Making textile printing more sustainable

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

The history of textile printing is a history of innovation, from transferring colours to substrates with carved woodblocks to digitally printed fabrics. In between such bespoke options are a slew of industrial processes that produce all manner of textiles from linens and curtains through to couture garments and t-shirts. The reversion to technologies that allow us to have custom clothes and interiors is creating all sorts of opportunities for new businesses, mostly driven by e-commerce.

Digital press and colorant innovations are starting to seriously disrupt the textile business. This is a good thing because conventional textile production is a seriously resource intensive manufacturing process. FESPA research suggests that this market is worth $165 billion. Over 30 billion square metres of textiles are printed worldwide, most of it in China and India unsurprisingly. As populations grow and incomes rise, we can expect more and more textile printing opportunities. This is why graphics industry manufacturers are so keen to get into the sector.

Textile printing was an obvious trend at the recent FESPA show in Berlin. EFI has had its eye on this sector for a number of years, and through its purchase of Reggiani some years ago has over 60% of the direct to garment and apparel market. Around 60% of this is garments with interiors (furnishings) and industrial textile printing accounting for the balance. At FESPA the company introduced a textile pigment ink technology for direct to textile printing.

The new process involves inline polymerisation and uses less water and energy to produce a print, which it does very quickly. The printed fabrics need no washing or steaming and EFI claims that the process works on a wide range of fibres.

We can expect more such innovations in the sector as the market for bespoke textiles and clothes expands. HP has its sights on the textile printing opportunity and Mimaki is well established in this part of the market.

Whether we should expect the printing community to embrace this technology or whether it will be the fashion industry that gets there first, it’s too early to say. Epson has seen the design community embrace inhouse production. And the shift towards ever faster fashion suggests there may be opportunities for digital press manufacturers to capture a whole new market, one that operates far from conventional print.

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The Verdigris Project investigates the environmental impact of print media and provides information about sustainability initiatives for the international printing community. Keep up to date with the weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner.