Alan Watson, general manager at OPG Graphics, is a major advocate of textile printing and echoes Jefferies’ words of advice. Operating an HP Designjet L26500 from its Scottish print facility, Watson says the operational hurdles that digital textiles present to a traditional print shop with no previous fabric experience, depend on what products are being considered and their respective ancillary finishing processes.
“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,” he says. Another point Watson draws attention to is the importance of making a “realistic appraisal” of what fabric-based products could be manufactured and how these can be translated into profitable products.
“Understanding how different fabrics perform as they’re transported through the printer, plus how each fabric reacts to heat, tensioning, ink chemistry and drying is vital,” he says. “Other factors like light-fastness, abrasion resistance and print durability can also be challenges, particularly for outdoors. Post-production and finishing stages are as important as the printing process itself. As ever, a poorly finished product will condemn the finest print to the recycle bin.”
RA Smart’s Mighall agrees that textile digital print is not simply a case of feeding fabric through a machine. Both pre- and post-press treatments to the fabric and print are likely to be necessary to achieve the best results. Dependant on the ink chemistry and fabric type, this may involve pre-treatment to help with show-through, for example, if printing on a polyester flag material, the same pre-treatment will also help to curtail spread or bleed sometimes associated with dispersal dyes.
“Whatever the width and production capability of the printer, a suitable heat fixation unit will also be required. The most common method for the fixation of digitally printed polyester is a rotary transfer machine,” adds Mighall. “The advantage of this piece of equipment is there is no restriction to the length of print going through the machine, as there is with a flat heat press that can only print panels to the maximum size of the transfer bed.”