“I have always have believed there is a large learning curve in textile,” he concludes. “There’s so much to it. It’s going to take some time for you to become an expert in the textile printing world.
Available Equipment Options
Printer options are available for shops at every level of expertise and productivity in digital textile printing, Izmirlian says. There exist, for instance, entry-level printers appropriate for those printing five to 10 yards an hour. There’s an intermediate level with a capacity to print 40 to 70 yards an hour. And there are newer generation printers that can print 100 to 300 yards per hour.
“There’s also a printer in the market that can do the job at a much, much faster speed, but it is very, very expensive,” he says. “Digital printing on textiles in short-run applications is definitely cost effective. You’re skipping the cost of cutting screens and there’s almost no limit in the type of image you can print.”
Kevin Currier, manager of application solutions for Durst Image Technology, US LLC, agrees wide choices exist in equipment. But in selecting equipment, you have to be careful to compare apples to apples.
“There are things to consider before narrowing your choices,” Currier says. “A very important consideration is whether you want a water-based ink, versus older technology like solvent or oil. Is a CMYK printer good enough, or do you require a wider gamut through the use of light inks and light blacks? Also consider whether you want to use transfer paper or print directly to fabric.
“Width and throughput of the printers usually represent the first considerations. Are you able to use a narrow printer, and seam fabric sections together, or does a full three-meter-wide printer make more sense?”
Mutoh’s Anderson says available equipment extends from direct-to-garment to direct-to-textile to dye sublimation printers, and from desktop format 8.5x11 to 120-inch printers. “Depending again on your application and productivity requirements, there will be a model in that range that can provide the service you need to maintain your business,” he says. “What we typically find are multiple installations of printers, where an end user may start out with a single printer, then add similar printers to keep up with the demand growth.”
Essential Prepress Requirements
According to Anderson, prepress requirements also vary depending on the customer’s needs.
Prepress requirements can be virtually non-existent, for example, in instances where you’re creating personalized items from home photos or Web-based design programs. On the other hand, they can be very important in the case of mass production orders requiring matched consistent results across multiple application types and equipment, he says.
Prepress considerations for textile printing are not much different than that in other digital print processes, Currier argues. A good RIP that handles light to dark ink transitions is important. In-house ability to generate ICC profiles gives the textile printer an edge. Given the wide range of fabrics available, the need to optimize profiles in sync with the calendar is usually done by acquiring software, equipment, and the ability to do these tasks on the fly, he says.
Faulkner is another who emphasizes that the fabric to be printed upon should be given a good color profile.
“The color profile will contribute first to proper ink density, or the amount of ink the fabric can hold without losing resolution,” he says. “The other aspect is using a good spectrophometer in conjunction with the color profiling software to ensure you can create a good color profile for the specific fabric you’re printing.”
Adds HP’s Martin, “A RIP is essential to drive the selected unit as well, sometimes coming after a pre-flighting process. A spectrophotometer is also required to be able to calibrate translucid materials to create color profiles.”
From his perspective as a producer, Zucker believes the prepress process can be likened to the carpenter’s rule of “measure twice and cut once.”