Change is the only constant—at least that’s what it seems like, especially in the visual communications/sign and graphics market. At the beginning—back in the late 1990s—new digital technologies allowed print service providers to create graphics in ways that only a few years prior, at the dawn of the first wide-format color inkjet machines, seemed like magic.
Fast-forward the next few years and digital technology continued to develop in leaps and bounds, offering revolutionary changes—even disruptive changes—that altered the market dramatically. The revolutionary changes have slowed, but evolutionary changes continue as each and every iteration of digital technology opens up new market opportunities that could not be reached with previous generations of printers.
Along the way, the visual communications/sign and graphics market has grown from what was a young, craft-based market to a much more mature market where a manufacturing mindset has emerged. Shop owners’ demands have changed—as have their needs. Automation and lean manufacturing are words that may have been in the commercial print market for years, but they are now making their way into this market segment. Managing waste and tracking consumables usage has become standard.
For the digital textile printing market, however, this change, this digital opportunity, is now upon it. Digital printing for textiles is now a viable option for short-run digital textile production. While the traditional fabric printing processes—such as analog flatbed and rotary screen presses—continue to churn out printed textiles, the work currently produced on flatbed screen textile presses is well within the capabilities of the latest generation of digital textile printers.
Interestingly back in 2008, InfoTrends estimated that the revenue from wide-format dye-sublimation textile printing systems would grow from $7.5 million in 2007 to $65 million in 2012. But that only tapped into one part of the textile market, dye-sublimation. According to a new InfoTrends study from 2012, the printed textile market tops out at $165 billion—and only an estimated one percent of it is printed digitally printed today.
That smells like one huge opportunity to me. Much like the sign market that has seen digital print technology migrate jobs away from analog screen and lithographic presses, the analog to digital migration in the textile and fabric market has only just begun.
In this issue, we give you a primer on the fabric and textile market—from printing to finshing—starting on page 16. It’ll give you what you need to know to start your own exploration of the new digital frontier of fabric printing.