Evolution of Textile Printing Technologies and Innovative Sustainable Solutions - Future Textile Machines (2022)

EPRICON – an alternate to conventional and digital prints

The consumer behavior is changing ever fast, becoming more demanding with the evolution of digital era and swift flow of information. The new business models are emerging with e-commerce booming, keeping physical retail stores at bay and stressed. Fashion brands are under immense pressure for quick replenishments and grappling for instant gratification of consumers’ personalized demands. Sustainability, circularity and traceability are gaining grounds in the textile industry and in pursuit of technological advancement. The trend of fast fashion, mass customization and personalization are ever demanding for shorter runs at competitive prices and speed to market. While the entire textile industry is aligning itself to changing trends for shorter value-chain, the last lap – textile printing is most adept to serve customized demand at a faster pace.

Evolution of Textile Printing Technologies and Innovative Sustainable Solutions - Future Textile Machines (1)

As per the estimates, the textile printing industry is valued at USD 175 Billion in 2020 and expected to grow at CAGR of 8.9% to reach USD 266 Billion by 2025, much of which will come from fast growing newer printing technologies.

Evolution of Textile Printing Technologies:

Let’s look at the history of printing industry to understand its evolution. The term ‘printing’ was coined in 18th century and defined as a localized dyeing on the substrate with pre-defined designs and patterns. In early days, majorly wood blocks with raised surfaces were used for textile printing. Further advancement led to engraved metallic roller printing for continuous production and longer runs, while open-mesh silk gauze screens were used for shorter runs. At the beginning of 20th century most of the textile printing were done on engraved roll printing machine. Dyes were selected according to the substrate to be printed, while synthetic pigment systems were first used in 1930s. Automation was the word in the 1950s as firms such as Bayer and Hoechst developed wet-on-wet printing chemistry. By this time, flatbed-screen printing was well accepted in Europe and US, and companies had developed automated moving belt with automatic lifting of print screens, and thus moving the squeegee to print.

Rotary Screen Printing:

During late 1950s and early 1960s, printed fabrics were produced predominantly on roller print machines for long run, low-priced products and on flatbed screen printing machines for shorter yardage and higher-priced, more exclusive designs. Attempts were made to make the flat screens into roller form, mounted on metal cylinders, with printing paste fed from one end of the cylinder, and as it rotates on the moving fabric, printing happens in a continuous process. While various research work on rotary screen printing machine were in progress, Stork launched the first model ‘RD I’ at ITMA in 1963. This brought the revolution in the printing industry bringing down the cost for longer print runs. This was soon followed with commercial launches from leading OEMs – Zimmer, Reggiani, MHMS, Ichinose.

The rotary screen printing technologies evolved over years. The latest models of various OEMs offer up to 24 colours closed/ open print head bearing system with individual servo motors for excellent controls and its digital synchronization. It comes with pneumatic blades squeegee or roller squeegee with permanent magnet or combination of both. It can run up to a speed of 120 m/ min with repeat possibility of 640 mm to 1018 mm. Printing width up to 3200 mm is now a reality.

The major challenge for rotary screen printing is that it is not economical for shorter runs of fabrics due to high cost of screens and its preparation. The print length of fabric over 5000 meters per design per colour ways is considered cost effective on rotary system as compared to other advanced printing methods.

The first two decades of 21st century registered exponential growth in rotary printing system specially in Asia to produce large volume of printed goods to cater to booming fashion industry. It is estimated that around 15,000 rotary machines are actively running and represent 60% of printed textile goods.

Digital Printing:

In early 21st century the digital era had begun with commercial launches of digital printing machines for textiles – the scanners with multi-passes though at a fairly low speed 50 m/ hr and at a very high cost of printing. This technology allows the print heads to deposit ink droplets onto the fabric based on a predetermined pattern from the digital file. This non-contact printing technology eliminates the need to produce screens which are required in traditional printing methods.

This evolution continues with upgradation in technologies and new launches by various OEMs with better print quality and higher speeds, offering complete package – printings inks and heads. However, the low production and high printing cost are still deterrent for its quick adoption at large scale. The launch of high-speed digital printing single-pass machine – Lario by MS in 2012, revolutionise the industry and seen as the paradigm shift in the printing space. In this technology only fabric moves while print heads/ bar are stationary and claimed to print at 75 m/ minute. The last decade witnessed improved versions of single-pass machines by various OEMs and the latest entry was of EFI Reggiani in 2018 with model Bolt, boast to have cutting-edge technology with high production uptime, excellent printing uniformity and accuracy, in addition to superior print head life and minimal maintenance needs which claims to run at 90 m/ min. The other developments emerged are of hybrid printers – inkjet and flat screens.

The Future:

The evolution of digital printing has carved its own space with minor share of 6% in textile printing, estimated to grow at CAGR of 15%, while screen printing growth will hover at CAGR 2-3% during this decade.

One of the key advantages of digital textile printing is its endless design capabilities with greater image quality and colour control. It involves pre- and post- fabric treatment depending on type of substrate and inks used. Like in rotary screen printing, reactive inks always require both pre- and post-treatment to ensure that the dye chemically bonds with the fibre, and to remove excess dyes from the printed fabric during washing. For pigments, washing is generally not required.

The major challenge for the adoption of digital textile printing in a competitive textile market is the high ink cost, and the large number of printing heads used in high speed single-pass machine whose maintenance and replacement cost is prohibitive and makes it uncompetitive against rotary printing. The prices of reactive inks have recently come down considerably, while pigment ink is still under evolution and supplied by few ink manufacturers. Digital pigment printing has good scope in European market catering to niche environment conscious premium segment but when it comes to large volume in Asia, it faces stiff competition from rotary prints.

The future definitely lies with newer technologies but conventional prints are going to create a balance with cost advantages and sustainable solutions, to coexist in coming times.

Sustainable Printing Solution – EPRICON from Zydex Industries

When we look from sustainability perspective, pigment printing has better future scope with minimal usage of water. The digital pigment printing can be applied on various textile substrate but it is still very expensive and at nascent stage of adoption. In case of rotary screen printing, pigment printing had been used for long with some limitation to fastness and fabric handle.

Taking the lead in this direction, Zydex industries has made breakthrough and technological revolution by introducing new generation binder system ‘EPRICON’ for rotary screen printing, which gives excellent softness and fastness to pigment prints with potential to replace at least 50% of existing reactive and conventional prints, thus saves water, energy with increase in productivity. This is based on poly-urethane binders and gives excellent softness to printed fabrics with higher solidity, depth and brilliancy equivalent to reactive prints.

EPRICON allows customers to achieve reactive-like feel, fastness and depth along with excellent brightness. Its simple process eliminates washing and steaming processes and effluent treatment hassles associated with reactive printing. This not only saves overall cost but also results in higher production. EPRICON package allows printing at finer meshes which can help to achieve digital-like prints with deeper shades and brighter colours at much lower costs. This offers advantages such as lower printing cost & higher production compared to digital and reactive printing, lower wastages and pollution, high brilliancy and easy colour shade matching.

EPRICON printing solution aims to replace water consuming printing systems to make a big difference in the textile industry. Zydex is a specialty chemical company with the purpose of innovating to create a sustainable world through conservation of resources. For more information, please write to amirsheikh@zydexindutries.com or log in to www.zydexindustries.com

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