A stitch in time

HP has officially launched its 3.2m production dye sub printer, the S1000, following on from the earlier, smaller S300 and S500, so it’s time to look at why HP has jumped into the textiles market, and why it chose to do so with these particular printers.

The HP S1000 is a 3.2m wide dye sublimation printer that will print direct to transfer paper or fabric.

But first, let’s look at the S1000, which is aimed at the volume end of the market, primarily for soft signage as well as for some interior decoration. As with the other Stitch-series printers announced so far, it is a 1200 dpi thermal inkjet printer, largely based on HP’s existing latex printer chassis but running water-based dye sublimation inks. It will print to both transfer paper and fabric, though you will need a separate calendar to sublimate the fabric printing. 

It’s capable of a maximum production speed of 220sqm/hr, though this drops to 130 sqm/hr for 4-pass production quality and for backlits. It’s fitted with four printheads, with two taking black and cyan, and two for the magenta and yellow inks. The inks are supplied in 10 litre cartridges. It’s worth noting that the estimated printhead life is 50 litres for this printer, though the warranty period is just 10 litres. 

So, why has HP suddenly jumped into textile printing, given that plenty of people have been happily churning out soft signage on the latex printers for several years now? Or perhaps a better question would be, why hasn’t HP done this sooner, given that everyone else has identified garments and home décor as the next big market some years ago. HP claims that the textiles market will be worth $1.7 trillion by 2023, which will include some $308 billion in printed textiles, with around 10 to 11 percent being digitally printed today.

Joan Perez Pericot, general manager of HP’s large format graphics, adds: The good news is that in the last five years this market has been growing some 10 to 15 percent and we expect it to continue to grow 10 to 12 percent over the next five years, reaching $3.6 billion total opportunity.” He pointed out that these figures only cover hardware and inks and that there are also paper, fabrics and other elements to consider. However, HP has not indicated where these figures come from or how reliable they might be. 

Nonetheless, HP is clearly hoping that digital printing will deliver the same short-run fast-turnaround benefits to the textile industry as it did for commercial printing and is starting to for packaging printing. Pericot says that currently many companies in the textile industry work on a 100-day leadtime in analogue production, and that this produces waste and cashflow problems. He claims that digital production can replace this with a 48-hour turnaround. More importantly, digital production also makes it easier for newer players to enter the market as they can sell directly online, and only produce items that have already been paid for. This is exactly what we’ve already seen in commercial printing and HP has proven itself adept at supplying its printers to many of these new players. 

Pericot identifies four main trends shaping the digital textile market, namely that it can be ordered on-demand, can be personalised, can include sensors or links to wearable technology, and can be recycled. He says that the younger generation is expecially keen on personalisation, and that people are willing to pay up to 10 percent more to have their textiles personalised. 

Pericot adds: “Textiles is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil and consumes more water so it’s no wonder that all the brands are interested in sustainability. So digital can have a massive impact.” 

Joan Perez Pericot, general manager of HP’s large format graphics

I think that it is worth pointing out that anyone really interested in sustainability can simply stop buying lots of new clothes, cushions, curtains and so on. This is not just a flippant point – HP and other vendors are betting that people will buy more stuff if they can do it online and can personalise it but at some point constantly adding to or replacing our wardrobes is itself unsustainable, regardless of how easily any of those items can be recycled. 

It’s also worth noting that HP has started off with the polyester market. Ester Sala, HP’s worldwide textile business director, says that people believe that the market is strongly dominated by cotton but that the reality is that 60 percent of this market is polyester, adding: “Polyester is the number one most consumed fabric in the world.” She says there are four main markets: soft signage, interior décor, sportswear and apparel. She says that the signage market has moved en masse away from PVC and that hotels and restaurants are moving into polyester interior décor products because polyester can be easily treated for flame retardance, satisfying regulations. She adds: “Sportswear is growing because we consumers have changed our health expectations and our lifestyles, which has led to an enormous growth in sportswear, and this will continue as sports is adopted by new generations. Fashion has adopted polyester as a fabric because of its prices and the versatility of all the new blended materials.”

Personally, I don’t think that any of the other printer vendors currently selling dye sublimation printers will have anything too much to worry about with the three Stitch printers that HP has announced. However, HP itself is a completely different proposition and the fact that HP has now targeted the textiles market should give everyone else something to think about. HP’s standard operating practice in each of the industries that it’s involved in is to target the brand owners and designers and convince them to specify HP printers and consumables.

Pericot says there are no plans for design and production software yet but I think it’s only a matter of time before the company announces this kind of software since HP’s real strength lies not so much in its printers but in its ability to create a complete eco-system to help customers manage the entire process from design to online ordering, printing and fulfilment. So, I have no doubt that HP will follow up these printers with a comprehensive range of software, probably in the form of additions to its PrintOs suite of tools and perhaps even a dedicated PrintOs Marketplace. And that is something that every other vendor should worry about, because PrintOs is all about driving up print volumes, and volume is absolutely key in the industrial textile business.




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