In recent years Fespa has hosted a growing number of textile printers of all shapes and sizes aimed at everything from soft signage to garment production, which has reflected the chaotic state of this emerging market.
In part this is because the vendors themselves are confused about how to market the textile printers they are developing. So at past Fespa’s we’ve seen everything from Durst’s industrial scale Alpha to smaller 1.3m dye sub machines printing to paper for testing and prototyping clothing designs. Vendors have seemed unwilling or unable to distinguish between soft signage, ultra short run industrial garments or high volume home furnishings.
The last couple of Fespa shows feel as if they’ve been split across two distinct markets – display graphics and textile printing. But at this year’s Berlin show the textile printers seemed to be a more coherent part of the overall show and most vendors seemed to have a clearer idea as to the target markets they were aiming for.
That said, the overall printed textile market is still extremely diverse. The most basic element, at least in terms of a show like Fespa, is the soft signage, and there were several printers aimed at this. EFI, for example, added inline fixation to its Vutek FabriVu 340 to create the 340i, which should be a more attractive option for people looking to get into the soft signage market. You can turn off the inline fixation and use the machine for printing to transfer paper, together with a separate calendar for the sublimation, which makes for a better workflow, providing you’ve built up the volume of work to justify the cost of the heat press.
The direct to garment market now covers an enormous range of machines. One of the smallest was Ricoh’s Ri100, an extremely compact, desktop machine measuring just 399 x 698mm. It’s a complete solution, with an option to include a separate heat press, the Ricoh Rh100 Finisher, which has the same footprint so that the printer can be stacked on top of it. It prints mainly to cotton, including blends of up to 50 percent cotton and can be used for short runs of promotional and personalised items like T-shirts, cloth bags, cushion covers and sweatshirts.
But Fespa also now caters for the short run garment sector. Kornit, for example, has continued to roll out its HD printing system across its range and used the show to update its Storm range with a new Storm HD6 garment printer. Essentially the HD technology is a combination of Kornit’s NeoPigment Rapid ink, which offers a bigger colour gamut, plus smaller drop sizes, which should give better resolution and significant ink savings. The ink can be used with the existing Storm printers but only the HD6 version can print with the smaller drop sizes. The HD printing was originally developed for Kornit’s Vulcan system and was also added to the Avalanche series earlier this year.
Kornit also showed off its Allegro printer with neon inks and a complete production demonstration that included a sewing machine and Zund cutting table, as well as an Avalanche HD machine connected to a web-to-print ordering workflow. This was the same set-up that was shown at the Heimtextil show back in January.
Kornit’s main rival is perhaps the Italian company MS Printing Solutions, which also showed off a similar factory workflow, complete with printing, finishing and people sewing finished garmets.
At the more industrial end of the market, NoeCha brought its new inkjet textile printer, the NoeCha Roll2 Sublimation to Fespa. This is a big machine and comes with a substantial housing that makes it seem much bigger. It’s a roll to roll system, designed for printing to sublimation transfer paper and aimed firmly at the fashion and textile industry, particularly sportswear. It takes rolls up to 1.8m wide and prints at 850 linear metres per hour or about 14mpm.
The printer can be configured with up to eight colours, and there can up to five printheads per colour. Marketing manager Stephanie Duvivier says that she expects most customers to take the full package to give the maximum productivity, pointing out that people buy large expensive printers to cope with high volumes.
There’s a direct to textile variant, the Roll2 Textile, where there is a choice of different inks that can be used with various substrates, including disperse, acid, reactive and pigmented inks. There’s also a version for Blueback paper and folding carton, which can be used with UV or water-based inks.
EFI Reggiani discussed its new six colour pigment ink with binder with CMYK plus red and blue. Giorgio Sala, EFI Reggiani’s ink application specialist, says that it was developed in Italy with help from Vutek, adding: “We can eliminate the post treatment. In the drier we can fix the ink because the binder is inside the ink.” He adds: “The new ink is designed for Kyocera printheads, which all of our machines have, so we can use it with the existing machines.”
He says that customers mostly use these machines for home furnishing and fashion and that they are suitable for printing to materials with natural fibres such as cotton and linen.
Mimaki showed off a new version of the Tiger 1800, having used last year’s show to launch the original model, which was developed by its subsidiary La Meccanica. This new model has gained a number of features typical to Mimaki printers, such as its MAPS nozzle redundancy technology and also now has a lot of automated maintenance, which is really crucial to address the industrial market. It’s got Kyocera printheads, with the resolution raised from 600dpi to 1200 dpi. Mimaki has developed a reactive dye ink and is working on pigment and Acid Dye inks for it, which should be available by the end of this year or early next year.
In conclusion, I can’t help thinking that there is really a need for a separate show, dedicated to digital textile printing. Traditional textile shows like Heimtextil aren’t really interested in digital printing because it’s just a fraction of the overall textile market. Fespa, on the other hand, is completely correct in identifying this market but it’s all mixed up with the display graphics. There’s clearly a place for textile-based display graphics or soft signage. There’s even room for limited printing of furnishings and garments.
But it’s clear at this last Fespa that the market for printed textiles really wants to move beyond this, to include short run fashion, on-demand industrial garment and furnishing production. The printer vendors developing this equipment are mostly the same companies making wide format printers for display graphics. But it seems to me that the customers are different, both in terms of the people ordering the printing kit and the end customers buying the final products. So I’m left wondering if there isn’t a need for a smaller, more dedicated show that can connect these textile buyers with the printing service providers and the printer vendors, which Fespa would certainly be well-placed to organise.