Specialty imagers find, once again, that the question of analog versus digital isn’t a black-and-white one. What could be the impact on garment decoration if we leverage the best of both worlds?
Still, the hybrid approach has limitations, the most obvious one being the analog underbase. Printing the white ink via screen may be more production-friendly, but it doesn’t lend itself to short runs or variable-data printing, applications that helped give rise to DTG in the first place. It also introduces another process with its own potential points of failure into the mix. Just as wide-format inkjet did in the commercial graphics market, DTG has brought an interesting variety of new players into garment decoration that aren’t screen printers and never were. Some of these producers are also in search of higher-productivity equipment, but it’s hard to see them bringing mesh and squeegees into their businesses.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of hybrid printing is its flexibility. Thinking about how printers may employ the technology in the field brings some intriguing ideas to mind. For example, one approach to getting around the limitations of a common underbase would be to use the extra stations to load multiple screens with design variations that would be applied after the CMYK is printed. If a 2000-piece order involved five groups of 400 with different city names, the printer could load all five of the screens in a single setup and program the print controller accordingly. Printers could do the same thing by selling jobs with common designs and varying special effects, offering clients the ability to offer many more design options without making the jobs cumbersome for the printer to produce.
A similar idea would be to develop designs in which a common underbase could accommodate variable images. Picture a licensed sports design featuring a cap or helmet and text elements that could be universal – the year and the name of the league, for example. Instead of dropping in different text for each team, the design on the cap or helmet could be varied instead without requiring a change to the underbase.
Such ideas will require a new mindset throughout a printer’s organization. It goes beyond waiting for an order to come in that combines a photorealistic halftone with puff type in order to turn the DTG station on. Printers will need to look creatively at how the two technologies can be combined to produce garments that neither process can do alone, and then think strategically about how to bring those creations to market.
Printers will also need to think out of the box about how to reinvent their production strategies to truly leverage hybrid technology. Can they find ways to run jobs in parallel, with conventional orders running alongside DTG prints (with or without an underbase or post-print embellishments)? Would a second or third DTG head lead to exponential productivity gains if things like job staging and multiple load/unload stations could be worked out? The possibilities seem unlimited, and suggest a future that goes far beyond a simple choice between screen and inkjet printing.
Explore the rest of Screen Printing's October/November 2017 issue.
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