Specifically, dye sublimation inks have been used on a Mimaki JV5-320 printer in conjunction with US Sublimation's JetTran HR500 paper. "This is a big thing, because until now, the general thought was that above 104 inches the paper would simply not be stable enough and cockling issues would be rampant," explains Labella. "For this reason, anything above 104 inches has been done using either solvent or oil-based inks...with very poor results and the known environmental issues."
Labella says that with this advancement, dye sublimation can be used at its best to print 10-foot-seamless fabrics (which he says are perfect for trade show graphics), while using a green technology.
"Environmental and health concerns drive our business on a daily basis," says Labella. "More and more people are concerned about the health and environmental effects of solvent-based products. Water-based inks are good for the environment and good for business."
Labella points to the recent explosion of printed fabrics as a testament to the success of water-based dye-sublimation printing. "Dye sublimation is a cost-effective way to print a premium product and compete with a green and superior product against the oversaturated vinyl market," he says.
With fabrics, according to Labella, print providers have found that the profit margins are higher as they can demand a higher price for their work. There is also another aspect, Labella says, which is that water-based printing on fabric has opened markets that did not exist before.
"With water-based textile pigments, for example, short-run textile production on cotton and natural fibers is now a reality," he claims. "And, because it's a clean process, there are already people using it to make products that can be in direct contact with the skin...this is perfect for the interior décor, upholstery and garment industries."
Labella believes that this is just the beginning for fabric printing with aqueous printers. "Improvements in ink manufacturing technology and creative thinking are already producing amazing results and I know for a fact that some very interesting products are coming down the pipeline that will drastically improve the stability, longevity and overall quality of fabric printing using water-based inks," he states. "Furthermore, as the country and the world start to pay more attention to the environmental advantages of water-based printing, more customers will start to demand it and more printers will discover the benefits, both from an economic and work environment standpoint."
Gandinnovations is another company putting aqueous printing on a grand stage.
"We have seen a demand within the marketplace for a grand-format digital printer using aqueous-based inks using the latest in print-head technology for quality and speed," says Tom Reilly, vice president of marketing and advertising, Gandinnovations. "Our customers also want this printer to produce a finished product for any soft-signage applications." And, of course, customers are looking for eco-friendly alternatives.
With those demands in mind, Gandinnovations introduced the Jeti 3324 Aquajet, the first 3-meter, direct-to-fabric, one-process printer to use water-based dye inks, according to Reilly. "It is the ideal solution for all types of soft-signage applications," he says. "The output produces an unrivaled color gamut, resolution, quality, plus it operates using water-based ink, so it delivers a greater consistency of bright and vibrant colors, improves cost efficiency and is 100 percent eco-friendly."
Reilly also points out that printing direct to fabric means no separate transformation unit, which is a bonus in these rough economic times.
The Jeti 3324 Aquajet prints direct on a full range of polyester fabrics knitted or woven. It comes with three high-temperature slitting units attached on rewind rollers that allow the operator to slit and seal the fabric to the finished required sizes. The water-based dye used by the Aquajet is specially formulated to disperse inks that will yield a wider range of vibrant colors.
"The print technology is designed to fuse ink directly into the fabric for brighter colors, better draping and softer handling," says Reilly.
The Aquajet features 24 Spectra print heads with six colors, and prints a true 400 dpi. "Even at production speeds of 650 sqft/hr (60 sqm/hr), output is dramatic with vibrant colors that are brilliant, fade-and-wash resistant, and literally burst to life from the fabric on both indoor and outdoor applications," Reilly reports.