By: Anna Dang and Catherine Kai Lin Cha
Inkjet fabric printing in the fashion industry has created a new way for us to explore and express garments and their capabilities. Material sourcing for textile printing is an essential part of the production process from the ink to different fabrics used, allowing optimal quality for consumers.
When printing on textiles, designers must consider the compatibility of the inks and fabrics. Fabrics for swimwear, like nylon, silk and lycra, for example, can use acid-dye inkjet inks as they are resistant to fading from water and chlorine. Other fabrics like cotton and wool need reactive inks. These inks provide strong resistance to liquid and chemically react with natural fibres on the material. Many other fabrics are used for printing like acrylic, vinyl, mesh, linen, chiffon, sateen, charmeuses, scrims, georgettes and knits.
The main obstacle that companies, specifically ink manufacturers, have is finding the right binder that is in tune with all fabrics; some textiles are pre-treated with a primer helping the ink bind to the fabric. Designers now have a vast array of ink and fabric options to use, allowing them to easily and creatively express themselves.
Moving into textile printing has also enabled the opportunity for fashion designers to work closely with their clients. This process can happen on the spot, allowing for short fashion cycles as the designs are printed instantly with an inkjet fabric printer. Instead of sourcing the product internationally, clients and consumers have a quicker turnaround time by producing the fabrics locally. With the proper equipment (ie., printer, heat press, conveyor oven), small businesses could produce their garments, proof it in-house, and analyze the market for their product before going into mass production.
When it comes to on-demand printing services (e.g. Vistaprint, Redbubble, Society6, other boutique design studios) the cost of customization is pushed onto the consumer. Personalization allows distributors to price these products with a profit margin due to “service-as-a-product” being included in the cost of the final custom product. Although the cost per run may be higher for a single, personalized product, consumers are willing to pay for that unique quality. This also opens the door for premium pricing. Unique designs demand higher prices due to their scarcity. Now high-end brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Hermes depend on inkjet printing to test new designs on customers, delivering products to market faster.
From a mass-production view, digital printing offers manufacturers the option of smaller, “direct-to-textile” print runs in comparison to conventional screen printing. Multiple, varied single-pass prints, could be easily created in the digital prototyping process. Meanwhile, screen printing requires the additional manufacture of screening stencils. Fixed setup costs such as screen-engraving, colour separation, and ink mixing labour are eliminated in digital inkjet printing. Screens must also be cleaned regularly, releasing residual ink into the wastewater system. When it comes to sustainability, the environmental footprint of inkjet is smaller.
Despite the efficiency of digital inks, digitally-printed pieces can still cost twice as much as screen-printed ones due to the high cost of digital inks. Nonetheless, digital printing is still on the rise due to its quick turnaround times and wide colour gamuts.
Due to the flexibility of digital printing, more patterned prints are showing up in textiles today. Some manufacturers will still need to choose between the high print quality and sustainability of digital printing or the low cost and conventional nature of the screen-printing process. However, the development of sustainable inkjet textile technology has been improving throughout the years. New wide-format digital textile printers such as the EFI Reggiani Bolt can reproduce prints up to 600 x 4,800 dpi on a single pass. The Colaris3 Digital Printer can be configured with up to 96 industrial printheads. Thus, the future of inkjet textile printing is still bright and full of possibilities.
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