By: Tiffany Quach and Noah Ing
Digital vs. Conventional Fabric Printing
Conventional fabric printing is best used for long fabric lengths. Rotary printing technology can print 30 metres of fabric per minute; it’s a fast, continuous and economical printing method. Convention printing uses engraved screens allowing ink/paste to pass through the colour areas onto the substrate, each screen corresponding to each colour. This is particularly beneficial for long printing runs because one screen for each colour can be used a multitude of times before being replaced. However, for short runs, conventional printing is uneconomical. The wastage of fabrics and inks, labour costs and the costs of additional activities are too high to justify taking on a small run.
Small fabric printing jobs are where digital printing is truly about to shine, from the proofing to the production process. Digital printing uses one of two major printing systems: Drop-on-Demand (DOD) and Continuous Inkjet printing (CIJ). In both printing processes, ink droplets are applied directly onto the substrate, without the use of screens. Digital printing is about to create an unlimited choice of repeats and offer any number of colourways. Rather than using a paste for colour, digital inkjet printing uses a water-based pigment to achieve colour.
Advantages of Digital Inkjet Printing
Since digital printing uses a continuous inkjet printing or drop-on-demand printing system, there is no use of individual screens or plates for each colour. This eliminates the need to register the screens, saving time and money in labour. The lack of usage of screens also eliminates the costs for screen engraving, paste making and wastage. The reduction of time from design to production is a great benefit for digital printing, also enabling it to be used for Just-in-Time printing and customized fabric patterns.
Digital inkjet printing can be very beneficial for the fashion industry when printing on textiles. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, being able to decrease or eliminate an entire production step can help decrease those carbon emissions. Because inkjet inks are water-based, there is no longer any need for thickeners or paste. This is also beneficial for inventory and pollution control costs. The lack of thickeners and pastes provides a safe work environment and frees up storage space and the cost that comes along with it. Also, inkjet digital printing has lower water and energy consumption compared to conventional fabric print. The lower consumption is attributed to the elimination of screens, no longer needing to engrave, print wash, and screen wash lowers the use of water and energy. This also lowers the pollution load in the production process. All these advantages to inkjet printing are particularly beneficial when producing short fabric runs, items like specialty and/or custom fabrics.
Fashion Industry in Relation to Inkjet Printing
As aforementioned, the fashion industry attributes to high rates of global carbon emissions this is mostly due to a trend known as fast fashion. It is a type of clothing trend that is reliant on current and disposable designs which results in a loss in quality as it must be put onto market as fast as possible which in turn causes consumers to dispose of garments at a fast rate from lack of product quality. This high rate of disposal and short product life cycle has created the issue of 87% textiles landfilled or incinerated and is on the rise. With regards to the inkjet printing process, this method puts more focus on individual product quality over quantity. This moves away from the current fast fashion trend that has led to the demand for mass production. Many consumers are now seeking a more environmentally friendly product while maintaining high quality. Based on a survey conducted by Hubbub a UK organization focused on eco-friendly solutions, states that 65% of residents would like change within the fashion industry and want more quality products over cheap disposable ones. 49% would even be willing to spend more on goods that utilize environmentally friendly methods. Therefore, it is prudent we step away from fast fashion as the fashion industry’s expected carbon emissions are to rise by 2.8 billion tonnes by 2030.
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