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Inkjet’s New Frontier

(March 2014) posted on Tue Mar 18, 2014

Most industrial applications today remain the realm of analog printing processes, particularly screen printing, but inkjet is rapidly gaining momentum.

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By Ron Gilboa

Textile printing applications are highly dependent on the ink system being used. Pigment and reactive-based inks allow for printing of natural based fibers such as cotton, silk, and linen. It should be noted that pigment inks are also capable of printing on poly/cotton blends. Direct-dispersion inks are used on polyester and acrylic fiber. Nylon, silk, and wool are commonly printed using acid-based inks. Digital solutions are available for all of these materials, although printers generally must know which textiles they’ll be printing before purchasing a machine.
Two Italian companies are among the innovators in developing solutions for industrial textile printing. Ten years ago, Robustelli, a company with significant expertise in fabric-handling systems, partnered with Epson to develop the first Monna Lisa printer. A full range of printers are now offered in the line, including the Monna Lisa Evo, which can print fabrics up to 126 in. wide at speeds approaching 7500 sq ft/hr. Regianni, another company with deep roots in analog textile-printing technology, also developed its DReAM, its digital-printing platform for textiles, in 2003. Its latest generation printer, the ReNOIR, is an 8-color grayscale printer available in three widths, and can print up to 4300 sq ft/hr on a range of substrates suitable for apparel, home textiles, banners, as well as leather digital printing.

Another vendor deserving mention here is the Israeli company Kornit, better known to the readers of Screen Printing for its direct-to-garment solutions. Last year, Kornit entered the production roll-fed textile printing market in a big way with its Allegro printer, which can print fabric up to 70.8 in. wide at speeds up to 3200 sq ft/hr. Of particular note, the Allegro uses the firm’s NeoPigment inks, which allow multiple fabric types to be printed on one device without changing ink sets and bypassing the number of finishing operations traditionally required for certain fabrics and applications.

Despite hardships in the industry, the US remains one of the largest automotive markets in the world with a large network of parts and suppliers that account for 3% of the manufacturing sector and $171 billion in revenue in 2011, according to the US Census. Beyond the myriad of labels found throughout an automobile are many other printed components and decorative elements including dashboards, radios, control panels, windshields, and custom upholstery. Inkjet’s advantages are particularly compelling in a market that is always affected by cost and timing pressures in manufacturing.


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