HP moves into textiles market

HP is expanding into textiles with a new HP Stitch brand. To start with, this will include a new range of S-series dye sublimation printers with, of course, accompanying Stitch-branded inks and media.

HP’s S500 is a 1.6m wide dye sublimation printer that can be set up for unattended printing of longer runs.

Joan Perez Pericot, general manager of HP’s large format graphics, explains: “Textiles is the next big opportunity. We are surrounded by textiles from the day we are born, in our clothing, in our offices, our homes, our vehicles and it’s really a big part of the market.”

There are three printers, which all look as if they’re based on HP’s existing latex printer chassis. These include two 1.6m printers, the entry-level S300 and the slightly more upmarket S500, plus a much bigger 3.2m wide S1000. They can print both to transfer paper and direct to fabric, although you will still need a separate heat press for the actual sublimation. They are all aimed at the interior decoration, fashion and sportswear markets as well as soft signage.

Naturally these printers use HP’s proven thermal printheads, with 1200 dpi native resolution. Strangely, HP has opted to champion its user replaceable printheads as a major advantage, whilst glossing over the fact that you have to change the heads as they are a consumable item. Estimated printhead life is 6-8 litres for the 1.6m machines, which is longer than the lifespan with the latex inks but HP’s confidence only extends to the same 1 litre warranty period.

These printers incorporate a new Drop and Dry Printzone drying system, which allows them to handle thinner papers without cockling. This is basically heaters located close to the thermal printheads, plus fans to blow warm air over the surface of the print. HP is also pre-heating the media. 

HP has also included automatic maintenance, a media advance control that should limit the risk of banding and nozzle compensation system. The printers also have an embedded X-Rite I1 spectrophotometer, which connect with online colour tools such as media profiles. 

Ester Sala, HP’s worldwide textile business director, says that its fundamental to be able to print the same colours consistently across a range of clothing, and that dye sublimation is sensitive to changes in the environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature. Sala adds: “We can warranty that we deliver the right colour and in an easy way with time savings because we can deliver colour consistency below 1∆E and between jobs meaning that we can warranty that the colours a customer will get printer to printer will also be below 1∆E. This together with an easy profiling tool will help them manage colour and media profiling in a much easier way.” The word ‘warranty’ suggests a legally-binding guarantee, which usually only applies to a limited range of substrates, so it will be interesting to see what this actually means in practice. 

Naturally HP claims that the inks will produce deep blacks and vivid colours, though to be honest, everybody says that when they announce new dye sub printers to a group of journalists. 

Both of the 1.6m models are controlled via an 8ins touchscreen and feature front media loading, which is useful when working in tight spaces. The S300 is positioned as an easy to use machine. It has four heads, running CMYK inks and using 775cc ink cartridges. Print speeds range fro 17 to 62 sqm/hr with the 4-pass Production mode giving a very reasonable 32 sqm/hr. It comes with an Ergosoft RIP Color Edition complete with HP’s branded transfer paper, and the profile library, which of course, is absolutely essential to convince users to buy more of the transfer paper. 

The S500 is a faster machine aimed at higher volume users. It has double the printheads, taking two sets of CMYK and printing at a maximum speed of 110 sqm/hr in a one-pass mode, which HP claims is of sellable quality. However, HP’s data sheet for this printer lists Production Quality as a 3-pass mode printing at 43 sqm/hr. The inks come in three litre boxes so the printer can be left to run unattended for long runs. It has a tension-sensing winder that will take rolls up to 350m and up to 54.8KG. It will take lightweight papers down to 25gsm. 

The two smaller machines are being shown at the ISA show in the US this week, while the S1000 will be officially launched at the Fespa show in May (though it is in a back room at ISA and HP says that it will show it to some visitors). I’ll revisit this story later in May when I’ve had a chance to see these printers at Fespa, and when we have more details on the S1000 and a better understanding of HP’s intentions for this market. 

Both the S300 and S500 printers should be available from June this year, with the S1000 launched in May and available in July. We should get some idea of pricing by then. In the meantime, you can find more information at HP’s website here.

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