Digital textile printing and sustainability
In the third part of our series on sustainability in different print sectors, we spoke to Micol Gamba at EFI Reggiani.
As a big polluter, fashion and textiles has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to sustainability. Thankfully, as EFI Reggiani’s product marketing manager Micol Gamba explains, the effect of consumer choice, market trends, innovative technology and the promise of economic savings means that positive environmental steps are being taken in digital printing all the time.
“With new generations now becoming consumers with their own buying power, and Generation Z much more concerned about the environmental impact of their purchasing choices, sustainability is becoming increasingly crucial to the textile industry,” Micol says.
“In the last five years, big brands such as Inditex, GAP or sportswear brands like Adidas and Nike, have started to increase transparency along the supply chain. This is really pushing printing companies to change their workflow and demonstrate that their entire production process is sustainable. In this context, digital printing is really the perfect solution.”
If you compare digital to conventional technology for printing textiles, you can see an instant saving in terms of water consumption and energy consumption that ranges from around 40 to 60%
The reason for digital’s significant positive contribution to sustainability is thanks to its improved efficiencies in a range of areas. “Over the years we have constantly reduced our printers’ footprints in terms of energy and water consumption,” Micol says.
“If you compare digital to conventional technology for printing textiles, you can see an instant saving in terms of water consumption and energy consumption that ranges from around 40 to 60%. That is a step change in terms of sustainability.
“Savings come from reduction in water consumption (for printer cleaning and maintenance, like cylinders washing, belt washing, etc), energy consumption to run the printer, including the dryer (far more energy consuming compared to digital).
“Another big benefit is that digital really enables you to print only what you need, when you need it. So you don’t need to have huge amounts of stock being stored unsold in warehouses, which might end up being thrown away and create more waste. Instead, you can just produce what the market requires, and all with a short lead time.”
A further area where digital is attractive when compared to established technology is with the inks used. Micol’s own EFI Reggiani digital printers are a case in point as they use OEKO-TEX-certified water-based ink and utilise innovative technology to eradicate some of the traditional steps in printing processes.
TERRA is based on a pigment with binder, which is able to print on natural fibres and linens without the need to wash and steam after printing and going through post-treatment
“The majority of textile printing processes involve a pre-treatment phase where you add chemicals before printing, and also a post-treatment process to make the fabric ready to be used to produce the final garment. That can involve washing, steaming, chemicals, mechanical processes and lots of water. But we have developed technology that can skip some of these steps,” Micol says.
The first of these is direct-to-fabric sublimation. The most common way to print on polyesters and synthetic fibres is to print on paper, then couple the paper with fabric under heat to make sure the ink sublimates and is transferred to the fabric. But EFI-Reggiani’s approach avoids the use of paper.
“We developed a solution to print to fabric, not only for the signage market but also for apparel and sportswear manufacturers. This then avoids all the paper waste and also improves the properties of the fabric in terms of ink penetration,” Micol says.
Our pigment solution works on cotton and poly-cotton blends. It is used by customers also for special applications like printing on leather, cork, so special materials used in fashion collections
“The second innovative ink technology we have is called EFI Reggiani TERRA, and it is based on a pigment with binder, which is able to print on natural fibres and linens without the need to wash and steam after printing and going through post-treatment.
“Our pigment solution works on cotton and poly-cotton blends. It is used by customers also for special applications like printing on leather, cork, so special materials used in fashion collections.
The TERRA digital printer for fabrics, with between 16 and 24 print heads, runs at up to 565 sqm/h
“You can just prepare your fabric, print on a digital printer, fix in line with the printer’s special onboard dryer, and then the fabric is ready to be used to produce a garment or home decoration. The benefit here is in being able to avoid the use of chemicals and the consumption of water for washing and steaming.”
“Reactive has the softest hand feel in the textile printing industry, nevertheless thanks to a tailored recipe for pre-treatment we are able now to reach a soft hand with pigment too.”
BOLT from the green
Finally, EFI Reggiani has one more special piece of technology designed to accompany the firm’s mammoth BOLT single pass textile printer. With a productivity run of 90 metres a minute, the BOLT presents the possibility to create huge amounts of waste should an error occur, but the company has come up with an ingenious solution.
“We have developed a sampling printer called EFI Reggiani BOLT Capsule that reproduces the print of the full-size BOLT but in small quantities and at slower speed,” Micol says.
“This allows all the sampling and proofing for the BOLT to be done with small pieces of fabric. Customers can approve the quality before it is sent on to production on the full size BOLT, and we can avoid unnecessary waste.”
So, throughout the printing process, digital printers are playing an important role in how the sector is improving its sustainability footprint. And with new efficiencies being developed all the time, the future for digital looks bright – and colourful.
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