Textile Printing: A Significant Opportunity for In-plants
Digital textile printing is growing fast. Big brands like Home Depot and Target are moving all of their retail printing to textile printing, and there is a big movement in venues and events as well. This is not a trend to ignore or dismiss.
The prevalent technology in the digital textile printing space in the U.S. is dye sublimation — whether it’s paper transfer or direct-to-textile. However, don’t miss out on this opportunity if your platform is latex as this technology can print well on many different fabrics.
There are many benefits to printing on fabric, and a couple to consider right off the top are ease of shipping, both in weight and foldability as compared to vinyl banners, and the ability to clean the textile (especially if it’s been printed with dye sublimation). An example of this is the backdrop step-and-repeat that I use for video calls or meetings. Initially I was provided with a 10x10´ vinyl banner backdrop. This backdrop arrived in a 10´ tube (remember you can’t fold vinyl banners well), and this left me with a very large backdrop that was unwieldy and difficult to store when not in use.
Contrast that with the current textile backdrop I use. I can easily adjust the size of the fabric without worrying about wrinkles or creases, and because it was printed using dye sublimation, I can throw it in the washing machine to clean it when it gets dirty.
Ten years ago, most of the trade show and retail signage was likely to be vinyl banners or in some cases rigid panels. When you saw fabric at an event it was in the garments people were wearing. Inflexible was the name of the game. Now it’s unusual to see a vinyl banner at a trade show or in a retail environment. Soft signage is in.
The home décor market is exploding as well. Consumers want everything customized: drapery, pillow cases, wall coverings, napkins, table cloths, even throw rugs. As the technology improves (pigment inks are the future in this space), you will see even more items being custom printed.
Finishing: ‘Not That Difficult’
Far too often I hear people say they don’t want to get into textile printing because of the finishing, whether that’s cutting, sewing, or a combination of the two. As my friend Kerry King from Spoonflower shared with me, “most soft signage and even a large amount of the home décor market is just rectangles and squares.” With a little bit of skill and maybe a piece of equipment, this is not that difficult.
For cutting, don’t jump into that laser cutter until you have thought through your applications. If you are doing mostly dye sublimation, which means printing on polyester, then a laser can be your friend. The edges are sealed by the laser cutting process, eliminating frayed edges. However, if you are printing on a lot of natural fibers, a rotary cutting wheel is much better, and I have been in facilities that do almost all their cutting by hand (whether apparel or soft signage).
For sewing, a number of manufacturers (e.g., Miller Weldmaster, Matic, and Henderson Sewing) make affordable automated solutions when it comes to sewing squares and rectangles. And if you are only doing soft signage, and SEG (Silicone Edge Graphics) is your bailiwick, look at KederTape LITE for SEG by BannerUps.com. This product allows you to apply KederTape with silicone (this is the silicone edge that goes into the frames) by hand. Granted, this can be a little tedious, but for someone looking to get into this market — using a latex printer for instance — this solution works without a big expenditure.
Something to Consider
If you already have an HP Latex printer and are looking to make a big splash into textile, consider the HP Stitch printers. The Stitch uses the same type of user-replaceable thermal inkjet printheads. HP manufactures its own ink, which is water based, so it’s environmentally friendly and safe. The ink is suitable for multiple applications like soft signage, home décor, sportswear, and fashion. Depending on the application, you can choose either a transfer or direct printing process using the same printer. There’s no need for an ink purge and no need for two printers with different ink types taking up valuable floor space.
Direct transfer printing is good for items like flags and backlit signage, where you want to have heavy saturation for double-sided viewing, or for dark colors that won’t wash out in a light box. However, transfer printing might be preferred for other applications such as home décor, fashion, and sportswear. The versatility of the HP ink being able to print to transfer paper or direct to fabric is a big advantage for in-plants looking to expand their applications and save on space and overall costs, with a single printer solution.
Textile printing is a growing market and one that has significant opportunity. Don’t be afraid to put your toe into the water if you currently have a latex printer. And if you want to make a big splash, look to add dye sublimation to your repertoire. I’m confident you won’t be sorry.
Related story: Digital Textile Printing's Vibrant Future
Ray assists association members with information on digital printing as well as digital equipment, materials, and vendor referrals. He oversees training and certification workshops at PRINTING United Alliance. Ray is project manager for both the PDAA Certification program and the PRINTING United Alliance Digital Color Professional Certification program and is an instructor for the Color Management Boot Camps as well as a G7 expert. Ray regularly contributes to the Association's Journal and won the 2016 Swormstedt Award for Best in Class writing in the Digital Printing category. Ray was inducted into the Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technologies (ASDPT) in 2020. He also works with SkillsUSA to conduct the National Competition for Graphics Imaging Sublimation. Outside of work, Ray enjoys biking, international cuisine and spending time with his three fantastic grandkids.