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Textile printing: an introduction

Textile printing: an introduction

It’s no secret that digital printing on textiles is a growth area in the print industry or that it can provide an extended range of opportunities for print service businesses – from soft signage to home decorating, from sportswear to promotional goods. But if you’re new to this sector of the market, what do you need to know before making an investment?

The range of opportunities

Textile printing technology is moving forward with leaps and bounds, and while this opens up a great range of opportunities, it also makes your decision to invest more complex. So one of the first things to do is to work out what sort of textile printing will be best for you – in other words, what demand is there from your current clients and where will you be able to pick up new clients?

Some areas for consideration include:

  • Sign and display – soft signage offers a number of advantages. Polyester is replacing PVC for banners as it’s cheaper, lighter to transport, carries a lower carbon impact and is easy to install as banners, frontlits and backlits.
  • Promotional merchandising – today’s printers can handle caps, t-shirts, bags, suede, mouse mats and lots more, all great for selling online.
  • Interiors – there’s a world of opportunity here for customisable textile products such as cushions, curtains, bedding, upholstery and table linen, from small runs for exclusive interior designer ranges to one-offs such as personalised photographic cushion covers.
  • Sportswear – schools and local teams make a good market for customised kit.
  • Garments and fashion – fast fashion is competitive and usually requires high volumes and quick turnarounds, but there is potential for customised t-shirts and sweatshirts.
  • Technical textiles – this includes textiles for the aviation, nautical, automobile and military sectors. Given the complexity of the requirements, it’s probably not an area for beginners in the textile market.

Your choice of printer

Even though textile printers are becoming more versatile, you’ll want to choose one best-suited to the type of fabric you’re most likely to be printing. For beginners in this market, polyester printing is the obvious choice – you can use it for signage, merchandising, interior décor and sportswear. In other words, choosing a dye sublimation system for printing on polyester will give you maximum versatility and opportunity for growth.

HP has just entered the dye sub market with its new HP Stitch S Printer series – the first dye sub printers to use thermal inkjet technology. The system is easy to use and has a lower environmental impact than other technologies such as acid or reactive.

Pigment-based ink technologies are also being developed to eliminate much of the pre- and post-processing, and these can be used to print cotton and cotton-mix fabrics, opening up the market for t-shirts, sportswear, bedding and home textiles.

What else will you need?

  • Processing – depending on the printing technology you choose, you might need calendaring, pre-treatments or post-processing. Take advice from your printer dealer about the best solutions for the printer you intend to buy. Getting the processing right is critical for the best quality results.
  • Finishing – cutting and sewing is an essential element of textile printing.
  • Colour management – this is one of the most challenging aspects of textile printing as you might need colour consistency across multiple machines or repeat orders. Bad colour management can result in high levels of wastage, so having a colour expert and the right equipment will be critical to your success.
  • Workflow management – textile printing is more specialised and complex than other forms of printing, so controlling the workflow is essential. Workflow management solutions, quality control and production metrics can be used to manage the process and minimize waste.

Making textile printing profitable

Like any investment, you’ll need to make a careful assessment of probable demand moving forwards. Fortunately, the technology allows for you to begin with relatively modest equipment that you can add to as demand grows. One way to get started in textiles is to take advantage of a really versatile printer, like the HP Latex series. These printers can handle a wide range of durable textiles. Use this to build up your volume until you’re ready to justify a dedicated textile printer. Generate demand by showcasing what you can do, making promotional samples to give to existing clients, targeting new clients at trade fairs, expanding what you offer on your website and investing in SEO, monitoring your competitors offers and promotions, and offering excess capacity to other printers.

Textiles is a burgeoning market which even small print providers can take advantage of, given the right equipment and advice. If you want to explore the possibilities, talk to the Perfect Colours sales team about the best way to go about it – call us on 0845 680 9000.

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