Epson used last month’s Itma show in Barcelona to announce new additions to its Monna Lisa range of textile printers as well as a new series of Genesta pigment inks.
I took the opportunity at the show to catch up with Paolo Crespi, Epson’s direct to fabric EMEA and Americas sales and marketing director, who was previously commercial director for For.Tex, which Epson bought back in 2015 (having already bought half of the company in 2012) as part of its push into the textiles market. Epson, as with many wide format vendors, had already developed its own dye sublimation printers but recognised that as the market for digital print really started to grow so it would need an established foothold into that market.
Crespi says that the company’s philosophy has been to establish a platform based on high print quality and then iterate further machines from there. He says: “The most important thing for us was to set up a certain quality and not to change from that.”
Epson’s Monna Lisa printers are all 1.8m wide and are all scanning rather than single pass machines. Crespi says that scanning machines can deliver higher image quality. The printheads are Epson’s own Precision Core though with a protective coating to prevent the risk of damage from the various fibres from the textile materials. Epson hasn’t specified which head, other than to say that they have four chips each, which suggests they’re using the S3200, which I’ve already written about here.
The company already offers the Monna Lisa Evo Tre in several versions including the standard Tre 16 with 16 heads able to print up to eight colours and to produce up to 404 sqm/hr. There’s also a 32-head version of this which can be configured with two sets of eight colours or 16 colour channels. This can produce up to 692 sqm/hr with eight colours, or 440 sqm/hr with 16 colours, assuming 300 x 600 dpi with one pass, though the printer offers up to 1200 dpi resolution.
However, Crespi says that the company realised that these machines were not productive enough to compete against single pass printers so Epson developed the new 64-head version that was unveiled at last month’s Itma show. The new Monna Lisa Evo Tre 64 can print up to 779 sqm/hr with 600 x 600dpi resolution with two passes though the printer itself is capable of 1200 dpi. It prints up to eight colours.
He explains that most European companies don’t have the volume of work to justify a single pass machine and that customers had indicated that 500 – 700 sqm/hr was fast enough for high quality work. Crespi adds: “We had to add more heads, but not as many as with single pass so the total cost is less than single pass. When a customer goes to calculate his production costs he has to consider the volume he has to print and the cost and maintenance of the machine so I think that 64 heads are a good number of heads. It’s half the productivity but less than half the cost of single pass. It comes down to volume. If you need to print 10 million metres in a year then it’s too small.”
Epson also showed off a new entry-level printer, the Tre 8, with just eight heads to keep the cost down to a manageable €200,000. This can produce up to 265sqm/hr at 300 x 600dpi in a single pass though multiple passes will produce better quality. This can be upgraded to 16 heads though only at the factory. Crespi says that despite being an entry level model it’s still an industrial machine. It’s designed for existing producers who want to test the water with digital production as well as for new players that don’t yet have the volume for a bigger machine.
All of these printers use Epson’s Genesta Acid, Reactive, Disperse and Pigment inks. However, Epson also introduced a new series of pigment ink, the Genesta PG-Revo, which is said to offer high rub fastness and good print quality without needing post-treatment. This is aimed at the fast growing on-demand fashion and home textile markets where the ability to reduce processes for faster turnaround is most important.
As for pretreatment, Crespi points out that this is needed for acid and reactive inks, adding: “For pigment ink it’s different. We developed a pretreatment but we only use it when we need to. The pretreatment only affects the colour gamut and density but we don’t always need it as it depends on the colour and design. In pigment if you need a deep black or red it’s quite difficult so we have to put down a lot of ink to achieve the deep shades and the pretreatment helps with that so you can save a lot of ink.”
Crespi says that in general post-treatment depends on the fabric and the intended use but that acid and reactive inks generally need steaming and washing. Epson doesn’t make this equipment though the company does offer technical assistance to customers and can supply any necessary consumables. Crespi notes: “Quality is not only in the printing but also the fastness and the touch so it needs to be due to all the processes.”
Crespi is also passionate about the impact of textile production on the environment, saying that synthetic materials like polyester with its plastic content is a big problem and that natural fibres are a better solution. However, he also points out that there’s a lot of water used in the production of cotton, saying that materials like polycotton offer a good alternative.
He notes: “We have to produce more but impact less. Today the key point is less energy and less water.” He adds: “Our customers appreciate this point of view and try to improve their way of producing. The big brands in Italy are asking for feedback over chemicals used and the certification needed. It needs a big enough company to think about this and Epson is very sensitive about this issue.”
You can find more information about the Monna Lisa series of printers and the Genesta inks at www.monnalisadtp.eu.