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Digital printing helps textile firms meet green goals

Nov 01, 2021
Digital printing helps textile firms meet green goals

Textile printing is one of the fastest-growing areas in wide format and industrial printing as it covers several different types of fabrics - from synthetic to natural materials - and various applications from soft signage through to sportswear, fashion clothing and home furnishings. Rising population, increasing purchasing capability and rapidly changing fashion trends are driving the demand for printed textiles globally.


“Printing is a low-cost process but highly value additive process from design perspective. It is the most versatile technique to add designs/ colours to all type of the fabrics which is not possible to achieve through weaving alone. Printed fabrics are always in high demand for fashion wear, sportswear and in the home textiles category. As a textile manufacturer, the focus is on ensuring a shorter turnaround time from the design concept to printing the fabric as it helps in better inventory management for the end customers,” said Prashant Agrawal, Managing Director at BRFL Textiles Pvt Ltd (BTPL).


Textile printing companies - who are always under enormous pressure to reduce time to market - are looking at ways to increase print speeds, efficiency and flexibility. As a solution to these challenges, textile companies are increasingly opting for digital textile printing. Though digital printing's share in textile printing market is very small at present, it is witnessing robust growth than the conventional textile printing methods.


Anjani Prasad, Managing Director, Archroma India, said, "Textile printing is still mainly applied by reactive printing and pigment printing. Pigment printing still represents approximately 50% of the market due to its easy application and the fact that no washing is required at the end of application process. At the same time, digital printing is growing at a fast pace, with an expected 6-8% growth every year. We can anticipate that traditional printing technologies such as table printing, flat bed printing or rotary printing will give way to more digital printing, in particular as the latter has an interesting sustainability profile towards water saving."


Digital in demand

According to Kornit Digital, digital textile printing is a process of printing on textiles and garments using inkjet technology to print colorants onto fabric. This process allows for single pieces, mid to small-run cycle production and even long-runs as an alternative option to screen printed fabric.


The first step in digital textile printing is to pre-treat the fabric with liquid solutions that prepare it to accept the dye and better absorb the colour. Then it is fed through the printer, which sprays the dye onto the textile with tiny droplets. The final step is fixing the fabric, a process that ensures the permanency of the design. Depending on the type of textile and type of dye, fixing may involve steam, dry heat, or pressure. Sometimes it requires a combination of two or more of those, according to Kornit Digital.


“Digital printing, photographic screen printing and computer-assisted print designs now enable us to print and produce intricate patterns and designs on textiles that were once unimaginable. This enhanced capability has sparked a huge demand for printed textiles across major fibers. While traditionally, printed textile production systems were known to be heavy on resource consumption, Huntsman’s new age solutions offer better water and energy savings, thus reducing impact on the environment,” stated Suhas More, Commercial Director - SAMEA, Huntsman Corporation.


The Indian textiles and apparel market is growing at an unprecedented rate and contributes to 7% of the country’s industrial output. As output grows, it is essential that the sector comes together to minimise the impact of operations on the environment. Suhas More stated, "Digital printing offers high-resolution prints with unlimited colour combinations and utilises less amount of ink, electricity, and water as compared to other traditional techniques. Huntsman Textile Effects is one of the leading providers of integrated textile solutions for every aspect of digital printing right from preparatory and digital inks to finishing segments." 


According to ResearchAndMarkets, global production of printed textile is tipped to reach 36.8 billion sq m by 2024. Even in India, increasing number of textile firms are opting for digital printing to meet growing customer demands. Sharing BRFL Textiles experience, Prashant Agrawal said, "Out of its total processing capacity of 4 lakh meters per day, BTPL has a capacity of 2.5 lakh meters per day of rotary printing with up to 16 colours. The demand for digital textile printing is continuously increasing in India. To cater to our customer’s digital fabrics demand, BTPL gets it done by way of outsourcing."


Suhas More added, "With the adoption of the latest printing technologies and methods in India, the demand for printed fabric especially on the consumer end has also witnessed swift growth. On the textile printing front, we have witnessed a technological shift from traditional printing to more eco-friendly and sustainable digital printing platforms. This segment has also witnessed good investments as is evident from big printing clusters in Surat, Dombivali, Amritsar, Delhi NCR markets. As an industry leader in Digital Inks portfolio, we address the needs for applications in different array of fibers like Co, PES, Silk, Nylon etc., have a widespread market reach and OEM partner network, and best in class service teams to help customers with their digital printing needs.”


According to Mark Sollman, Product Manager EMEA, Mimaki Europe, the textile industry is very much in the middle of the transition from conventional to digital printing and one can image that the digital textile industry will only continue to grow from here. “The extreme versatility of digital printing technology, as well as the ability to customise, also lends itself well to fast fashion and sportswear. Namely, direct printing onto natural fabrics has become increasingly popular due to the quality and uniqueness it adds to the garments,” he added.


Call for sustainability

Adopting sustainable practices across the value chain, right from procurement of materials to the processing and manufacturing of textiles, has gained much needed attention in the last few years. “More manufacturers are shifting to newer machines and processes that enable companies to reduce the ecological footprint of textile printing. One of the key benefits of our offerings for this sector is that we help companies further their sustainability efforts while also enabling cost-reduction and maximization of yield. We believe this provides the industry with a real imperative to make the shift to new innovative technologies. The rise in demand for printed textiles has majorly been fuelled by this coupling of energy efficiency and cost management,” stated Suhas More.


As opposed to customary printing techniques, computerised printing is fast and allows for customisations while reducing water, chemicals and material wastage. “Further, newer solutions have also majorly boosted productivity and efficiency within the industry. For instance, Huntsman’s ERIOPON E3-SAVE offers significant sustainability benefits. Based on unique polymer technology, this textile auxiliary delivers a combination of best-in-class performance and value. It enables savings in time, water, energy and ultimately cost by enabling the shortest possible processing cycles and helps them comply with current and anticipated industry sustainability standards. Within a year of its’ launch, our solution had collectively saved more than 130 million litres of water,” said Suhas More.


The market is driven by technology developments that will improve print speeds, design, and efficiency; effervescent adoption of digital printing technology; and improvements in dyeing techniques, and ink formulations. "A few of the factors driving the adoption of digital sustainable printing technology include water, water efficiency; reduction in chemical wastage; the ability to print with different effects," stated Edward Menez, Co-founder and Chairman, Rossari Biotech Ltd. As a leading textile chemical manufacturer in India, Rossari Biotech offers binders for special effect finishing agents to fulfil the requirement of the digital printing industry.


Edward Menez added, “The clothing and garment industry accounts for a significant market and is expected to be the fastest-growing segment in coming years. Major factors influencing growth in the market are migration towards sustainable textile printing practices using cleaner consumables such as urea and eco-friendly printing inks; and use of more efficient printing processes.”


Sustainability is no longer just a good-to-have optional approach. All industries need to unitedly future-proof their manufacturing workflow by adopting technologies that will reduce climate change and preserve the world’s precious resources. “Textiles industry uses a considerable amount of water and energy and a printing process in particular for the steaming and washing,” said Prashant Agrawal.


The digital-edge

According to Edward Menez, digital technology has greatly affected the textile printing market (like many other industries) not only by introducing full-width jet printing machines but also in every aspect of conventional print production, from the design stage, through coloration and recipe formulation, screen manufacture and print paste preparation to the final electromechanical control of the printing machine itself. Rossari has introduced unique products like the Sensocryl series, Neobind series for digital printing, taking textile printing to the next level.


One of the important benefits associated with digital printing on textiles is speed and reliability as this has commercial implication for the industry. “Therefore, techniques allowing time and energy savings that are highly sought after. This is why we developed our patented Inkpresso technology. Inkpresso is a paradigm shift; it allows printers to manufacture their own fresh inks next to their printing machines, ensuring high stability and no issues with shelf life,” said Anjani Prasad of Archroma India.


Prashant Agrawal added, “Digital printing technique is in trend because of its low fixed costs, fast sampling & delivery time, high resolution printing with unlimited designs & colour combinations, higher savings on water & energy, etc. 3D printing on clothing has also been increasing though it is relatively costly; but this will certainly revolutionise the fashion industry.”


More than 20 billion linear meters of printed textiles are produced every year, and currently only around five percent of these are made using digital printing techniques. With number of printing mills making the transition from conventional to digital printing increasing rapidly, one can expect the market to boom in the near future.