Over the last 20 years we have seen the gradual progression of digital textile printing as an industry, with an increased number of companies supplying the industry and demand from a wider audience. Specifically, within the Roll-to-Roll market the last 5 years have been crucial, as we have seen the market develop from early adopters using the technology for niche sections of the market to large multinational brands incorporating the technology within their supply chains. Manufacturers are producing dedicated textile-specific printing systems to cater to the higher value of orders being seen by printers. While the industry still remains immature and clearly has room to expand, it currently offers a significant opportunity for growth for equipment manufacturers, textile printers and buyers with a CAGR of 17% forecasted until 2020. While the growth has been high, offering companies involved in the industry not only new opportunities to expand but also increasing profits, it still remains a small section of the overall printed textile market with our data indicating just under 4% of the total global volume of printed textiles being printed by digital technology. This figure, while small still, represents a global digital capacity of just over 1.2 billion sqm with growth rates of above 20% being seen for the last 5 years.
So why has the introduction of digital technology into this very old and established industry been so successful? While there are many factors that have influenced the development of the industry there have been two main drivers to date and some other issues that potentially will be more impactful in the future.
The first key factor that is well understood within the industry is led by changing consumer demand, particularly in Western markets where personalisation and individualisation helped industries such as Direct-to-Garment printing explode 10 years ago. The growing spending power of the ‘millennial generation’ who now make up 25% of the Western world’s population and are expected to spend roughly $200 billion in the US alone through 2016 are increasingly focused on personalisation. The other key factor comes from changes in the supply side of textile production. As brands and manufacturers have looked to remain profitable in a tougher economic climate, both rising wages and higher transportation costs have squeezed the profitability of products made in the Far East. Traditionally these markets have offered the most cost effective way to mass produce products due to the significantly higher costs of labour in the large buying markets such as the US and Europe. As countries such as China and India have grown, the growing middle class and gradual move towards a service-driven economy have quickly increased the average wage, making it both more expensive to produce labour-intensive products but also creating a large local market, thus increasing competition. This has led to many companies expanding their sourcing into even lower cost markets such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Central America but digital also offers a secondary solution by lowering the labour cost input into production.
While these key drivers have helped develop the industry to the situation we find it in today and will continue driving it in the future, other factors could prove even more important to its long term success. These factors include the increasing awareness of the environmental savings that digital printing offers compared to traditional methods. While most consumers are still relatively unaffected by the environmental impact of their textile products, certain brands have been focusing on limiting the impact of their production on the environment. To date the huge reduction in water and power consumption when using digital textile printing has not been a key driver for adoption of the technology. Over the last two years this has been changing as government policy at a global level has recognised the impact that traditional dyeing and printing has on the water supply when not properly managed. This is beginning to have a greater impact and become a key driver for digital as companies adhere to much stricter policies requiring high levels of investment in water treatment within factories. This impacts production costs and this, rather than the associated environmental benefits, is speeding up the move towards digital in countries such as China and India. Alongside this we see the increased capability that digital allows in terms of fine detail and colours encouraging designers to focus on digital as awareness of the creative possibilities increases. While many supply chains still limit the creativity of designers we are starting to see certain high street brands use digital printing as a way of standing out in regards to colour and patterns. This is a vast difference from five years ago when only a small number of very high fashion brands used digital printing for this purpose on silk and fine cotton fabrics.
During the IMI Europe Digital Printing Conference, from Wednesday 30 November – Thursday 1 December in Amsterdam, WTiN will discuss the global developments we have seen to date, but also and possibly more importantly look at the likely drivers for future growth in this industry. WTiN will look at some of the key limiting factors and when we can expect these hurdles to be overcome. For those interested in an even greater level of detail, WTiN is also presenting a Market Reports Live session on Digital Textile Printing on Tuesday 29 November, with a half-day seminar allowing deeper insight and the opportunity to ask questions.
Market Intelligence Analyst, World Textile Information Network