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The future of digital printing technologies

March 1st, 2010 / By: / Graphics

One of my responsibilities at InfoTrends is to develop forecasts for digital printing technologies, and one of the key elements to forecasting is understanding what is happening among print service providers. 2009 was a bad year for those companies. Many are looking for new market opportunities, and digital textile printing presents one. Textiles bring unique and desirable characteristics to the soft signage applications these companies are used to producing.

Digital printing systems have enabled digital textile production. Options are more numerous and more cost-effective, enabling greater adoption of the process and greater innovation among the providers.

Two technologies that will make a big impact are Latex inkjet printing and UV-curable inkjet printing. By 2013, we forecast there to be nearly 3 billion square feet of textile production done using these technologies.

Two years ago Hewlett-Packard introduced Latex inkjet printing with the launch of the DesignJet L65500. Latex is a unique ink formulation that provides high-quality, durable images and lower running costs than other water-based ink formulations. HP has launched smaller and less-expensive versions of these printers, allowing Latex technology to be used by more users. Many leading textile media suppliers have been working with HP to develop media specifically for the Latex platform.

A few years ago, the idea of using UV-curable inkjet ink on flexible material was thought to be impossible. There are now a number of printers and textile media that are compatible with UV-curable inkjet printing. Development in the formulation of UV-curable inkjet inks has greatly improved and has enabled this digital production.

These two technologies have advantages over dye sublimation. The first advantage is speed, because there is no transfer process. The second is less waste due to the lack of the transfer medium. Because these are direct-to-textile printing devices, there is no need for additional equipment, such as a heat press.

Supporters of dye-sublimation technology rightly suggest that it offers better image durability and superior image quality. Furthermore, developments in single-step digital sublimation printers improve speeds and reduce the use of transfer papers with in-line ink fixing units.

The development of new technology enables print service providers to participate in a wider set of digital printing applications. The improvement in digital production technology should enable better economics and faster service when working with printing resources.

Tim Greene is director, wide format printing and jetting technologies opportunities, InfoTrends, Weymouth, Mass.

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