Israel-based digital fashion company Kornit unveils its new Apollo printing system at the International Textile Machinery Association’s annual conference kicking off Thursday in Milan. The company’s chief marketing officer Omer Kulka described the new launch as a “full-scale automated production line for direct-to-garment.”
For Kobi Mann, Kornit’s chief technology officer, the launch caps off years of painstaking work to develop the automation and streamlining of direct-to-garment, wet-on-wet digital printing. Mann said Apollo is a “breakthrough” because it is fully digitized and automated, requiring just one employee to manage the entire operation.
The Apollo innovation was made possible by the Kornit Max technology, which Mann’s team worked on for four years and which he refers to as the “Holy Grail” of direct-to-garment printing. Released in April of 2021, it featured XDi, which delivered new 3D capabilities for high-density graphic decoration in a “single, waste-free digital process.”
Mann says that the Apollo system combines the best features of both the analog and digital screen printing worlds in a single, fully-automated unit. It traces its origins to the company’s launch in 2003 when Kornit began guided by the inspiration and principle of using pigment rather than dyes to create colors.
“Pigment is different from a dye by the fact that it is a solid particle, like the brown of coffee, for example. It absorbs the light and emits the light, but it’s a solid—it’s more complicated to create a formulation of that,” Mann told Sourcing Journal. “The main benefit of pigment is within the analog industry where it’s considered cheap. In the digital industry, it’s considered very costly because you’re taking particles that you don’t want to aggregate and sink within the material.”
Apollo is a high-volume printer that brings pigment printing into the digital age. The company says the Apollo system can churn out 400 garments per hour for “any kind of job.”
With the implementation of the Atlas Max Plus technology and Apollo system, Kornit is “covering the two spaces of the DTG, roll to roll,” Mann said.
But with Kornit’s 20-year anniversary at hand, so, too, is the 20-year sunset on many of its patents, an area of concern for the company that is headquartered in Israel with offices in Duesseldorf, Germany, Macclesfield, UK, Shanghai, Kowloon, Hong Kong and Englewood, N.J.
Kornit insists many of these earlier patents will not expire before 2030. It also says it actively defends its patents, as competitors see the benchmark of 20 years as an open-use green light.
Mann said most of Kornit’s patents expire at the end of 2030, not 2023. “The patents that were filed in 2004 indeed will expire soon, but the patents that cover our actual technology were filed in 2009 when we developed our innovative water-based inks and process for wet-on-wet printing on textiles,” he added.
Mann stated that despite the 2009 caveat, rivals have tried to seize on a patent due to reach its 20th birthday on June 16, only two days after ITMA concludes.
“People were under [the 2023 expiration] assumption and went and copied part of our ideations and unique value proposition,” Mann said. “We are eager to protect our IP.”
The company claims to have more than 80 patents, with 100 others pending or provisional.
The main patent at issue, titled, “Method for image printing on a dark textile piece,” is described in the abstract as “A method and apparatus for color printing on a dark textile piece, the method including the steps of digitally applying a white masking layer directly onto a textile piece, curing the white masking layer, and digitally printing a colored image on said masking layer.”
The patent was granted Dec. 16, 2004 but the clock for its expiration began ticking June 16, 2003.
In the future, the competition for digital garment printing will increase. According to Technavio’s latest market research data, the digital textile printing market is expected to grow by $2.54 billion from 2023-2027, an increase of 13.5 percent each year