Put a sock in it

One of the more niche printers that I saw at this year’s Itma show was the Ginga sock printer from Ichinose, which can produce personalised socks. Ichinose is part of the Japanese Toshin Kogyo company, which mostly develops conventional textile and screen printing machines.

Ichinose showed off this digital Ginga sock printer.

My sisters think it’s funny to buy me colourful and outlandish socks and I get my own back by wearing them so I appreciate a good sock. Most of the drive to digitally-printed clothing has concentrated on tee-shirts and socks have largely been left behind, though there’s plenty of scope for creative design. Then again, socks generally tend to be wool or cotton rather than polyester. 

The Ginga is most likely to be used for short run production, allowing designers to come up with a wide range of different options. The major advantage of this machine is that it saves on wasted material as a conventional knitting machine wastes some 20 percent of yarn. 

There’s a choice of inksets starting with acid-based ink to print to wool as well as reactive inks for printing to cotton. The sock is loaded onto an arm, which pulls it into the machine for printing. The arm can be replaced with a different attachment for other items such as tee-shirts. 

The company is also looking at robotics for automated loading and transferring to the post-processing to increase productivity. The arm is made of carbon fibre and can withstand 200°C heat, which is essential as the acid inks also require pretreatment plus washing and steaming post-printing.

The printer costs €250,000. They’ve already sold several with two in the US and one in Japan.

This Ichninose Iugo combines inkjet and screen printing.

Ichinose also showed off another interesting machine, the Iugo Europe, which is a hybrid consisting of an inkjet printer with a screen printing unit on the back of it. Iugo is the Latin word for couple.

In general, inkjet struggles with producing solid blacks and colours so this is an interesting way of getting around this problem. The inkjet is used to print the intricate pattern with the screen filling in the solids. 

This also has the advantage of significantly reducing the consumption of the inkjet ink as the cheaper screen inks take care of the major part of the design. The results are certainly quite impressive and difficult to reproduce with a purely digital solution.

The inkjet engine comes from Konica Minolta’s proven Nassenger 10 textile printer. The basic unit has six colours though it can be configured with up to nine colours. The print resolution is 360dpi. It can produce up to 9mpm in draft mode. It has a maximum print width of 1.85m and takes fabric up to 8mm thick. It uses reactive inks and is mainly designed to print to cotton though they are also developing disperse dye ink.

The screen section includes up to three units for printing multiple colours. The screen printing can handle all the usual effects including gold, silver or glitter.

For Itma, Ichinose showed a reduced line with the inkjet printer and the screen printing unit. But the full set up includes an unwinder and pretreatment unit before the inkjet and a hot air dryer and rewinder after the screen printing.

The machine costs $1.3 million including pretreatment and three screen printing units. Ichinose appears to be selling this printer through Konica Minolta, which also provides the service and support for the inkjet component. There is some limited information at www.toshin-kogyo.co.jp though this is only in Japanese. 

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