Printing textiles digitally has become one of the most popular markets in the industry, due to its quick rise and growth.
According to Smithers Pira in its study The Future of Digital Textile Printing to 2021: “the value of digital textile printing was €1.17 billion in 2016, with 12.3% CAGR through 2021, reaching €2.42 billion in 2021”.
According to this, the digital textile market will duplicate its value in a few years. So it might be a good idea to invest in this segment.
As stated in the Digital Textile Printing Market – Global Outlook and Forecast 2018-2023: “The global digital textile printing market is projected to reach revenues of around $53 billion by 2023 and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of over 17% during the forecast period”.
Which means, textile is becoming a very prolific sector in the wide-format printing industry and has been revolutionizing the global market.
Digital textile printing covers many markets such as décor, fashion and apparel, soft-signage; most of these we have covered in previous editions.
Digital textile printing has come to revolutionize a million dollar business, as is the fashion industry, which for centuries has printed fabrics with traditional methods. By printing fabrics digitally the process is sped-up and the designs have also become more unique and personalized.
“Haute couture and high street fashion demand for digital print was worth €190 million in 2016 and will exceed €420 million in 2021” as reported by Smithers Pira report The Future of Digital Textile Printing to 2021.
Now that you have a general scenario of the digital textile printing industry, we can get into the textile printing specifics.
Digital Textile Printers by Structure
There are five kinds of inks for textile printing for different kinds of fabrics, there is a separate page covering them.
And there are also different kinds of textile printers according to their structure; here we list the most common ones to give you a general idea.
These diagrams intend to illustrate the basic media path for wide-format textile printers for each type of structure, though not all brands use the same media path. Some printers may have additional or fewer tension, dancer or roller bars, or may have them in different positions; which makes the media path slightly different. Also, when a printer has an in-line calender or a jumbo roll option, this alters the media path before printing and wind-up.
• Flatbed Printer: it has a flat surface with a vacuum mechanism providing suction to hold fabrics in place. This type of printer is mostly used to print individually cut-pieces of fabric.
• Roll-to-roll: entry-level printer that uses a series of pinch rollers, grit rollers and a small motor to move the media (fabric or transfer paper). The media is loaded at he back and can either be wound-up at the front (left) or the back of the printer (right).
• Roll-to-roll with frontal heater: an entry-level printer with the same roller mechanism of a roll-to-roll printer with a frontal heater at the front, below the printed media and before wind-up to help dry the ink. This frontal heater can be drum-shaped (left) or tilted and flat (right). This type of printer is usually used to print onto transfer paper.
• Roll-to-roll with heating unit: this is a roll-to-roll printer atop a heating unit filled with hot air to sublimate the ink and fix the colors. This type of entry-level printer is mostly used to print polyester fabrics with disperse dye inks.
• Dedicated roll-to-roll: a more sophisticated version of the roll-to-roll printer, the media is moved by rollers, controlled with motors. Some of the rolls might be dancing bars to control the tension and others might be covered with cork or rubber to hold the fabric in place while printing.
• Dedicated roll-to-roll with calender: a dedicated roll-to-roll printer with an incorporated calendar cylinder for sublimation and fixing colors. A calendar is a heated drum filled with thermal oil to guarantee even temperature allover the cylinder, it moves at a fast speed while in contact with the fabric to avoid burns.
The calender might be inside the structure of the printer (left) of in front of the printer (right). This type of printer is used both for transfer paper or direct-to-fabric printing.
• Sticky or Conveyor Belt: This is a more complex structure of textile printer; it uses rollers and motors to move the fabric (loaded at the back) into a conveyor belt to ensure the fabric does not move while printing.
There are two types of conveyor belts: one with glue to hold the fabric into place and the other with a suction mechanism. This system is ideal for elastic and stretchable fabrics.
• Single pass: an industrial type of printer that prints in a single pass at a high speed, unlike the rest on the list. The basic principle is that the printheads are fixed; it is the media that moves for printing while placed on a conveyor belt moved by motors. There are individual printing stations with several printheads, one station per ink color. The media moves under the printing stations; which print one at a time at a high speed.
Many textile printers have similar structures with a small variation that makes them fall into a different category; and some of them such as the sticky or conveyor belt, the flatbed, and the single pass printers are so completely different you can’t mistake them.
As the digital textile printing industry continues to evolve, we will be adding and improving textile printer categories to this list to keep up to date with the TRENDs in the market.