In the early 1990s, a new form of printing technology emerged. It used digital processes to transfer inks onto a variety of textiles and fabrics. It was to revolutionise the fabric printing industry.
This was around the same time that inkjet technology first became popular. Consumer-friendly printers that could print on paper became commonplace in offices and houses across the globe.
However, it was only in the first years of the new millennium (2003) that the technology became mainstream in fabric printing. It ushered in a new industry standard.
The rise of digital fabric printing
Though initially quite slow to catch on, digital fabric printing technology has developed rapidly. Over recent years its advantages now outweigh those of more traditional methods.
In 2015, the global digital fabric printing market was valued at $1.2 billion, according to a report by Allied Market Research. Industry analysts expect it to reach $3.9 billion by 2022.
There are many benefits to digital fabric printing. These include being able to quickly respond to fashion trends and reduced setup costs.
Let’s take a look at some of these benefits in more detail.
1. Shorter print runs
Using traditional fabric printing techniques meant that manufacturers had to print long runs in order for their product to be economically viable.
According to Tim Check of Epsom America, the most important benefit of digital fabric printing is that it is profitable to produce small to medium runs of up to several thousand pieces, and immediately change print designs without setup costs and delays.
Stock levels can be reduced thanks to this ability to print on-demand and in small quantities. This leads to savings for both manufacturer and client.
One of the industries that benefits most from these advances in technology has been the fashion industry. The simple workflows and the ability to print on-demand from the file mean that companies can carry less stock, reduce their storage costs and get to market faster.
Fast-fashion houses and high-end designers alike can now produce more affordable trial runs, meaning more designs can be tested.
For these clients it’s possible to print only 1m of fabric – if that’s what they need.
2. Eco-friendly digital fabric printing
Compared to traditional methods of printing on fabric, digital printing is a much more environmentally friendly process. This is because it reduces the massive amounts of water and electricity needed for preparing screens, printing, and clean-ups.
According to BizVibe, more and more governments are drafting legislation to curb the amount of waste generated by companies using traditional dyeing and printing methods.
The textile industry is increasingly looking for new ways to reduce the waste and pollution it generates. This is in response to consumers’ demands for more sustainable textile products.
3. Higher quality and greater customisation
Unlike screen printing, another benefit of digital fabric printing is that it produces a much higher print quality. The print resolution is greater and the images have clean, sharp edges.
According to Jos Notermans of SPGPrints, a “much wider range of creative designs are achievable because it (digital fabric printing) enables precise reproduction of very fine lines, strong colour blotches, sharp geometrics, and especially the micro-floral patterns which are highly popular now.”
With digital printing, the accuracy of colour, as well as print, is perfect. The print on a fabric would be identical to the on-screen computer image.
Using this technology enables manufacturers and designers to produce an endless variety of designs, images and graphics. This increases the choices available, especially for fashion designers, home décor (interior) designers and sportswear manufacturers.
4. Reduced costs
One of the most important factors driving the move to digital textile printing is the cost savings it achieves.
The conventional rotary screen printing setup is large and uses far more ink, water and electricity. Also, each print run on rotary printing equipment is typically set up to print only longer runs.
“The high minimums are due to the cost and time required to prepare a unique set of screens, with each color in a design requiring a separate screen,” writes Jasonda Desmond for Fashion-Incubator.
With digital technology, there are no screens for the printer to prepare. The reduced cost enables the client to request a small run for each design.
It’s clear that digital fabric printing offers a host of benefits. It allows digital fabric printing companies to reduce their setup costs and respond quickly to customer demands. It also enables customers the flexibility of ordering smaller print runs with a variety of designs limited only by their imagination.