Simplifying the Digital Textile Print Process: Does Wet-On-Wet Print Technology Offer a Gateway to One Step Digital Textile Printing?

Digital textile printing has made it possible to reduce factory footprints and eliminate ancillary equipment. It is well known that wet-onwet printing has been a major factor in simplifying the process. WhatTheyThink’s Debbie McKeegan explores wet on wet textile printing in one step.

With each iteration, the industry rationalizes the steps in print, offering a simplified and unified one-step solution.

Recent developments have reduced the size of the factory for technology and also the need for ancillary equipment (if not eliminated altogether). The main contributor to this simplification is wet-on-wet print.

Typically, in digital textile printing, the ink is printed onto a pre-coated fabric—this is known as wet-on-dry printing. Wet-on-wet—a term carried over from rotary textile printing—is a technique used in the digital textile industry to apply ink or dye onto fabric in a continuous process.

This method allows for better color blending and ink penetration because the fabric remains moist and pre-coated throughout the entire printing process. This method is also called direct-to fabric printing because it allows the ink to be directly applied onto the textile without needing any extra steps, such as post-treatment or pre-treatment.

In a global printed textile market—analog and digital—that is predicted to exceed $260 billion by 2025 (Grand View Research), pigment printing, at 57% of the total, is the largest individual ink component, overshadowing any other ink type, be it acid, reactive, disperse, or dye sublimation.

You might ask: why this figure—57%—is not reflected in digital textile printing sector?

In 2022 the digital sublimation segment dominated the market. By 2030, it is expected that its share will increase to more than 53 percent. (Research&Markets) The adoption of digital pigments has historically been slowed by issues with color vibrancy and fastness, and technical challenges with speed. Recent technical innovations and pigment applications may improve these numbers in the short-term. 

The digital printing of non-coated fabrics using a single-step process is a top priority for many machine manufacturers and could well be the catalyst to increasing adoption.

JK Inks has made significant progress in the sector recently, offering 4k Pigment Inks that offer excellent wash and rub resistance, along with good lightfastness. The inks, however, are only compatible with Kyocera heads and the tests are all on cotton.

The formulation of inks is not enough to solve the problem. While wet-onwet can simplify the workflow and print process, its technical implementation is not simple. It presents a challenge for machine engineers and chemists. It’s from the heart of these elusive R&D departments that the latest innovations will emerge. To be continued…

Kornit Digital were the pioneers of wet-onwet technology, whether they are printing direct to garments or fabrics. The launch of their Presto System in 2019 marked an important shift for their tech, which continues evolving with impressive results.

“When we first unveiled our industry-leading Presto MAX in 2021, the intent was to change the world of fashion and textiles forever, tapping into the power of on-demand digital decoration to set new standards for sustainability and creative fulfilment,” said Ronen Samuel, CEO at Kornit Digital. “We’re proud to highlight how Kornit anticipates the needs of an industry facing new opportunities sparked by digital transformation, while addressing mandates to cut waste and overproduction. Continuous innovation across our production systems, as well as supporting automation technologies, software, and partnerships, ensure customers achieve the highest possible return on investment, receive best-in-class support for their operational and business needs, and prepare to capitalize on trends shaping fashion and textiles for years to come.”

Kornit, as expected, has protected its work over the past few decades. Many of their 130+ issued patents relate to issues such as wet-onwet printing, chemical compositions, and methods.

The digital wet on wet process is a game changer for the pigment printing sector. All stakeholders in the digital sector are now looking to on-demand printing as the future. For this to happen, the technology must go beyond rotary and create a seamless architecture to support multiple textile industries at varying scales.

The printed textiles industry is massive and offers a dynamic global market with a rich legacy. It’s also a market that must adapt if it is to meet its environmental responsibilities and obligations—and it’s primed for disruption.

Optimum Digital (Optimum Digital), Kyocera, MS Printing Solutions (MS Printing Solutions), D.Gen, Aleph and Atexco have all invested into one-step technology.

Kyocera’s FOREARTH digital textile print uses a cycle that discharges their unique blend proprietary pigment inks, pre-treatment fluid, and finishing agents in one go. The system is capable of printing on many fabrics including cotton and silk, as well as polyester, nylon, blended fabrics, and polyester.

EFI Reggiani ecoTERRA also offers a complete solution for pigment water-based printing, which does not require ancillary pre- and after-treatment equipment. EFI Reggiani’s ecoTERRA offers a soft, tactile feel and improved fabric quality thanks to its polymerization and finish unit.

The Lario Compact is currently in development at MS Printing Solutions. It uses nine printheads: two for pretreatment, six color and one binder. This allows the machine to achieve a speed of 75 meters per second in one pass.

This activity is aimed at bringing digital pigment print from its discontinuous method to a more modern, similar process. In one step, the fabric is printed and then cured and softened.

It is possible to see a future, as print technology advances, where pigment printing will be more prevalent, and with it, the advantages of multifiber and blend prints, in the digital textiles sector. This sector is currently dominated primarily by dye sublimation, and reactive printing.

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