The writing’s on the wall

This year’s Heimtextil marked the 50th anniversary for this tradeshow, which aims to highlight trends in the interior design market. Given that textiles is said to be one of the biggest growth areas for digital printing I thought it would be worth a visit.

2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Heimtextil

There were less visitors than last year, which the organisers put down to growing economic uncertainty, consolidation amongst retailers and the fact the event took place right at the start of the year, in the very first week of 2020, which I can say from personal experience did make for an awkward start to the year.

Heimtextil, which claims to be the world’s biggest trade show and does take up most of the halls at Frankfurt Messe, is really more of a show for people designing and selling home decor than actually producing it. So there’s a great deal of focus on creative ideas but not much in the way of digital print.

I’ve certainly noticed that although the market for printed textiles is supposedly growing, each time I come to Heimtextil there seems to be fewer printer companies exhibiting. This is partly because printer vendors such as Durst that previously used Heimtextil to launch high profile textile printers have now figured out that ITMA is a more appropriate show since its focussed directly on machinery. And of course it doesn’t help that many vendors have set aside a large chunk of their exhibiting budget for Drupa. 

Indeed, I think this year’s Drupa is going to be a very different show to previous ones because so many of the press vendors, especially on the digital side, have branched out into newer markets, including textiles, packaging and industrial printing. And although there are specific shows for all these things, most of the vendors I have spoken to have said they are focusing on Drupa, though it remains to be seen if Drupa can truly attract visitors from all these new market areas as well as its more traditional focus on commercial printing.

For Heimtextil, digital printing was mostly relegated to a corner of Hall 3.0, in amongst all the designers where, as Elisa Beretti, event and operational marketing specialist for the JK Group, says: “Exhibitors come to look at the designers but not the machines”. 

The JK Group, which includes ink manufacturers JTeck and Kiian, is part of the Dover Digital Printing Group, which also counts MS Printing Solutions among its brands. MS showed a 3.2m wide JP4 Evo printing with a reactive ink, Digistar Bellagio, developed by Kiian Digital and which was introduced last year. This is designed for printing to cotton and other cellulosic fibres. Beretti says that this is still relatively new for the company, which has mostly concentrated on due sublimation, pigment and disperse inks.

Consequently the reactive ink is currently only available for use with Kyocera printheads, since all the MS machines use Kyocera heads, whereas most of the other inks from JK also work with Epson heads. Beretti says there is a large installed base of printers using Epson heads and so there is still a big demand for these inks. She adds that there is a growing demand for reactive inks.

HP showed off both a latex, and this Stitch dye sub printer at Heimtextil 2020.

Jane Rixon, business development manager for HP signage and decoration, says that there’s an advantage to lumping the digital printing in with the designers, noting: “We have had a lot of interest from the designers looking at a Stitch machine to print their samples on the textiles.” Rixon says that it’s important to HP to be seen at the show, to be part of the community, adding: “This is a show for our customers to sell their wares. It’s where the collections are launched.”

Actually, I’ve noted before that this is part of HP’s standard operating practice across all the markets where it has a stake, to work closely with buyers and designers and persuade them to specify HP’s offerings. It seems like a sensible approach and it always surprises me how much other vendors complain about this but don’t bother to do anything about it. 

HP showed off both a latex and a dye sub printer, and Rixon says that each have a place in the home decor market, with latex being better for surfaces that you might want to wipe clean whereas Stitch is suitable for things that need to be washed. She says that the show does offer further potential, explaining: “If there’s a wall covering company they might not be doing trims and curtains so they might be looking at Stitch so they can do the complete product range.” She adds: “It’s the washability that’s key to dye sub and with curtains you do have to clean them at some stage.”

Mtex also wants to play a bigger role in textile printing, as André Jacques, vice president of sales and marketing, explained: “Our customers are here exhibiting so it’s not like other shows where customers come to see the latest technology.” But he adds: “We are investing in home textiles anyway so it made sense for us to come here.”

Andre Jacques, vice president of sales and marketing for Mtex.

MTex showed two 3.2m wide textile printers. Of these, the Falcon was first shown at last year’s ITMA show with four colours and 16 printheads, but for Heimtextil Mtex demonstrated a newer 8-colour version with 32 printheads for CMYK plus green, blue, orange and grey. It uses a pigment ink and will print to cotton, poly cotton and polyester. It has 720 dpi resolution and can produce up to 152 sqm/hr.

Jacques says that it needs pretreated fabrics and that it’s better to have some form of post treatment for optimum efficiency and to get a smooth touch and feel to the printed fabric.

It costs €290,000 and is a cost-effective alternative to some of the MS and EFI Regianni printers. The principle difference is that those printers use a sticky belt to handle stretchy materials such as Lycra, but this belt and it’s stickiness needs careful management. The Falcon dispenses with the belt altogether, which limits it to only printing non-stretchable fabrics but as Jacques says: “The set up is much faster and we don’t need the glue.” He says that the prints will still require some pre- and post-treatment but that users can reduce the extent of these treatments, and that it offers much less water and energy usage. 

It’s been beta tested at Creaciones Euromoda, which has used it to produce some collections. Jacques adds: “They did their own tests on light fastness and achieved better results than we did!”

He says that there’s been a lot of interest in this printer, noting that it will take time for pigment technology to develop to the point where it can satisfy all applications, adding: “But for bed linen and upholstery it’s good enough in terms of colour gamut and definition.”

The second of the printers that Mtex showed, the Eagle, was launched at the last Fespa show. This has 16 printheads and uses CMYK disperse inks and comes complete with a built-in heated chamber rather than using IR lamps. It’s designed to print to polyester materials and can be used both for home decor applications as well as display graphics such as banners, flags and backlits. That said, Jacques says that customers are either in decor or visual communication but not both. It costs €190,000.

The printheads for both of these machines come from Konica Minolta but are actually heads developed by Panasonic, which Konica Minolta acquired last year. These heads do not have recirculation but Jacques says that the formulation of the ink gives a good flow through so that recirculation is not necessary. He says that the ink comes from a Japanese ink supplier, but won’t say which one. 

Heimtextil is more about textile design than printing.

Hall 3.1, directly above the designers and digital printers, was given over to wall coverings and this was perhaps the most obvious use of digital printing at Heimtextil, but I’ll come back to look at individual wall coverings in a separate story later.

However, in amongst the companies showing off wall coverings I did come across Olbrich, which makes equipment for conventional wall paper production. Olbrich has been working with Ricoh to develop an inkjet option, in conjunction with Marburg, one of the largest producers of wallpaper, which has been beta testing this inkjet production. Marburg itself showed off many new wallpaper designs, including several that had been printed on its Olbrich production line with the Ricoh system. This was probably the single most interesting thing that I came across at Heimtextil and I’ll write about this in more detail in another story to follow shortly.

Elsewhere, Felix Schoeller announced new wallpapers that have been developed in conjunction with Xeikon for use on Xeikon’s dry toner presses. These include ‘Vegas’, a coated wallpaper available with a silver or gold metallic effect, and Oslo, an embossed coated wallpaper. These are self-adhesive conventional non-woven wallpapers, which is to say that they are really PVC rather than paper. 

Xeikon does have quite a nice inline converting unit that takes the roll-fed prints coming out of its presses, varnishes and slits them before winding them onto a standard wallpaper roll, though this has been around for a while, having first been announced back in 2014. At Xeikon’s standard 508mm the rolls are slightly narrower than the usual 530mm of conventional wallpaper but the results have generally been quite good. However, Xeikon did not actually exhibit this at the show, opting to use its marketing budget for Drupa.

That doesn’t help me any as one of the main reasons I go to a number of different shows each year is so that I can deal with each specific market sector rather than being overwhelmed with everything in one go. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it’s possible to draw any really meaningful conclusions on the extent of digital printing in the home textile market on the basis of a short trip to Heimtextil. 

But it does seem to me that, despite the show being mainly aimed at designers, if the technology were more advanced then we would have seen more vendors exhibiting. Stepping away from the digital printers, it was interesting to look at the more creative side of the show, where there appeared to be a strong emphasis on texture and feel, coupled with a playfulness and a willingness to take risks just for the hell of it, that’s missing from the digital print side. Instead the digital print vendors are focused on trying to replicate some of what can be done conventionally, and reducing cost, and less on what else digital printing can bring to the table, which just underlines how immature the technology still is, at least as far as the home décor market is concerned. Then again, digital printing only accounts for around 5-6 percent of this market and so this huge potential for growth is also one of the most interesting aspects of this area. 

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