By Simon Eccles, Monday 15 April 2019
Last July, Cardiff based large-format print specialist 3 Sixty expanded its textile printing with major investment in a 3.2m dye-sublimation printer and associated ancillaries.
Together with the skilled seamstresses who sew and finish the products, the new kit is now responsible for 25% of the company’s business, according to managing director Richard Inkin.
He and business partner Ben Newton set up 3 Sixty in 2010, having entered the printing sector 10 years earlier following an early career with the merchant bank Coutts. “One of my clients was a printer and basically asked me whether I fancied a change? It was 2000 and it was just the right time with the way the banking industry was going.”
The basis of the company is its three-word marketing message and offering: ‘Audit, Print, Installation’. Audit means getting to know the customer’s needs and suggesting the solution, including offering agency design services. “We are very good listeners; it’s a key part of our service,” says Inkin. “We listen first and then impart our plan to deliver excellence to our clients.”
Printing is through a range of wide format inkjets, primarily a pair of EFI Vutek UV machines, a QS2000 and a GS3200 which were joined by a new Durst P10 250 HS Plus UV hybrid at the same time as the Rhotex 325, plus a 1.6m HP Latex printer, which can also be used for textiles as well as wall coverings. In the past three weeks it has installed a PrintFactory modular automated workflow to handle colour management and job scheduling.
Installation is the third arm of the service, with 3 Sixty able to take on anything from a single site up to full retail chains of hundreds of stores in a seven- to 10-day period. Installers go in with handheld devices linked to 3 Sixty’s cloud system so they can photograph and document the process for customers to see.
The main business areas it works with are POS; exhibitions, events and brand activation; window displays; interior design (fire retardant textiles, wallpapers, flooring, window films); and signage.
Inkin says the main textile applications are “both supplied on the roll or converted by our skilled seamstresses into soft furnishings, such as curtains, cushions, bolsters, covers, tablecloths and roller blinds.”
Other textile work is what’s loosely classed as soft signage or plastic coated banners – flags of various styles and shapes, drapes, tension frame systems, exhibition graphics, fence and crowd control scrim and barrier jackets. Welders and eyeletters are used to finish the banners.
A pair of Zünd digital cutting tables are used to cut simple or complex shapes. 3 Sixty employs three or four seamstresses depending on the workload and has a variety of industrial sewing machines for them to do the assembly work on. “For more capacity we recently installed a second Zünd G3 3.2m machine to cope with the additional demand created by our fabulous new investments,” says Inkin.
“We make simple and complex products, from bolster cushions and curtains to bespoke bar covers. The speed of the Zünds gives our skilled finishing team the time to really add value and create all manner of products. We’ve got seven or eight different sewing machines that are used depending on the type of finish that’s required.”
The Durst P10 250 HS Plus installed at the same time as the Rhotex was intended to expand capacity for existing work, says Inkin. “Being a hybrid machine it allows us to print both rigid and roll media at high speed with exceptional quality. We can run high-quality banner work, wall wraps, direct-to-substrate to a variety of media, from the everyday Foamex and Correx boards, to more bespoke requirements such as adhesives, acrylics and more sensitive plastics and now environmentally friendly options to plastics. The P10 sits alongside our UV Vuteks and HP Latex machines. We use our P10 for commercial wallpapers and we do also use the Latex for smaller more decorative projects.”
Why choose the Rhotex 325?
This was 3 Sixty’s first dye-sublimation printer, Inkin says. “We printed fabrics by UV before, but this process is not as good. We also run some display work on HP Latex.” He says the attraction of the dye-sublimation inks is they preserve the natural ‘hand’ feel of textiles, unlike UV and Latex inks that stay on the surface and alter how it feels and flexes.
“The dyes are infused into the substrate rather than applied to the top level and therefore it doesn’t crack, it doesn’t fade, it doesn’t peel away from the substrate,” he says. In addition UV inks can’t be used with fabrics that contact skin, such as garments and soft furnishings,” he says.
“The reason we bought the Rhotex is not only because it’s the best in its class for quality, reliability and speed, but also because of Durst’s water-based disperse dyes. They are labelled Oeko-Tex Standard 100, meaning they work perfectly across a wide range of media. We can print onto wide width fabrics up to 3.2 metres wide, but a lot of textiles are still only woven at 1.5m (60in) so we can be very flexible with our approach to what we can offer.”
The Durst Rhotex 350 is a 3.5m-wide inkjet printer that uses water based dye-sub inks and can run at a maximum of 390m²/hr, though the higher quality ‘production’ and ‘backlit’ modes are 170m² and 130m²/hr. It uses Durst’s own WTS variable drop size piezo print head technology that’s tailored to water-based inks and incorporates an automated nozzle cleaning system. It can feed both transfer papers and textiles roll-to-roll. There’s an integrated hot air dryer, though final heat sublimation has to be done as a post-process.
3 Sixty uses its Rhotex for both direct printing to the textile and for printing on to paper for later transfer to the textile as a separate post-process. “We use both and have built our knowledge base with support from Durst, our media suppliers and having the internal expertise to test and evaluate the best products to fit our customer’s needs,” says Inkin.
“We find that most of the display fabrics we run can be printed direct to substrate. However, we always use paper transfer for any substrates that have any elastane content or our furnishing range, to ensure the highest quality finish.” Elastane is used for stretchable fabrics such as Lycra/Spandex.
The dye-sublimation process requires textiles to have a high proportion of polyester fibres, which absorb and bond with the vaporised ink pigments in the heat fixing process. “We have a very varied range of substrates that we print on our Rhotex, these are all 100% polyester bases but some have up to 5% elastane content,” says Inkin.
“We haven’t yet tried any mixed textiles, ie poly-cotton mixes, simply because so far our clients have not requested this. The concern would be the wash fastness of the dyes on the mixed fibres, with potential issues with dyes running, fading or not fixing to the base cloth in the first place.”
The Rhotex is only one part of the dye-sublimation jigsaw, Inkin points out. “To fix the print, a heat press is essential, as well as a good pre-press setup from artwork supply and creation to processing, and finally the people to make the most of this kit, from sales staff, account handlers, to raise awareness of the possibilities, pre-press and operators to find the best way.”
A Monti Antonio calendaring machine is used for both heat sublimation and fixing of directly printed material, or for heat pressure and fixing from transfer paper in contact with the blank textile rolls.
“The machine was operational within three weeks, but even with skilled operators it has still taken us months to really understand how to get the best out of the machine,” says Inkin. He praises the print quality, saying: “It has certainly lived up to all the promises we were given. It has opened up the markets we targeted.”
Any noteworthy issues? “People’s knowledge of the dye-sublimation process is key. It is also critical to have a temperature and humidity controlled environment for the machines to work in,” he says.
Would he buy it again, or recommend it to others? “Absolutely.”
Process Piezo inkjet with dye-sublimation aqueous inks
Media types Transfer paper, or coated and uncoated polyester fabrics
Max print width 3.2m
Colours CMYK (options for light cyan, light magenta, light black and PCA)
Resolutions 400x600dpi (7-14-21pl drops); or 800x600dpi (7pl drops)
Throughput Backlit Mode 130m2/hr; Production Mode 170m2/hr; High Speed Mode: up to 390m2/hr
Media width 3.2m
Price Starts at £275,000
Contact Durst UK 01372 388540 www.durst-group.com
Established in 2010 by Richard Inkin and Ben Newton, 3 Sixty offers a wide range of large-format printing and installation services, recently expanded with its dye-sublimation textile printing and finishing services. “We thrive working in the retail, events, marketing, hospitality, leisure and manufacturing sectors,” says managing director Inkin. “Since the start we have enhanced our offering every year through the purchase of super-wide format, small format and dye-sublimation printers.”
In February, the company moved into new purpose-built premises in an industrial park in Cardiff, doubling its floor area to 2,600m2. It employs 36 people and anticipates a £3.8m turnover for the year up to the end of March. Last year it was £2.9m.
Why it was brought...
3 Sixty wanted to expand its product line in textiles for soft furnishings and soft signage, but wanted to avoid UV or Latex systems in order to maintain the ‘hand feel’ of the fabrics. These products now account for 25% of business.
“It’s brought a diversity to our company, the new ranges of products and services we can offer to our clients has opened up new and exciting opportunities,” says Inkin.
How it has performed...
While the machine has required some trial and error to get perfect results and demands a good pre-press setup, Inkin is well pleased and says it has lived up to its promise. “It has opened up the markets we targeted,” he adds.