Epson reorganises for industrial textiles

Epson has announced a new entry-level industrial textile printer, the Monna Lisa 8000, but the real significance of this printer is that it will be built in Japan rather than Italy and that it signals Epson’s intention to aggressively grow this market.

Epson is building this ML 8000 industrial textile printer in Japan

The different models in the Monna Lisa range are mainly characterised by the number of printheads they use, since this determines the productivity, with the top of the range model boasting 64 printheads. The ML 8000 uses eight Epson PrecisionCore heads but just a year ago, at the Itma 2019 show, Epson showed off the Monna Lisa Evo Tre 8, also an entry-level printer with eight heads. The company now characterises this printer as a prototype, which does not tell the full story, particularly since the Evo Tre appears on Epson’s website as a commercially available printer, at least at time of writing though probably not for long. 

The Monna Lisa printers were jointly developed by Epson and the Italian company Robustelli, which Epson first invested in, and then acquired completely back in 2016 The company was rebranded as Epson, and strengthened by another Epson acquisition, For.Tex, which produced the inks and consumables that were an integral part of the Monna Lisa printer concept. Both companies are based in Como, in the heart of the Italian textile industry. Both continued as separate subsidiaries, working together, with the Evo Tre printers being built at the Robustelli plant. Earlier this year, Epson announced that it would merge the two companies together as a single subsidiary.

Meanwhile, Epson has built a brand new state-of-the-art factory at its headquarters in Nagano, Japan, to manufacture both its large format and industrial textile printers together. So the principal difference between the ML 8000 and the Evo Tre 8 is that the new ML model will be built in Japan, where it will be closer to the team that also develops the large format printers and indeed it does seem to have benefited from some of the features introduced on Epson’s recent large format printers.

However, the big change is not so much the printer but rather Epson rethinking its approach to the textile market as it seeks to exploit synergies between its different technologies. Up to now, Epson has had two distinct approaches. The SureColor F-series machines have grown out of Epson’s large format printers and have mostly aimed at the signage and sports apparel markets using dye sublimation. Meanwhile, the Monna Lisa range are true industrial machines targeted firmly at the fashion market, able to print to a wide range of different fabrics, and with the productivity needed to persuade conventional manufacturers to invest in digital technology.

But Epson now perceives that the biggest opportunity lies in the crossover between these two areas. Thus the F10000 that I covered here last week is a significant improvement in productivity in the large format range, while the ML 8000 offers the next logical step up both in terms of  productivity and applications. This entry level industrial market is mostly driven by a desire to produce fashion closer to the customer base, and this is happening right around the world. In the European context that means reshoring textile production that long ago moved to India and the Far East. This is mostly because fast fashion demands quick access to what is a notoriously capricious market. 

Naturally, Epson and all the other printer vendors are busy spinning this as an environmentally-friendly story because it reduces the need to ship the printed textiles over long distances. (Perhaps best not to mention that fast fashion also means more production, which is not the greenest way to save our planet.) In any case, the current pandemic is causing more manufacturers to question the wisdom of long supply lines and so lots of smaller printers close to the point of sale suddenly appears more attractive than having a smaller number of larger printers further away. 

Epson has had some success with this market already, with several manufacturer having set up printer farms with multiple F-series printers ganged together. But an entry-level Monna Lisa makes far more sense because of the range of inks that it can use, and therefore the number of different fabric types that it can print to. 

As noted, the ML 8000 is broadly the same as the Evo Tre 8 but with some differences, mainly around image processing. It has the same eight printheads, which I believe are Epson’s PrecisionCore S3200 heads, which are capable of 1200 dpi resolution. However, Epson Europe was unable to say if there will be an option to upgrade this to 16 heads at the factory, as with the Evo Tre 8.  

These samples show the different range of fabrics that can be printed to with the Monna Lisa printers, thanks to the choice of different Genesta inksets, including the Genesta PG revo pigment series, launched last year and seen here on the left.

It uses Epson’s Genesta inks, with a choice of different inksets including Genesta Acid, Reactive, Disperse and Pigment. The printer can take eight colours, which is fine for the Disperse and Pigment inksets that consist of CMYK plus red, blue, orange and grey. However, the Acid and Reactive inks require a primer to help the ink penetrate the fabrics and have more colours to choose from – up to 12 for the reactive inks. The printheads have two ink channels and appear to be set up so as to print two colours through each head rather than having each dedicated to a particular colour. The inks can be supplied in boxes of 3l or 10 litres and loaded in a separate bulk ink holder, a feature borrowed from Epson’s large format printers. 

The new model has benefited from some additional Epson technologies, including Dynamic Alignment Stabilizer technology, which alters the waveforms on each printhead chip to achieve higher dot placement accuracy and more uniform dot density on each pass, to improve the overall print quality. Guy Martin, sales development specialist for Epson UK, explains: “The textile industry uses geometric patterns so you have to have the very finest imaging to do that, which Epson can do.”

It has also gained the new Multi layer half tone feature, which is part of Epson’s PrecisionDot approach and was first introduced on the F10000. Epson is quoting a maximum speed of 250 sqm/hr, assuming 300 x 600dpi resolution with one pass, which consists of two 300 x 300dpi half tone layers. However, a more realistic production speed appears to be 155 sqm/hr, which is 600 x 600dpi with two passes, made up of four 300 x 300dpi half tone layers. 

Epson has also fitted the RGB camera from its wide format printers that is used to read test patterns and automatically calibrate each printhead so that operators can replace those heads quickly and be up and running again within 30 minutes.

This new printer has a print width of 180cm. It’s worth noting that there was also an option to order a 220cm wide version of the Evo Tre 8 but Epson Europe was unable to say if this option would also be available for the ML8000. 

The Epson stand at Itma 2019 was always busy.

Otherwise, the printer appears to share the basic characteristics that have made the Monna Lisa range so successful. This includes the ability to print to both transfer papers and a wide range of different textiles. There’s a belt with a permanent adhesive, refreshed by an automatic washing system, to hold stretchable fabrics in place. The printer also features Accurate Belt Position Control technology to automatically detect the belt feeding distance to ensure more precise fabric feeding. This should optimise the speed to achieve the desired print quality for better reproduction of colour gradations, fine details, and complex geometric patterns.

My assumption here – not confirmed by Epson – is that Epson will gradually transition away from the Evo Tre range and expand the Monna Lisa range with further ML-series printers built in Japan, most likely leaving the Como operation in Italy to deal with sales and servicing. 

The Monna Lisa 8000 should be available in Europe from January 2021. Epson says that the price will be under €200,000, or around £181,000. You can find more information from Epson here.



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