Should you jump in?
There’s a whole lot of buzz about textile printing in the sign industry today, but exactly what does it entail? We’ve looked at direct and sublimation printing on T-shirts, flags, banners and the soft signs we see at tradeshows, museums and retail shops and know that all such sign communications can be worthwhile. But we’ve also realized that each process – and end product – is different and may require purpose-built machines or specialized textile-sign fabrication and structures. After you examine the options here, learn more about incorporating textile into your shop with “A Fabric Printing Apprisal”. Conventional textile properties rule out printing with traditional solvent, eco-solvent and UV-cure inks because fabric absorbs ink at a greater rate than vinyl or coated papers, which makes ink-dot control nearly impossible. Also, if the final printed fabric is stretched or folded, an improper ink will crack or flake, which is why most fabric-print machines apply dye-sublimation ink that’s absorbed by the fabric threads, via either a heat-and-pressure or a direct-dispersal process. Both systems have advantages. Some users say the heat-and-pressure (transfer-paper) system creates sharper images, whereas other print makers prefer the simplicity of direct-dispersal printing.
In direct-dispersal processing, the image is printed directly to polyester fabric. One print machine example is the Mutoh VJ-1938TX, a 75-in.-wide, direct-dispersal, roll-to-roll printer that offers production speeds up to 430 sq. ft./hr. You’ll see a similar direct-dispersal method in most T-shirt printing machines, such as Epson’s SureColor F2000.
The heat-and-pressure method, better known as the dye-sublimation transfer method, involves an image that is printed onto specific paper and then sublimation-transferred to the textile with heat and pressure. The Mimaki TS30-1300 is an entry-level option for an image-transfer machine, but you’ll also need a heat and pressure source (calendar) to complete the sublimation process. A calendar works in a similar fashion to a hot laminator and is the most common device for sublimation. The process requires overlaying the printed transfer media (paper) on top of the fabric and then sublimating the image onto the fabric with heat and pressure. You can also sublimate print onto rigid surfaces.
A transfer-print sublimation system will use less ink because sublimated ink does not penetrate as deeply as the direct-print system, but the transfer-paper cost may offset such savings. In addition, sublimation-color management is easier because more color profiles are available for paper than fabric. Further, sublimation printing may be best for close-viewed work because transfer images are sharp and known to hold detail.
If you’re in a quandary over which technology to choose, study the ITI 3200DS, a 3.2-m printer with speeds up to 1,000 sq. ft./hr. that can be configured as a direct or transfer printer.
Another alternative is latex ink printing because it works well for many textile applications. Generally, latex ink, such as that used in HP Latex 315/335/365 printers, is flexible and can be stretched and folded.
When evaluating such systems for your shop, be sure to check your customers’ applications as this may sway your decision-making process. And if you plan to print on fabric, recognize that you may need to invest in cutting, seaming, sewing and framing systems to finish saleable pieces properly. However, you could also subcontract such services.
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