Kornit aims to simplify textile production

Kornit formally launched its Presto roll fed textile printer, which does away with the need for both pre- and post-treatment, as well as a new Konnect cloud-based analytics service.

Kornit launched the Presto direct to fabric printer, seen here with its dedicated drying and curing unit.

Kornit has been on quite a journey, starting in 2004 with its Storm, which allows users to print two t-shirt sized garments side by side. Most of the printers since then have used a similar chassis but with considerable changes to the printing engine, particularly in terms of the ink chemistry as the company has sought to simplify the processes around textile production. In 2012 Kornit introduced its first roll to roll model, the Allegro, which expanded the range of applications it could address. 

CEO Ronen Samuel identifies three main trends, starting with a general desire, particularly amongst the millennial generation for personal expression. He notes: “Fashion is changing on a daily basis.” But it’s the second trend – for ecommerce – that’s really driving the success of companies like Kornit. Samuel says: “Even five years ago you would not order your shoes or garments online because you would want to wear it first but now it’s very easy to order things online.”  

Omer Kulka, Kornit’s vice president of marketing and product strategy, adds that apparel passed electronics as the largest online shopping category back in 2015, adding: “It’s now the largest segment online and the fastest growing and this is continuing to be the trend.”

The third of Samuel’s trends is sustainability, with the idea being that digital printing consumes less water than conventional production. It’s certainly true that there’s a lot less pollution involved in digital printing, but it’s not really clear how increased production is going to affect the overall environmental footprint, or what steps anyone is actively taking to recycle this clothing but that’s a discussion for another day.

Samuel says that up to now Kornit has exploited the market for customized designs, but that the company wants to expand into the slightly larger market for promotional goods, and the much bigger sector where brands and private labels play, which includes Gucci, Addidas, Zara and H&M. 

Ronen Samuel, CEO of Kornit, speaking at the company’s press conference at Itma 2019.

To this end, Itma marked the commercial launch of the direct to fabric Presto printer, though this was announced earlier this year. This is a 1.8m wide roll to roll printer that also includes a separate drying and curing unit, with a sticky belt to transfer the printed material from printer to finishing unit. For now there’s only one installed at a beta side though Theo van Bruggen, Kornit’s EMEA sales manager for direct to fabric machines, says that more are due to be installed straight after the show.

This printer uses a new Robusto inkset but the key to it lies in its water-based fixation solution, which is jetted through its own printheads. Van Bruggen explains: “The software recognises the fixation as a colour so it only puts the fixation where it puts the ink.” He adds: “Also, the level of fixation depends on the colour so that we need more pretreatment with darker colours.” It’s a wet on wet process with the fixation acting as a binder, holding the pigment ink to stop it from spreading. This allows the Presto to print to virtually any type of fabric, including natural and knitted materials, but it also means that the ink sits on top of the fabric and doesn’t physically penetrate into the fibres.

This chemistry is complemented by the drier, which circulates hot air at 160°C for four minutes to vaporise the water content and then cures the ink so that chemical particles within the ink bond the ink to the fixation and the fixation to the fabric.

The Presto has six colours – CMYK plus red and green – and uses three heads per colour plus another three for the fixation, so 21 in total. The heads themselves are Fujifilm Dimatix Starfire 1024. It’s a scanning machine, with the carriage moving left to right, laying down both fixation and colours in the first pass, with just the colours on the return pass.

The machine on the stand at Itma was the Presto S, which has double the number of heads at 42. The maximum speed is 450 sqm/hr though Kulka says that the beta site is achieving 300 sqm/hr at a sellable quality. This would mean 600 x 800 dpi resolution though the printer can achieve 1000 x 800 dpi, albeit at much slower speeds. There’s also space on the carriage for another colour to be added and van Bruggen says that neon colours will be available within a few weeks.

Theo van Bruggen, Kornit’s EMEA sales manager for direct to fabric, showing the Presto S at Itma 2019.

Kulka also highlighted the sticky belt, saying: “Every system has a sticky belt and these belts need to be washed. We have a closed loop system so we only have to replace the water every few weeks.”

It’s aimed at the fashion and home decor markets with the price starting at €550,000. The plan is that the Presto will eventually replace the Allegro with Kulka noting: “It opens up more opportunities.” I’ve little doubt that this will prove to be a success for Kornit. The company has been extremely focussed, concentrating on the very short run and on-demand markets, and has worked hard to minimise the number of processes involved. The Presto’s ability to print to any fabric without pre-treatment is useful, but it’s the ability to take the prints straight out of the curing unit without requiring any further washing, steaming or other processes that will really make the difference.

Besides the Presto, Kornit also announced a new cloud-based system, Konnect, which allows customers to monitor their production and to see the costs for each job. For now, Kornit Konnect includes a fleet management dashboard with data driven benchmarks, actual production costs, and cost structures per job. But the intention is to build on this to enable deeper insights to optimize production management.

Kulka says that the textile industry is not really data driven and there is some truth in this, though it’s worth noting that there are other vendors, such as Durst and HP, that also offer data services. There’s a definite trend in the graphics world toward data analytics and I would expect to see more of this in the textile printing market. 

Kornit also showed off its Atlas and the Avalanche Poly Pro systems, which were introduced earlier this year. Adidas has invested in both of these machines and is working with Kornit to help expand its own direct to garment offerings. To underscore this, Kornit printed several Addidas designs on these printers on the stand at the show. 

You can find more details on Kornit at www.kornit.com.

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