A sector cut from a different cloth
Breaking into textile print might seem to be just a case of buying a new press, but that’s the least of it. Nevertheless, the rewards can be big. Words Tim Sheahan
Textile printing in 2012 is big business. A cursory visit to Fespa 2012 or May’s Drupa, not to mention the raft of other specialist events, such as last year’s ITMA, would have presented the humble visitor with a diverse, often startling, array of technology.
Manufacturers such as EFI, Mimaki and HP, to name a few, have momentum in this space, while established direct-to-garment suppliers, such as Kornit Digital, continue to roll out faster, high-quality kit for digital textile production.
However, this embarrassment of riches presents the first problem for a modern print business wanting a proverbial piece of the textile pie: choice. Which machine best suits your needs, how much will it cost, and do you have the sufficient demand to fulfil this investment?
“If you tell me you want to move into textile printing my immediate response would be to fire back 100 questions at you,” says Magnus Mighall, owner of digital and screen equipment supplier RA Smart. “The opportunities available to the right business span far and wide, but you need to do your homework before making the all-important decision.”
A 3.2m-wide EFI Vutek GS3250r behemoth can output at speeds of more than 200m2/hr, but carries a list price of £350,000, while a smaller-format Mimaki or HP Designjet would set you back a fraction of that. Direct comparisons, of course, remain a moot point, but the key issue stands: what part of the diverse textiles space does your business want a piece of, and what comes after the initial kit spend?
Textile printing kit manufacturers boast that it is a very accessible market; however, some of those that have taken the plunge are finding a different situation.
"The first flag we produced looked great as it came off our HP latex printer; however, finishing it to a professional standard – ready to fly – was a whole different ball game."
Alan Watson, OPG Graphics
The requirement for skilled machinists; the time it takes to achieve the quality, colours and density the market requires; the need to upgrade to light blocking display substrates so there is no show-through at exhibitions – these are all potential downsides of the sector.
“When I explain the various ink chemistries and processes necessary to achieve these results, I can see their eyes start to glaze over with the realisation that there is more to it than perhaps they are used to when, for example, printing with solvents onto PVC banners,” says Mighall.
“Digitally printing onto textiles is not as easy or straightforward as printing onto graphics or PVC media, but don’t be put off, with the correct guidance and careful selection of capital equipment, it can be a very lucrative addition to a company’s print portfolio,” he adds.
One firm that has taken its first steps in the sector is start-up outdoor printer Your Print Partner, which has installed a direct-to-textile press.
Initially operating as a print broker, the branding specialist invested in the new £70,000 press in a bid to bring more work in-house.
Director Stuart Maclaren says client demand for outdoor advertising, such as feather flags and street branding, has “gone through the roof” owing to the major outdoor sports events that have taken place in 2012.