fujifilm Dimatix Samba, that will be able to jet water-based textile and other industrial inks, as well as include in-head recirculation.

Other technical developments moving the adoption of inkjet textile printing include improved wash, crock, and light fastness for inkjet dye-based ink from major textile ink manufacturers Huntsman, DuPont, Sensient, DyStar, SPGPrints, and others. Softer hand-pigmented inkjet textile inks with superior color and wash and wear fastness will likely increase their use for apparel, as well as home and office décor.

The transition of textile printing from analog methods, such as screen printing and gravure, to inkjet has begun and will only accelerate as the new technologies appearing at ITMA find adoption. Global vendors, including major textile printing countries such as China, India, Turkey, Pakistan, and Italy, grabbed attention this year, as visitors explored single-pass and newer scanning head inkjet printers. Exhibitors, for their part, generally reported that the number of sales and prospects exceeded their expectations. And so textiles continue to boom, particularly as some industry watchers are predicting that inkjet will increase its market penetration from 2 to 10 percent in the next five years.

In the US, we can see these impacts beginning to trickle down, as the internet enables web-to-print opportunities for textile printers like Spoonflower in Durham, North Carolina, to reach beyond their locale to a larger market of customers. Spoonflower’s online design facility combined with its Kornit Allegro printers enable their one million individual customers to design their own textiles for banners, curtains, quilts, costumes, and more. And as apparel retailers and home textile businesses increase their turnover and variety of inventory to retain shoppers, they are seeking the shorter print runs and quick response that digital inkjet textile printing can provide. As more consumers flock to the internet to purchase stock or their own custom-designed printed textile products, digital inkjet suppliers promise greatly reduced inventory risk for the print supplier, along with credit card prepayment. Inkjet production will also draw a portion of textile printing much closer to market on and near shore, wherever those markets are worldwide.

Read more from our January/February Spring Ideas 2016 issue here.

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