Fespa and garment printing

Earlier this week I wrote about the main display graphics side of this year’s Fespa show so now I want to wrap up my reports from Fespa 2023 with a look at textile printing. This has been a growing facet of Fespa events even though it increasingly represents a completely separate market.

In previous years, textile printing meant an emphasis on soft signage but the last few Fespa shows have also included a lot of garment printing. To some extent this aspect of the Fespa show for this year has been overshadowed by the ITMA show that kicks off in Milan tomorrow morning. So perhaps for this reason there were very few of the bigger textile printers, and not even many soft signage printers, though EFI did have a 3.4m wide FabriVu on its stand. There were a few dye sublimation printers but not much that was new. Instead most of the emphasis was on Direct to Garment printers together with the growing trend towards Direct to Film machines.

For me, one of the most interesting machines at the show was a prototype DtG printer from Ricoh that’s able to print direct to polyester materials without sublimation. Ricoh is using an optimiser combined with a pigment ink. On order to cope with these two separate fluids Ricoh has adapted the chassis from its existing Ri2000, which used two print carriages for added productivity. However, in this case the first print carriage is used to lay down the optimiser, followed by the second carriage, which prints the colours. Otherwise the prototype has inherited most of its characteristics from the RI2000 so each print carriage has four Ricoh GH heads.

This prototype DtG printer from Ricoh can print to polyester without sublimation.

Tomohiro Ikeda, general manager for Ricoh’s business management department, explained: “The big challenge for polyester is to stick the ink to the polyester thread because the material is so slippery that no ink will stick to it. Lots of manufacturers try to print to polyester but the main problem is the pretreatment.”

The pretreatment is applied only to the areas that are to be imaged. Then a white under layer is printed, with users able to choose how much white ink to lay down according to the job in hand. The colours are printed on top of the white. Ikeda adds: “Most of the ink sits on the surface but some is absorbed into the material.”

Once the image has been printed, users will need to transfer the t-shirt to a separate heat press to cure the inks. Users can choose the print design from a touchscreen on the side. The printer automatically adjusts the height of the platen. There’s a range of different platens available for printing to different types of products such as hats and shoes as well as t-shirts. It should be available later this year.

Epson debuted a new desktop DtG printer, the F2200, which replaces the older F2100. The main difference is that this gains a new printhead, though Epson describes all the heads in its own printers as generic MicroTFP. This is a mistake in my view because people will always need to find a way to refer to individual heads so this policy just means that Epson will lose control over the naming of its own printheads. I know a great many people in Epson who are cheesed off that no one knows the correct names for the DX-series heads and I would have thought that they would be keen to avoid that happening again.

This Epson F2200 DtG printer will shortly gain the ability to print direct to film as well.

Nonetheless this particular head is the same one as fitted to the much larger F3000 DtG printer but where the F3000 has two heads, the F2200 only has one. It’s an eight-channel head and runs CMYK plus white and a maintenance liquid. There’s a new version of the ink. Grant Cooke, product manager for Epson’s textile printers, explains: “All the colours and output are the same but we had to reduce the bleed from yellow to black which was an issue for some customers.”

Cooke says that the new head means that the F2200 is 35 percent faster for white materials and 25 percent faster with dark fabrics than the older F2100. This is because the new machine can produce the same image quality in four passes as the older one with eight passes. The new head can reach 600dpi resolution, which should produce better detail and fine text. 

The printer comes with the latest version of Epson’s Garment Creator software, which supports the 600dpi resolution. The same software can also be used with the larger F3000 but is not backwards compatible with the older F2100, which prints at a lower resolution. That seems like a missed opportunity because it would be much easier for an existing customer who adds the new printer to their existing set-up to be able to run both machines from the same software.

Epson is also planning to add the option to print to film from the F2200 so that it can double up as a DtF printer. However, the software does not yet support this.

The F2200 gains Epson’s new styling with a clear, flat top. The machine as a whole is very slightly smaller than the F2100 but it appears much more compact because there’s no fan and no need to leave space for airflow so it sits flush against the wall. There’s a 4.3ins touch screen on the front and the main control panel has moved from the front to the side of the platen, which is a bit more ergonomic. There’s also a new hanger platen that makes it easier to line up t-shirts to ensure you put the graphic in the right place!

Brother has added orange and green inks to the GTX600 Extra Colours DtG printer

Brother showed off a new Extra Colours version of its existing GTX 600 DtG printer. This gains two extra printheads and two additional colours, orange and green, which should improve the colour gamut of this printer.

Brother also picked up on the growing trend towards printing to film to transfer the image later with a new Direct-to-Film machine. This is essentially a roll-to-roll version of the existing GTX Pro DtG printer, which allows the film to be passed straight through to the powder and processing unit to produce a finished roll in a single pass.

There have been quite a few DtF printers introduced in the last couple of years, starting initially with a lot of Chinese imports that do seem to have caught many of the established vendors of DtG printers on the hop. Consequently, several vendors showed new DtF printers as an alternative to printing direct-to-garment or via dye sublimation.

The method involves first printing the design to a transfer film, and then feeding the film into a separate powder shaker device. This then sprinkles a hot melt powder onto the film, which is then heated and dried to create a transferable ink layer on the film. The film with image can be stored for later use but at some point the film and garment are placed in a heat press to force the ink onto the fabric.

This approach is generally seen as being cheaper than printing direct to garments. It also has the advantage of working with a wide range of fabrics but the ink does sit on the surface instead of penetrating into the fabric, which affects the handle of the material. It’s typically used for items such as t-shirts but really comes into its own with less obvious objects such as umbrellas. Besides the printer you will also need a powder shaker unit which some vendors leave to their local sales channels to source.

This prototype of PolyPrint’s FilmJet is an automated DtF printer.

That said, PolyPrint showed off a genuinely innovative approach to DtF with a prototype of its upcoming FilmJet machine. This is an all in one automated unit that includes the printing and film processing. It takes rolls up to 60cm wide. PolyPrint already has a proven range of DtG printers so has reused its existing print engines. Consequently it uses Epson I3200 printheads.

After the printing stage, the powder is applied and the media is shaken to ensure the optimum amount of powder is spread evenly across the printed image. The next stage is an oven with IR lamps to cure the print on the film before the film passes to the rewinder. 

It can take rolls up to 100m long, which will take 6 hours to process. The key to is the automation which allows for unattended printing overnight. PolyPrint is planning a beta testing program over the next few months and it should be commercially available around September or October of this year.

Azon Printer has developed this Primo+ Neon 10-colour DtF printer

The Croatian printer manufacturer Azon Printer showed off its latest DtF system, the Primo+ Neon X, a 60cm wide printer that looks like an evolution of its existing Pronto+Neon X. What sets these printers apart from other DtF machines is the number of colour channels. There are ten colour channels in total, for CMYK plus two whites and a further four neon colours – magenta, yellow, red and green. Even more unusual – it’s fitted with a single printhead, a 10-channel Epson PrecisionCore TFP.

The main difference between the new Primo+ Neon X and the existing Pronto+ Neon X is that the Primo+  model is more highly automated. It features automatic nozzle check and cleaning, and has some ink recirculation and agitation of the ink tanks to prevent sedimentation. There is also an automatic maintenance of the system. 

The Primo+ Neon X has an LCD colour touch screen and runs an EFI RIP. Itis already available, although the order backlog means that new customers will have to wait till the beginning of August.

Ricoh also showed a rebadged version of this printer on its stand but using Ricoh’s own powder and film.

Mimaki’s TxF150 is the companys first DtF printer.

Mimaki, which has long been a pioneer in digital textile printing, announced its first direct to film printer earlier this year, the TxF150-75, which made its European debut at the show. The TxF150-75 is based on Mimaki’s existing 150 series wide format printers. It has a maximum printing width of 80cm, with five colours – CMYK plus white – with a circulation system for the white ink. The printer uses a piezo printhead with resolution up to 1440 dpi, which suggests its using an Epson head. It’s fitted with Mimaki’s proven nozzle check unit and nozzle recovery system. 

Mimaki has also developed a new water-based PHT50 heat transfer pigment ink to go with this printer. The inkis supplied in 600ml aluminium packs for the colours and 500ml for the white ink, both with built-in degassing.

Aeoon’s Kyo Hybrid combines screen printing with digital technology.

I came across an interesting machine on the Aeoon stand, the Kyo Hybrid, now in its third generation. From the front, this is essentially an inkjet DtG printer but with a screen printing station at the back. This won’t suit everyone but it does make for a very flexible solution that can handle a wide range of different fabrics, including cotton, polyester and viscose.

The screen printing and digital parts can be used separately or combined either to produce interesting effects or to save ink on longer runs. The digital side of it uses a pretreatment but only lays this down on the areas to be printed. There are three print stations. It can be configured with eight printheads for two sets of CMYK or 12 heads to include four channels of white with resolution up to 600 x 2400 dpi. It has a print image of 40x20cm.

Elsewhere, several companies showed varying degrees of interest in wallpaper printing. Xeikon, best known for label and commercial printing machines, made its first appearance at a Fespa show with a complete wallpaper printing line. Canon also demonstrated its Colorado integrated into a wallpaper production line. Wallpaper is a target market for most of the resin printers, including Brother, Epson and Roland, partly because HP has already demonstrated considerable success in this area with its Latex range. 

In conclusion, even though Fespa seems to have recovered from the impact of the pandemic and was almost as large and busy as previous years, it still seems to me that vendors are having to choose carefully which shows to support, which is probably as much to do with ongoing supply chain issues and the current economic conditions. Consequently many vendors have held back their textile machines for the ITMA show, where I expect to see a broader range of rollfed textile printers. I’ll be at ITMA for the rest of this week so if anyone wants to meet with me, then do drop me a line here.

Next year’s main Fespa event will take place in Amsterdam in March 2024 in order to avoid clashing with Drupa.



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