Is it possible to print apparel with UV-curing technology?
The UV-curing printer market was dominated by only one curing technology: mercury arc, which is a reliable technology because its strength guarantees that the ink will be cured.
But mercury arc comes with a number of downsides. First, mercury arc UV-curing lamps are heavy and bulky, which adds up to the weight of the printhead carriage, and thus, require more energy to move the whole printing system.
Some models can’t be turned on or off during shifts. There is a warming time you have to consider if you decide to turn off your UV-curing lamps.
But his most important downside: UV-curing lamps based on mercury arc technology, produce considerable amount of heat, which limits the range of substrates and applications you can print with them.
And because of the heat, each lamp needs a fan and/or a water-cooling system, to prevent the lamp from overheating.
LED-based UV-curing lamps become popular
But then, in 2008-2009, another technology became popular: LED-based UV-curing lamps, which had several advantages over mercury arc UV-curing lamps.
Because LED is a more advanced technology, the lamps are significantly smaller and more lightweight than the traditional mercury arc UV-curing lamps.
But perhaps the most important advantage of LED technology is that this type of lamp does not emit heat (at least not to the levels of mercury arc technology), which allows for a wider range of substrates and applications.
One of the most interesting applications: fabric. Will UV-curing technology take market share from traditional textile printers?
Among fabrics, one of the big potential applications is fabric for apparel.
Why hasn’t LED UV-curing technology taken over the apparel market?
Because it is able to print on a wide array of substrates, it is easy to ask when LED UV-curing technology will replace the printers based on pigmented inks and dye-sublimation inks.
However, there are some aspects that need to be taken into consideration before printing applications like dresses, t-shirts, jerseys, etc.
If you read the specs of the UV-curable ink formulations, they will clearly state that UV-curing ink in a liquid (not cured) state, may cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, discolorations.
Uncontrolled contact with UV-curable ink in liquid state can affect your nervous system, and produce headaches, dizziness, and respiratory problems.
Exposure to uncured UV-curable ink for long periods of time, can not only affect your skin, but your kidneys, liver, and even your reproductive system.
Another aspect is the “hand” of the finished product, UV-curable inks stay atop the substrate, just like pigment ink, so it is not exactly soft to the touch. However since pigment inks are used for textile the formulations have been improved over the years to make them softer, unlike UV-curable inks. The other downside is that UV-curable inks are not flexible enough for wearable textiles.
This photo taken in APPPEXPO 2018, in Shanghai, shows the synthetic material of a sneaker, which was printed on with a Mimaki UJF-3042.
So, until a company comes up with an ink formulation approved for apparel, you should really consider this safety and health aspects, before buying or trying to sell apparel printed with UV-curing technology. For now, UV-curing technology will have to stick to soft-signage applications, if anything, where a hypoallergenic ink is no required.