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The Rise of Digital Printing for Textiles

January 23, 2020 by Ray Cheydleur

Although digital printing has been around for many years, the industry is undergoing dramatic changes. On the plus side, digital print technologies utilize more durable inks and offer higher reliability, longer print life, and overall cost savings and efficiency. But these changes also mean print shops must adjust the way they operate to remain competitive.


According to Allied Market Research, the digital textile printing market is expected to reach almost $4 million globally by 2022, although I suspect it will be in the billions. Perhaps even more important is a 16% compound annual growth rate, though the numbers are all over the map depending on what part of digital textiles you look at.


Eswara Prasad, Chemicals & Materials Team Lead at Allied Market Research states, “The demand for printed fabrics is increasing, owing to rapid changes in fashion trends and longer print life. Moreover, rise in demand for efficient and cost-effective textile printing methods pose lucrative opportunities for players in the global digital textile printing market.” 

Rise of Digital Print for Textiles X-Rite Blog

Whether you’re thinking of entering the digital print market or trying to figure out what you need to do to complete, this is important information for you. 

Changes in Textile Printing

From using inkjet printing for prototypes and one-offs to being a major player in the market, the advent of digital printing is disrupting the way textile printers work. Here are three factors that are driving these changes. 

The Rise of Digital Printing for Textiles X-Rite Blog

1 – New Materials

Twenty-five years ago we could only print to polyesters and blends or transfer onto relatively smooth pre-coated materials. While dye sublimation remains the most common use in digital textile printing today, it’s not just reserved for polyesters. We’re seeing a lot more natural fibers such as silks, cottons, linens, wool, rayon, and other fabrics that have a lot of texture. Canvas and textured fabrics are also becoming more popular. 


These new fabrics open the door to exciting applications, but the texture of these fabrics poses a challenge for digital printers. Measuring coarse weaves with a spectrophotometer can cause inconsistent results. While a sphere geometry spectrophotometer with a large aperture can smooth out the readings of highly textured fabrics, this type of device is not optimized for most digital workflows. 


2 – Inconsistent Supply Chains

Another big change in the printed fabric market is the supply chain. We are getting a lot of our textiles from places that don’t have the level of control we used to see. In fact, in one facility I visited a not long ago, the base of the material changed by 5 Delta E from the beginning to the end of the roll. 


When working with inconsistent fabric color, digital printers need to be more conscientious about color control to ensure the final color is accurate. This requires more accurate color management tools and more frequent tolerance checks.


3 – New Types of Printers

There are many new printers on the market today, from desktop printers that can print directly onto t-shirts and other materials to bigger printers for dye sub, direct to fabric, and industrial prints. A lot of the fabric we see today is actually produced short run on industrial sized machines, which is a really big change in the whole printed fabric market. 

Many of the new HP and Epson machines, as well as new machines from traditional players like Kornit, are designed for custom one-offs as well as short-run production. These printers are allowing print shops to print small quantities on-demand, reducing the need for large warehouses. To do this successfully, print shops need to characterize both the device and the material together.  

The Rise of Digital Printing for Textiles Blog

Advances in Textile Calibration & Profiling 

We’ve recently released the i1Pro 3 Plus to help the digital textile market work efficiently and effectively. It is specifically designed to calibrate and profile a variety of textile substrates, including organic, synthetic, weaves, and sublimation sheets.

X-Rite Announces i1Pro3 Plus Color Profiling Device for Imaging, Print and Textiles Press Release

It’s predecessor, the i1Pro 2, was very successful with digital printing on standard paper type surfaces. We realized that this could also address digital textile needs with a few important changes. Here’s how the i1Pro3 creates better profiles that translate to fast production with less wasted time and materials.


1 - Larger 8mm Aperture 

The i1Pro 3 Plus offers a large 8mm aperture, which is crucial for capturing color on woven substrates. If you’re using a 4mm aperture, it may not correctly characterize the color variation of the weave. However, an 8mm aperture is large enough to capture this variability for accurate characterization. 


2 – Option for Polarization

The i1Pro 3 Plus includes a polarizing filter to reduce color measurement variability for improved profiles on a wide range of textiles. Polarization helps to correct for unique material qualities by reducing specular highlights and creates more accurate profile to produce richer colors on unique surfaces. Think of it like those polarized glasses we wear outside to cut down on reflection.


3 – Single Pass Scan

With single pass profiling, the i1Pro 3 Plus is much faster than other devices on the market. The ability to measure multiple M modes in a single pass allows the operator to compare material characteristics without doing extra work. Behind the scenes the i1Pro3 Plus uses a faster processor to gather more data faster.


4 – Full Spectrum LED Light Source

Many instruments with LED light sources do not replicate a full spectrum. The new LED light source in the i1Pro3 Plus not also provides a full spectrum but is monitored to minimize the effect of LED drift.


5 – Backlit Emission Scanning

In many countries there has been a decided move from PVCs to backlit textiles for environmental reasons and easier shipping and handling. In the past, profiling backlit textiles was an elite exercise and very time consuming and expensive. The i1Pro3 Plus along with i1Profiler 3.2 brings a new level of affordability and ease to this workflow.


Learn More About Profiling Digital Textiles

When used with i1Profiler V3, the i1Pro 3 Plus gives you the tools you need to accurately measure and profile textiles. To learn more, read part two of this series, Achieving Digital Printing Success with i1Pro 3 Plus, or watch my on demand webinar Profiling Your Digital Textiles, available now.


You can also get in touch to speak with a Color Expert about your specific needs.




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