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Fashioning the Future 

Many key areas in the world of signage and print are driving how businesses operate and influencing what products they produce. Textiles are a prime example of the importance of quality, sustainability, customization, availability, and accessibility to any product.

Although sustainability may seem trendy or trendy, it is the driving force behind most products and business practices in today’s world.

The bad reputation of the fashion industry over the past few years has led to many headlines citing the sector as one of the world’s biggest pollutants. Although The New York Times and other environmental experts have disproved this theory, statistics and attitudes surrounding fast fashion are in dire need for change.

This combined with the rise in popularity of ecommerce has made it more popular for textile and garment printers to be used.

Because of the overlap in sign-making methods, and the relationship between textiles/print, textile and clothing printing have been a lucrative market for those in the display industry.

Recent examples of this evolution are found in Bristol-based 2601, who moved into large format textile printing by investing in new technology from Mimaki (CMYUK) and other companies.

The company’s wish to bring textile printing in-house in order to provide large backdrops for film and TV meant investing in new equipment and materials. The business was able, thanks to research and best practices, to increase its output and offer new solutions for interior decoration and large-format printing.

Textile printing can lead to a number of product offerings such as home décor, branded clothing, and soft signage

With many options available for businesses such as garment printing, wide-format textiles, and interior decoration, let’s look at the key advice and focus points to look into in 2023.

How do I start?

It is important to be able to identify the market trends and areas for growth in order to better understand textile printing technology.

Alex Mighall, product marketing manager at R A Smart CAD & Machinery, has seen a variety of solutions and trends impact the industry thanks to the company’s knowledge of printing and the range of machinery it offers.

Mighall explains: “R A Smart was originally established as a bespoke manufacturer of specialist short run textile printing equipment but has since become a large and well-known supplier of digital large-format printing solutions.


“The company bared witness to the pioneering days of digital textile print technology in the late 1990s and has partnered with the leading machine manufacturers supplying and supporting customers throughout the UK and Ireland.”

R A Smart has a rich history in printed textiles. The company is not only a supplier of equipment but also a commission screen maker and printer. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in business in 2022, which led to its reputation for excellence and its wealth of knowledge.

Mighall says: “We’re proud to be partnered with leading machinery manufacturers including Mimaki, HP, Fujifilm, Transmatic, Polytech, and more to bring our customers the latest in digital print technology.”

Discussing investable technologies and the industry as a whole, Mighall comments: “Textile printing is one of the fastest growing sectors in wide-format print. The market is heading into a ‘boom phase’ and there’s a great amount of potential to capitalise on. Dye-sublimation, one of the most common methods for printing textiles, is also one of the most sought after. It’s a perfect starting point because it offers a solution for a vast variety of applications – from sportswear to soft signage – with a relatively easy process.

One of the fastest growing segments in wide-format print is textile printing. The market is heading into a ‘boom phase’ and there’s a great amount of potential to capitalise on

Mighall points out the many wide-format businesses that can enter textile printing by adding a heat press, a vinyl printer, and/or cutter. “In my opinion, the HP Stitch S500 is a fantastic place to start. Partner this with a Transmatic calender heat press and you’ll have a 1.6m solution capable of producing stunning prints by the roll.”

For businesses after a larger machine, Mighall suggests the 3.2m-wide HP Stitch S1000, adding: “It comes with a built-in colour spectrophotometer for consistent results and the ability to print two rolls of 1.6m material at the same time. Plus, it’s the only dye-sub printer on the market with thermal print heads, meaning no need for expensive engineer visits.”

RA Smart highly recommends the HP Stitch S1000, a versatile machine that is both practical and adaptable for sign-makers.

It is important to research this industry as it can have a significant impact on your workflow and quality.

Iain Clasper-Cotte, managing director at FaberExposize/Northern Flags, states: “Fabrics that appear to have the same specifications can print very differently, so unlike UV or Latex printing where you can almost print out of the box, fabric takes a lot of trial and error to select the right substrates and to develop profiles that deliver the right results.”

As a large provider of wide-format print in the UK, FaberExposize has garnered a great deal of expertise in fabric printing, having worked for a number of the world’s biggest print management, advertising, sports, and event companies Clasper-Cotte adds: “We started with inline fixation printers and while they look straightforward, the limitations of control and flexibility meant we actually sold them after only 18 months and moved to separate sublimation with our Monti Antonio and Klieverik machines.

“It was an expensive learning process. In view of this I would recommend you use trade printers to ensure that you have a market before making the investment.”

FaberExposize UK, part of the FaberExposize Group, is an international display network that has factories around the globe offering wide-format products. The company’s sister business Northern Flags is a specialist in flags, flagpoles, pull up banners, fabric banners, and automotive display.

FaberExposize UK added new machines to its fleet of machinery recently.

FaberExposize could rely on this partnership to provide the best possible range of products and to invest in new kit. Clasper-Cotte stresses the importance of training as well. 

“There is definitely more of an art to it than with UV, but when you master it, the results are well worth the effort and the clients love the quality and greater robustness of the end product,” says Clasper-Cotte. “The biggest bit of advice is when selecting your hardware partner carry out due diligence on the support. Talk to customers. If there is poor support, then your people will struggle, and your output will become unreliable.”

Where can you expand?

New opportunities and trends have emerged from the market shifts caused by the pandemic, cost-of-living, ecommerce and new focuses on sustainability.

Mighall speaks about what he considers the biggest opportunity in 2023. He cites tension framing system as products that can either be incorporated or expanded into a textile product offering.

“Essentially it involves stretching a printed textile over a frame by stitching a silicon edge onto their graphics. It’s a highly sustainable method to use, especially when compared to traditional stand and display building techniques. The frames are often manufactured from aluminium, like our REXframe solution, and can be re-used or 100% recycled.”

While new machinery and solutions may bring benefits to your business, it is important to also consider the cost of running these processes, especially with the rising energy prices.

Clasper-Cotte explains: “With dye-sublimation printing, the calender machine where the print is ‘baked’ consumes a significant amount of energy whenever it is switched on as it needs to heat up and maintain a specific temperature. Investing in such machinery needs to be considered carefully with sustainability at the forefront of every decision.”

Inks are another important aspect to be aware of, especially when looking at sustainability. Clasper-Cotte adds: “Over the past year we have switched to water-based Greenguard certified inks for both UV and dye-sub printing as they do not contain chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or other solvents that might emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Clasper-Cotte concludes: “Whatever the investment, businesses should aim to reduce their environmental impact. Based on my experiences, I wouldn’t recommend inline fixing. Others may disagree.

“If you can afford it, always buy a bigger calender than you need so it can cope with expansion. Luckily, we invested in one of the largest capacity machines made by Monti Antonio, and now it is sublimating three high-volume printers with over 600sq m an hour of capacity.”

Clasper-Cotte, Mighall, and Clasper have hinted at expanding into wider-format solutions. Many businesses will still be successful in garment and apparel print. As mentioned previously by Mighall, print and signage companies can add a machine like a heat press to existing equipment in order to expand a company’s offering. 

Phil Oakley, director of Kornit Digital UK and Ireland, adds: “Highly specialised cutting systems such as those produced by Kornit partners like Gerber (a Lectra company) and Zünd, as well as the growing range of design applications, make it easier and more efficient than ever to transform custom fabrics into high-quality, ready-to-wear apparel.”

Phil Oakley is the director of Kornit UK & Ireland, a manufacturer of industrial-scale inkjet printers

Discussing the need for diversity in times of crisis, Oakley says: “Kornit direct-to-garment production systems are more capable than ever. They require less energy, floorspace, labour, and materials and have created opportunities for commercial print businesses to diversify and grow in the face of a volatile, unpredictable marketplace that’s increasingly paperless”.

New avenues

Adopting new methods of production and trade can greatly benefit a business in a world where sustainability is paramount and industries must adapt to ever-growing change. This is especially true if certain solutions or materials are less popular.

Kornit Digital is a provider of industrial-scale inkjet printing equipment for the production of finished garments. It has been able to endure in the industry due to its innovative products and dedication towards quality and workflow.

Oakley states: “The ability to imprint garments opens new sales channels and enables a diversification that empowers the business with an agility when demand evolves or shifts suddenly. It enables fulfilment of a growing marketplace for custom, personalised, and otherwise bespoke goods, driven by a web-enabled world of creators who demand fast, responsibly made, and high-quality fulfilment of their inspirations.”

Kornit is a manufacturer and supplier of garment printers. This allows Kornit to use safe and sustainable inks and fixations and allows for an on demand production model that minimizes waste. To achieve greater product possibilities, machines can print on both natural and synthetic fabrics.

O Factoid: Printing methods include direct-to fabric (DTG), direct to garment (DTF), heat transfer and sublimation printing. O

Oakley encourages businesses and other service providers to stay current with the latest trends so they can best serve this market. “Sportswear is booming right now, and with our Kornit Atlas MAX Poly, producers finally have the capability to deliver an unlimited number of designs and effects on team sports and athleisure garments.”

Oakley adds: “Producers tapping into the growing range of online design apps and social media channels can reap an ever wider base of potential customers, with more and more creators seeking fulfilment of their creations.

Whether it’s apparel, signage, home goods, or anything else requiring custom textile decoration, including uncut materials to be used as they wish.”

Your business must be actively involved in online activity to keep up with current trends and respond accordingly. Covid-19 has made e-commerce a much more important market.

Due to its ease-of-use and variety, the apparel industry holds a prominent place in the online market. In order to tap into this part of the market, Oakley comments: “The e-commerce economy increasingly requires a reactiveness for which traditional print mechanisms are largely ill-suited.

The fashion industry has been often criticised for creating waste and the way products are made.

“When a trend emerges, or a major event takes place that creates new opportunities for personalised expression, you need a fast solution to capitalise in the moment, and that is digital’s sweet spot. The market is increasingly data-driven and integrating digital production systems with those data collection capabilities means recognising and taking advantage of new opportunities.”

It’s clear from the advancements and developments in the industry that textile and garment printing will only become more relevant. It does not matter if this means that you can incorporate different materials into your signage solutions, or that you offer more branded products. But it is worth looking into.

E-commerce, sustainability and wide-format printing are all areas that continue to be emphasized. However, textiles have become an essential part of each of these industries. Although there are still many things to be done to make this sector more circular and sustainable, sign-makers and printers can help to ensure that textiles and garments are best used.

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