Digital textile printing – a recent development?

When was the first inkjet textile printer developed? 2002? 1995? 1988? Actually, a lot earlier than that. In the early 1970’s a small consultancy in Cambridge, UK was asked by the large chemical group ICI to come up with a new way of printing textiles – digitally. They adopted continuous inkjet technology and built a prototype that printed 2 colours over a 10 inch wide web of fabric.  And it worked (just).

 Patent GB 1,354,890 “Improvements in or relating to pattern printing apparatus” filed 26 August, 1970. The inventor was David Paton of Cambridge Consultants who went on to co-invent what became the Xaar technology.

Patent GB 1,354,890 “Improvements in or relating to pattern printing apparatus” filed 26 August, 1970. The inventor was David Paton of Cambridge Consultants who went on to co-invent what became the Xaar technology.

But it was just too far ahead of its time and the project was abandoned. The developers at Cambridge Consultants bought the IP, and the project leader span off an inkjet business soon after. He called it Domino Printing Sciences. Cambridge Consultants went on to pioneer many other inkjet technologies and spin-offs, such as Xaar and Inca Digital. The textile printer may not have made it to commercialisation, but the project spawned a large cluster of inkjet activity in Cambridge.

Perhaps the first commercial use of inkjet textile printing was by the Japanese company Seiren, who in 1989 began building several hundred scanning head printers using piezo drop-on-demand printheads for in-house production. By 2000 Seiren had gross annual sales of over $100M, supplying automotive upholstery, swimwear and apparel.

Today, after a couple of false starts, the inkjet textile industry is thriving. According to SPGPrints, the digital textile market for 2013 was 310 million m2, and is growing at 24% per year. Yet it is still only around 1% of the total printed textile market of 30 billion m2, although in 4 years time it is forecast to more than double to 733 million m2.

Digital textile printing offers rapid fulfilment of new designs, essential for the fast moving fashion industry, but also a key part of the professional interior design market too. The bulk of the medium and high volume ink jet textile machinery manufacturers are based in Europe, with some of the large players located in Northern Italy. So when IMI Europe decided to hold their annual Inkjet Summer School in Milan this year it was natural to propose a Digital Textile Printing course.

Running 18-19 June 2014, three experts within the industry will give delegates a thorough overview of the digital textile industry. Thomas Poetz, of 3T Consulting will describe the markets and applications for inkjet textiles, the drivers for growth, the main players, and how the industry is likely to evolve in the next few years. Dr Simon Daplyn, Ink Sales Manager at Xennia Technology will describe the various ink chemistries that can be used, and the pre- and post-processing required. Finally, Paolo Torricella, Product Manager at Reggiani Macchine, just up the road in nearby Bergamo, will teach delegates about building machines, the issues of selecting printheads, architecture options such as scanning and single pass printing, and the system design issues of implementing inkjet in production environments.

Anyone with an interest in this increasingly important digital application is welcome, and full details can be found at www.imieurope.com.

Mike Willis, IMI Europe