Tim Check is Epson America’s Senior Product Manager, Professional Imaging. He stated that Epson continues to grow in the market with shifting trends from in-store to on-line purchasing. This is allowing for greater customization and faster turnarounds.
“As such, textile printing can meet those needs, offering the ability to customize products and produce output quickly to meet shipping timelines,” Check said. “Additionally, larger retail stores are continuing to order smaller quantiles and are requesting new products on shorter timeframes to meet the ever-changing fashion trends, making it necessary for designers and textile manufacturing to produce new collections that meet retailer and customer demands.
“Overall, buyers are driving the demand for more textile goods and quicker turnaround times for both online and in-store orders, and as custom gifts become popular, we are seeing continued demand for printed apparel, décor and gift items,” Check added.
Robert Zoch, global content manager at Kornit Digital, said that digital is growing by leaps and bounds, largely because it integrates so well with e-commerce platforms, but also because it promotes a leaner, more efficient, more accountable production model.
“With digital, you can print on demand, which eliminates the waste that comes from overstock due to forecast-based modeling,” Zoch added. “Digitization means visibility throughout the production process, which means operational control and transparency. It allows for localization and consolidation of production and mitigates supply chain, labor, or other risks. This means being able to respond quickly to unexpected demand or opportunities or change gears when faced with sudden market disruptions (as demonstrated during COVID). In short, it offers the capabilities and socially responsible practices today’s consumers increasingly demand, in a way traditional analog methods simply can’t match.”
Simon Daplyn is the manager of product marketing at Sun Chemical. He pointed out that some growth projections have been altered by several obstacles over the past few years.
“As we emerge from the pandemic where the retail environment has changed, there has been further disruptions in the market, mainly due to the global escalation of energy and gas prices, which continue to cause concern for many printers,” Daplyn observed. “Additionally, there are still global supply chain concerns in terms of certain materials, and shipping costs have increased significantly. Digital textile printing is expected to continue growing. There are however reasons for optimism. Printing on demand, closer to the market, has increased, enabling better control of inventory and waste.”
Roland DGA’s co-creation product manager Kitt Jones stated that Roland DGA sees the market expanding both in terms the number of companies offering digital textile printing and the production numbers of companies that have been in the field for some time and are now printing on demand and for ecommerce.
“The increase in demand is largely a result of the pandemic restrictions that kept people home and allowed them time to explore e-commerce and customization options,” Jones noted. “With that boom in demand came a rapid increase in the number of shops and e-commerce sites that are offering digital textile prints. We’ve seen digital textile providers that have increased their production from 500 shirts a month to 10,000 a month.”
Eric Beyeler, global marketing manager – DuPont Artistri Digital Inks, said that DuPont believes that digital textile printing is the answer to deliver a step change in the sustainability of textile printing.
“Lower environmental footprint, shorter supply chain and lower inventories leading to reduced garment waste are several of the advantages digital textile printing delivers,” Beyeler observed.
Marco Zanella, INX Europe’s global business development director – inkjet, said he believes the digital textile printing market is in more of a “reconfiguration.”
“The urgent demand of sustainability is driving change more than anything else in the textile industry, and digital printing is responding better than other technologies to this very important need,” added Zanella. “Several supranational authorities and associations are leading the way in this quest for a better, more sustainable textile industry. Digital printing has already offered and refined several solutions to help.”
The Key Benefits of Digital Textile Printing
Digital printing textiles has many benefits, and this is driving its growth. Among the advantages that Kornit Digital’s Zoch pointed to is the ability to use sustainable pigment-based inks, nearly unlimited graphic and color capability, low and consistent cost per print allowing profit from orders of any quantity, fast push-button production on demand and fabric and applications versatility.
Daplyn pointed out that digital textile printing allows for more flexibility in production, which allows retailers and brands to monitor stock levels and print on demand. This is an advantage over committing to large quantities of inventory that may not be sold or destroyed.
“Printing with inkjet printers allows for a more detailed design with no constraint on the number of colors within a measured gamut and no real limit on design repeat length,” he added. “Digital printing offers the benefit of lower energy consumption, reduction in water use and significant reduction in waste. It can also enable shorter run lengths, more SKU’s and faster reaction to fashion trends.”
Beyeler pointed out that digitally-driven images allow the printer to personalize their offerings while still delivering the same price for long or short runs.
“In addition, detailed designs are possible as well as an infinite number of colors in each design, which traditional printing technology cannot achieve,” added Beyeler.
“Using inkjet printing, digital textile producers can control the timing, cost, and quality of their own production. In addition, DTG (direct-to-garment) printers use water-based inks with very low VOC emissions,” Jones observed.
Jones added that today’s inkjet printers offer additional production power and flexibility.
“Users have the option to diversify their product lines with custom, on-demand, and short-run production of higher margin items like towels, blankets, koozies, backpacks, and many other products, in addition to the traditional T-shirt,” said Jones.
Zanella agreed there are many key advantages to digital textile printing over traditional printing.
“Some involve the freedom given to designers to be more creative, the quicker turnaround of a collection or an idea, and the speed of production compared to certain types of conventional production,” said Zanella.
“However, the most attractive feature of digital textile printing is the reduced impact on our ecosystem,” added Zanella. “Digital printing provides solutions to increased demands in terms of environmental impact, with less chemicals used during the process, and much lower water use and waste. Also, let’s not forget the option to relocate production processes closer to the point of sale, with a decreased logistic impact on the sold items.”
Check pointed out the following three benefits of digitally printing textiles:
• Environmental – “Traditional dyeing is the second largest global polluter of water, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, and a few years ago it was noted that printed textiles have drastically reduced water waste in the industry,” said Check. “Additionally, it can provide a lot of wasted fabric. For designers using traditional textile manufacturing, a first-run sample will have a sizable minimum yardage requirement, whereas when digitally printing textiles, a sample can be a yard of fabric, reducing waste if the design or colors are not to preference.”
• Design – “For designers, it provides the ability to have virtually no limit on the number of colors or size of patterns to the design,” Check said. “They can order just about any amount of fabric, without needing to hit a high minimum order. This makes the process more attainable for different projects ranging from boutique interior decor needs to large retail orders.”
• Manufacturing – “Digital production and textile printing offers PSPs the ability to take on a variety of clients, ranging from small boutique orders to large retail orders with the same equipment,” Check noted. “Textile equipment can be leveraged to create fabric for home decor, apparel, soft signage, and more – with the possibility of expanding the product offerings and increasing ROI.”
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Digital Textile Printing
One of the surprising results of the COVID-19 epidemic was the acceleration of digital textile printing. Companies sought to reduce inventory and produce more close to their operations. Jones stated that digital textile printing has seen an increase in growth since the outbreak.
“When people were online and shopping from home, they realized how easy it is to upload a file and receive a custom T-shirt,” added Jones. “As a result of this increase in demand, competition in this market rose drastically and prices for custom-printed shirts have plummeted.”
“To a profound extent, the pandemic demonstrated the inherent weaknesses of forecast-based modeling and slow, wasteful analog production methods, which simply can’t match the expectations of a digital-native generation,” Zoch said. “Overnight, longtime sources of reliable business disappeared, and many producers who lacked the agility of digital struggled to adapt. Digital means businesses can react quickly and shift their resources, both technology and personnel, towards meeting unforeseen challenges and demands in the marketplace.”
“Over the past few years, even throughout the pandemic, we have continued to see growth,” said Check. “With shipping and supply constraints, we’ve seen a portion of the textile demand from global providers shift to regional providers and local production, reducing the needs for overseas shipments and bringing supply closer to its final destinations. This gives PSPs greater opportunities to increase large-quantity orders.
“Additionally, customers spent a lot more time at home, so we saw an increase in custom home decor orders for products such as pillows, throw blankets and drapes as customers updated their homes, and business owners have been seeking soft signage solutions to market to customers,” Check observed.
“The pandemic forced several countries to make tough decisions that influenced many aspects of the fashion and textile business and other industries.,” Zanella said. “The increased environmental consciousness has driven a higher adoption rate of digital printing in light of its smaller environmental footprint, with lower water usage and reshoring productions.”
Daplyn stated that the answer was mixed.
“The pandemic has certainly accelerated the interest in re-shoring and printing/finishing garments closer to the consumer,” said Daplyn. “This is slowly happening although sales of new equipment slowed during the pandemic.
“There are still areas holding back a full reshoring approach, including availability of fabrics from local sources and local ability to cut, sew and finish products,” he added. “Retail has moved to a more online dominated market where digital print is well placed to enable agile print, increased customization, and faster ship turnaround.”
Designers are going digital
I was fortunate enough to attend a show that focused exclusively on digitally printed apparel a few years back. The results were incredible and demonstrated the creativity of designers.
Ink industry leaders emphasize that digital printing can offer the full color spectrum.
“There are more opportunities for designers to look at the color palette, shading and feathering, which are much harder to replicate using other print technologies,” Daplyn said. “There is also an emerging set of designers experienced in specifically designing for digital print, which is opening up the creativity within the industry.”
Zanella noticed that digital printing attracted designers from its inception several years ago.
“It provides relief from screen-printing process constraints, such as the limitation in the number of colors or the engraving process, just to mention a couple of factors,” Zanella added. “This confirms it as an attractive production process, from both a creative and economic standpoint.”
Beyeler indicated that many designers are still discovering new tools from digital textile printing.
“Once they see the incredible array of designs, including photorealistic images, and the limitless number of colors they can use in digital textile printing, the creativity takes over, bringing out incredibly beautiful and striking prints,” he added.
“With this technology, designers can bring designs to the completed piece within weeks or even days, and sampling is similarly quick and easy,” Zoch observed. “There are no limitations on what they can produce, and the proliferation of digital printing globally means on-demand, sustainable fulfillment is more accessible to them than ever.”
Check reported that designers gravitate to digital textile printing when they learn the simplicity of it.
“It offers designers more freedom to create with nearly unlimited color and pattern potential,” Check continued. “With digital textile printing, designs can have photographic-like details which are unattainable with traditional textile printing. Additionally, there’s the ability to have a fabric sample quickly, without waiting for a large minimum order to arrive from overseas. The whole process provides designers with more control with the ability to make design updates and faster turnaround time on the samples and final order.”
Strongest Segments for Digital Printing of Textiles
It’s interesting to see the growth of digital textile printing. Initially, the technology was used primarily for direct-to-garment apparel, but home décor and signage are growing as well.
Check noted that historically, apparel has always been the largest segment for textile printing, but Epson has seen tremendous growth in home décor and soft signage during the past several years.
Daplyn stated that traditional markets for textiles are strong due to digital textile printing’s steady growth.
“It is fair to say that sign and display markets, including banners, flags, exhibition displays, etc., are dominated by digital and specifically sublimation printing,” Daplyn reported. “Digital printing in fashion is consistently growing with both direct T-shirt printing and fast fashion big adopters of inkjet technology. Digital printing for textiles at home has also experienced good growth thanks to the use of better quality digital pigment inks.
Daplyn stated that the demand for interior fabrics was growing as people invested more time and money in home renovations during the pandemic.
“This is also reflected in the increase in digital pigment printing,” he noted. “That being said, digital textile printing still only represents 7 to 8 percent of the total textiles printed, meaning the potential for further growth is significant. All of these segments will continue to grow with the addition of sports apparel and athleisure where demand is growing and the potential for digital print is strong.”
“The strongest segment is on-demand T-shirt printing these days, but as I look at the roadmap for DTG, I see a broadening of the range of industries that make use of DTG,” said Jones. “For instance, we are starting to see a wide interest from apparel and textile manufacturing companies that would normally outsource or utilize in-house screen printing as well as dye-sublimation for smaller, custom printing jobs.
“DTG printers can give this segment a way to cut costs, control production, and streamline their printing needs,” Jones continued. “Increases in bed size allows larger prints as well as more applications, and provides manufacturers with the opportunity to evolve and enter the large-format DTG customization markets. These companies will be able to offer a unique service that will make them stand out.
“Apparel has been the most well-established market for this technology; it began with imprinted streetwear before growing into the branded/licensed apparel space, then polyester and poly-blend sportswear and athleisure apparel, swimwear, and finally making inroads into high-end designer couture fashions,” said Zoch.
“Right now we’re seeing considerable interest in growth for digital in the home décor space, as the technology has achieved the quality, consistency, and durability standards to meet the wear-and-tear standards of interior and exterior decoration, while enabling the same unlimited graphic and color capabilities for those applications,” he added.
Beyeler noted that printers can print vibrantly colored prints on a variety of textile substrates using pigment and dye sub-inkjet printing. This allows them to leave the smallest footprint possible for the environment and physical footprints.
“Throughout the pandemic, digital pigment textile printing has continued to grow as other printing technologies experienced a slowdown,” added Beyeler. “With the great colors pigment inkjet inks now deliver and the cost-effective printing the most recent press technology offers, pigment inkjet printing from RTR to DTG and DTF (direct to film) will continue to grow significantly in the next five years.”
“Apparel and sportswear are still the most trending product categories when we consider the global digital printing installed base,” said Zanella. “Dye-sublimation and reactive-dye inks are making most of the total volume of consumables sold in many regions. Pigment inks are believed to be the next big wave in the industry, although they still have to prove in the field to be effective before they become really attractive for the widespread textile business.”
Inkjet printing of textiles: Outlook
Digital textile printing is expected to continue expanding in the future. Check, for example, stated that he believes there will be strong demand for digitally printed textile products over the next five- to ten years. He also said that three areas are driving the growth: the designers, the producers, and the environmental benefits.
“Digitally adept designers embracing digital textile to break free of the creative constraints placed on them by the traditional textile printing process is enabling them to creating products with greater consumer appeal,” Check pointed out.
“Producers demanding greater agility to adapt to market changes as well as supply-side challenges are increasing the use of digital textile printing to produce regionally and in volumes that match true market demand,” he added. “Lastly, digital textile printing greatly reduces the environmental impact compared with traditional textile printing – significantly lower power consumption, lower/no water consumption, and lower material resources as a result of reduced over-production.”
Beyeler anticipates that textile printing will experience some restructuring in the next few years to respond to consumer demand of significant reduction in its overall environmental footprint and drive for a shorter supply chain with digital transformations.
“Inkjet printing will continue to grow throughout this period and its growth will significantly accelerate once the effects of the pandemic and the structural changes are in the past,” Beyeler said.
Roland DGA’s Jones noted that the evolution of inkjet textile printing is focused on increasing automation, improved flexibility and additional diversification.
“Overall, the market wants more as well as larger textile and apparel products, and they want them faster and cheaper than ever before,” added Jones. “Another trend that continues to grow is customization – clients don’t want your brand, they want their brand, or a combination of both. Financially, I predict that companies that don’t evolve will fall by the wayside or move into other areas. It’s essential that you listen to and evolve with the market – if you don’t, you simply won’t succeed.”
Daplyn said that the outlook for digital textile printing is bright.
“We expect to see continued growth and investment in printers to grow the volume of digitally printed fabric,” Daplyn concluded. “We expect the chemistry to evolve further and a clear vision to support sustainability through adoption of digital print technology.”
Zoch stated that digital textile print will soon be the industry standard and that it will benefit producers, designers/creators, as well consumers.
“It’s virtually unlimited in what it can do,” Zoch noted. “It’s eco-friendly, it minimizes vulnerability to macro trends, and it meets the quality and durability demands of even the most exclusive brands.
“In short, it fulfills the possibilities of what digital can offer, so the imagination is the limit,” Zoch concluded. “And as many digital print users today have experienced worldwide, it’s a key to unlock so many new business opportunities and revenue channels.”