Me & my... Kornit Storm II
By Jon Severs Thursday, 22 November 2012
A growing market for short-run T-shirts - and some very demanding clients - has driven the development of this digital garment press
Andy Lunt, managing director of T Shirt and Sons, doesn’t really recall how he came to be a printer. At 16, he was asked if he wanted to have a go at printing on a flatbed press; he said yes, and more than 25 years later, he is still in the business.
"I sort of fell into printing and it is a very difficult industry to get out of," he says.
Fortunately, he is rather good at it. How-ever, rather than flatbed printing, Lunt has built his career on the back of screen printing onto T-shirts. So good at it did he prove that he quickly became one of the UK’s leading garment printers, counting clients such as Radiohead and artist Stanley Donwood among a very varied client base.
"I do a lot of retail, a lot of music retail – so tour T-shirts and the like – charities, uniforms – you have to do a bit of everything really," says Lunt. "As well as bands like Radiohead, clients include Greenpeace, the Environmental Justice Foundation, WOMAD, Glastonbury Festival and online T-shirt retailers such as Shopbravado.com and Shotdeadinthehead.com."
It is work from the likes of those online retailers that forced Lunt, two years ago, to consider digital T-shirt printing for the first time. Lunt had had an eye on the short-run T-shirt market for a while, but needed the demand from a client to justify the first investment. When this came, he opted for a low-cost entry-level "sort of bastardised machine based on an Epson print engine".
"There are a lot of cheap machines out there that use Epson technology as the base," says Lunt. "They do a job, but they are only really suitable for start-ups as you won’t get the volumes you need for full commercial work. If you are trying to do 1,000 T-shirts in a day, you have no chance on those machines."
The market for machines using adapted Epson technology is something that clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed by Epson, with the manufacturer launching its first purpose-built dye-sublimation machines last week, to counter some of the issues associated with the third-party machines highlighted by Lunt (see Star Product, p17).
Soon, Lunt found himself processing these large volumes of T-shirt work and so he upgraded to a Kornit Breeze from UK supplier Adelco. He then bought another, then a Kornit Storm and then this summer he added his latest press, a Kornit Storm II. All have been purchased through Adelco.
"We had a very good experience with the first Kornit machine we bought from Adelco and from there on we have been happy to stick with Kornit," says Lunt. "It is also widely known in the T-shirt industry that Kornit is the market leader for digital machines – for many people, there are no real credible rivals. The Kornit is a complete single-process machine, whereas its nearest rival is a two-part system that is more expensive."
The machines in Kornit’s range work in the following way: the shirt is loaded straight from the box onto the platen of the machine. This has a clamp system that holds the garment in place. The platen goes into the press and the garment is treated according to the image size and the material type through pre-set functions in the machine memory based on profiles. After treatment, the garment is then wiped to ensure that the fabric fibres are flat for better print quality. If it is a dark garment, a layer of white ink is then put down. Then the colour layer of ink goes down. When the shirt is ejected it then goes into a hot-air drier where the water is removed.
"The Kornit is unique as it has a proprietary ink system," says Mark Smith, sales director at Adelco, and while the machines can only use the manufacturer’s own inks, Smith claims that these offer the best value and quality available on the market.
As to the machines in the range, Smith says that the ink and pre-treatment system and the Spectra Nova printheads are standard on all the machines.
"What changes as you go up the range is that the drive systems get faster, and then when you reach the Storm II, there are two extra printheads for white ink, which means you can print the white base for dark garments twice as fast," he says. "It also has two separate pallets and pallet drive systems, so you are unloading one shirt and loading another shirt simultaneously while a third shirt is being printed, so the process is even faster."
The Storm II was installed at T Shirt and Sons in June this year. Lunt says it just about managed to squeeze into the company’s Westbury facility and was installed within the day.
"It was a pretty seamless process – it came off the pallet and was up and running very quickly," he reveals.
In terms of training, the company had obviously been running other Kornit machines for some time so extensive training was not required, though some pointers about the new machine were given. Lunt, though, says that T-shirt printing is far from an exact science and that as a result, it is very hard for manufacturers to give too much guidance.
"Every T-shirt is different and every T-shirt behaves in a different way, so until you start putting your own work through, you really cannot understand the intricacies of the machine," says Lunt. "So you do tend to learn a lot about the machine just by using it every day."
Since installation, Lunt says that beyond a few minor teething problems owing simply to the introduction of new technology – "it can have its difficult days" – he has been very pleased with the reliability of the machine and says it has performed excellently, which is essential for the type of work Lunt is producing.
"The machine has to be incredibly reliable. Consumers expect next-day delivery as do the clients who place the work with us, and so we have to give that. We can’t afford any mistakes and, thankfully, the machine has never let us down," he says.
The quality has also been consistently high: the machine can print at an average quality of 600dpi and Lunt says it is "outstanding" compared to what other machines can offer.
When it comes to speed, things get a little complicated, says Adelco’s Smith.
"If you are printing a small logo on a garment, then obviously it goes faster than if you are doing a full shirt," he explains. "So the maximum output is 200 T-shirts per hour on a light garment and 90 T-shirts per hour on a dark garment, but obviously it is dependent on the size of print."
Lunt has no complaints about speed or anything else on the machine. Yet, he does not consider himself a digital T-shirt printer just yet, he still considers himself a screen printer first and foremost.
"I am still very much a screen printer, with a digital option. Screen still covers the majority of the work, but you do need the digital option," he explains.
The break-even point between the two is obviously going to differ depending on who you talk to, but for Lunt, any run of the same T-shirt above 100 would probably be put on a screen machine, anything under that is printed digitally.
"For a black t-shirt, it may be slightly less than that as the digital machine prints twice – one white layer and then the colour layer," reveals Lunt. "On the screen side you do not need that extra layer."
He adds that you have to remember when calculating the times for digital work that you need to add in the drying time for the garments, which tends to be around eight minutes. You have to remember also that to do this work, you need to invest in an industrial drier.
Overall, then, Lunt is extremely happy with his Kornit Storm II. It meets the ever-growing demand for digital T-shirt work in the UK (see feature p18) and is enabling the company to push further into that market. That’s not to say there is nothing on his wish list for the machine: "I’d like cheaper ink and for it to be faster!" he laughs. "A quicker machine would just increase the break-even point between screen and digital. But that is what everyone wants from every machine. In reality, I am really happy with the Storm II."
He says he would be happy to recommend the press to others, explaining that in textile print for garments, there isn’t really anything that can match the Storm II.
"It is what it is: a digital T-shirt machine that is the best workhorse out there for industrial production," he concludes.
Printheads Eight Spectra Nova piezo electric printheads, with five colours and 256 nozzles per head
Printing area 500x700mm
Printing substrates Include cotton, polyester, cotton-polyester blend, Lycra, viscose, silk, leather, denim, linen and wool
Speed Light garments: up to 200 items per hour; Dark garments: up to 90 items per hour
Print resolution Average 600dpi
Contact Adelco 01420 488388 www.adelco.co.uk
T Shirt and Sons was established more than 25 years ago by current managing director Andy Lunt and his brother. The Westbury- based business prints garments for a varied range of sectors, including charities, retail, music and online markets. The company uses both screen and digital kit and clients include Radiohead, Greenpeace and WOMAD festival.
Why it was bought…
Lunt says that the growing demand for one-off bespoke T-shirts originating from the web made digital a viable investment and that over the past two years, this demand increased to the point that the Storm II was a viable investment. He argues that the Kornit machines are the only real option for digital production of T-shirts on the market.
How it has performed...
Lunt has been extremely pleased with the machine, commending boths its quality and speed. He adds that reliability is extremely important in the digitally printed T-shirt market, and that fortunately he has experienced no issues aside from small teething problems with the Kornit Storm II.
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