Textile Printing’s Transformation

Nine things you must know about the textile market and its opportunities.

Big Picture

Many stakeholders across the textile supply chain are evaluating the use of digital textile printing systems as a way to mitigate risk, increase production and fulfillment cycle times, lower costs, and become more environmentally considerate. These changes are transforming the textile-printing industry and driving demand for new digital textile-printing systems.

Although the digital textile-printing market is very small in comparison to the entire textile industry, it’s growing at a rapid rate. Some of the key trends that are driving this growth include:

• The increasing demand for faster cycle times and fashion seasons from major brands and retailers;

• A growing demand for textile-based products that meet regulatory and corporate preferences for environmental properties;

• Emergence of higher-quality, higher-speed inkjet printheads;

• Availability of moderately priced solutions that enable new market entrants; and

• Open-system inkjet printheads that allow for multiple ink suppliers, resulting in lower ink prices.

The information that follows is adapted from InfoTrends’ new report, “Transforming Textile Printing,” a comprehensive look at the textile-printing market, how digital is becoming a part of the industry, and how print providers can integrate their specific skills and technologies into this market. For more details on the report, contact InfoTrends directly (

The Size of the Market
The printed textile market is estimated to be valued at $165 billion on a worldwide basis. The vast majority of that printed textile market is based on screen printing and gravure printing. Digital print technology is growing because it offers many advantages for textile production, clearly matching the new and increasing demands of textile buyers, but it still represents less than 1.5 percent of printed textile volume.

Digital printing of textiles worldwide is expected to drive a market for related digital hardware and ink from $484 million in 2011 to more than $2 billion in 2016, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for that interval of 33.3 percent.

Digital’s Advantages
Digital printing of textiles helps address the wishes of retailers and their textile-manufacturing partners for short, timely runs of products at reasonable prices. Digital printing has other advantages for producers of textiles compared to conventional print processes:

• It requires a minimum of “make-ready,” and no use of the hard-copy master, such as screens for screen printing.

• It wastes little media in starting a print job, in contrast to analog presses, which can waste from tens to hundreds of meters before actually printing.

• It’s generally safer and less environmentally hazardous than hazardous textile printing, important considerations for many brands and retailers.

• It consumes less energy, water and man-power than traditional screen printing.

• It enables customization and even personalization – services for which producers can charge a premium.
The last of these – customization and personalization – are specialties of digital textile printing. As to personalization and even “one-off” production, these are the highest level of customization, jobs that digital printers can produce and that analog printers cannot.

Installed Base
Europe is the single-biggest market today for producers of digital textiles, led by the Italians and the Turks. Italy is home to many of the leading fashion brands in the world, and has become a greenhouse for the digital textile printing business. In 2011, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) represented 42 percent of the world’s installed base of digital textile printing systems. Continued transition from analog to digital is expected to fuel a 17.5-percent CAGR through 2016. The AP market (Asian-Pacific) ranks second in terms of installed base, with over 2300 total units operating in 2011 (39 percent of global installed base); that total is expected to increase to over 5400 in 2016, marking an 18.7-percent CAGR. AP includes not only China and India, but also two young and growing textile manufacturing countries: Bangladesh and Pakistan.

How Printing Fits into the Textile Supply Chain
In the textile market, printing is just one stage in a supply chain that is far longer and more complicated than many other markets that rely on printing. Printing is typically a subsidiary activity and likely outsourced by many primary suppliers to the print service provider. It might be ordered by the designer of the garments. It might be ordered by a fabric intermediary (those firms are often referred to as converters and are responsible for sourcing fabrics from a mill, providing the graphic-design element, and delivering cloth ready for subsequent production). It might be specified by an integrated textile mill that wants to offer a range of options for the coloration of its products – not just printing but also dyeing and weaving.

Most of the textiles market uses a workflow like the one pictured here. There are some products, however, such as luxury or boutique items, which are produced in very short runs and are well suited to digital printing. There are also other models of one-off or on-demand ordering through website portals. These products are also digitally printed and do not require the approval processes with brand owners, but are more geared toward the consumer.

Printability Issues
Testing the printability of a substrate is crucial for any printing process, though it adds time to production, and it has the potential to negate some of the benefits of digital printing. Therefore, for firms who want a rapid turnaround, there is an advantage in using a print service provider that has verified a range of bases for their production process and has optimized their preparation.

Some digital textile print service providers test, verify, and prepare to print a range of bases that they keep in stock, from which customers can choose. Alternatively, some suppliers – primarily specialty digital equipment and consumable resellers – supply prepared for digital printing (PFDP) base fabrics. InfoTrends believes that these fabrics will gain wider adoption as digital print becomes more prevalent. While this approach ensures good results and fast turnaround times, it is not always ideal. In addition, certain digital textile print service providers serve a limited set of textile designers and retail suppliers; they cater to those clients’ particular needs rather than attempting to deliver a broad-based solution across the industry. By catering to the needs of a few clients, these print service providers focus on a limited set of fabrics, but that allows them to cater to the more specific needs of a few key clients.


Separate Devices for Different Ink Types
When feasible, print service providers should consider having multiple printing devices to cope with the demand for different ink chemistries. Lack of access to financial capital might make that difficult, in which case the print service provider could decide to specialize in certain fabrics based on its customer base and their requirements. Another option may be consolidation with multiple print service providers combining forces to offer a balanced production portfolio. This need for flexibility also imposes a limit on the utilization rates of each printing device that’s owned. This, in turn, has an impact on ink consumption per machine.

Production Hardware
There are a large number of equipment vendors in the digital textile printing market. However, not all players cater to markets internationally, and rather engage in selected markets. Vendors tend to focus on either a specific segment of the market, such as fashion garments or home furnishings, which often leads to a geographic focus as certain regions that have a specific focus on a specific segment of the market.
For the most part, each of these vendors – particularly those who have a stronger presence in the market in terms of installed base – offer products that are capable of printing with any of the five primary types of inks used in this space, including reactive, acid, pigment, disperse-dye, and dye-transfer.

Digital Textile Printing Inks and Their Uses
The use of a certain type of ink for digital textile printing is usually determined by the type of material that it is to be printed on. Most print service providers using digital have a strategy involving multiple inks. This allows them to print on the wide variety of materials that are typically used for garment, décor, and industrial purposes. These textile categories are so widely varied, ranging from natural to synthetics, that it is understandable that one ink type could never be suitable for all fabrics.

This segmentation is necessary, but also results in fragmentation of production processes. The need for certain inks to be used for certain materials causes many print service providers to own multiple devices, each with its own inkset. It’s technically possible for some devices to use multiple inks, but in practicality, it’s a time consuming process to switch ink sets and it’s not feasible to do so on a regular basis.

E-commerce, Sustainability, and Education
• Service providers looking to enter the market should consider an e-commerce, on-demand delivery model for ultra-short-run work. Much of the garment and décor-based market is well established, and would appear foreign to a new entrant. Examples: Spoonflower and First2Print.

• Sustainability should be a part of the message from system vendors as well as print service providers. The big trend today in the fashion industry is toward sustainable business practices. Overcoming the inertia of transforming existing processes through digital won’t happen easily. One lever that could help advance this, however, is making the point that adherence to environmental standards and labeling conventions can be leveraged effectively through the use of digital printing of textiles.

• Textile buyers and specifiers need to be educated regarding the value and benefits of digital. Some of the lack of acceptance and stronger growth of digital textile printing is due to the purchaser’s lack of knowledge of the benefits and new opportunities that digital can offer. Educating this population starts with the manufacturers, suppliers, and integrators, and needs to carry on through the producers to their customers.


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