Printed clothing trend talk: digital pod at scale
In our recent FESPA Innovation & Trends (FIT) virtual event we brought together three printers from across the world to discuss the latest trends in garment decoration and the future of the sector.
The host: Graeme Richardson-Locke: Head of Associations and Technical Lead, FESPA. With 35 years’ experience in the industry, Graeme began as an apprentice and progressed through several directorships before joining FESPA in his current role. He is also a member of the Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technologies.
The experts:Samir Sadikoglu, Owner and General Manager of BirSifir Tekstil AS in Turkey. After 24 years with the family business, ETF Tekstil, Samir’s new venture is a contract screen printer for sportswear and fashion manufacturers. He also owns the Grit3.com e-commerce brand.
Raitis Purins, Head of Marketing at Printful, Latvia, an on-demand fulfilment specialist offering e-commerce warehousing, custom print, embroidery and product drop-shipping for online retailers.
Mark Gervais, Director of Screen Print at Ningbo Shenzhou Knitting Company, Shenzhou, China. Mark has worked in screen printing since 1977 and has managed Ningbo’s huge capacity (up to 850,000 pieces a day) since 2009. He is also a member of the Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technologies.
Screen printing continues to offer a great deal of value in volume production and product enhancements using special effects. However, do you see opportunities for digital print-on-demand at scale to impact brands’ demand for screen printing?
Mark: If you take into account factors like design libraries and direct-to-consumer business models, then yes, I think there's certainly a share of the market that we can take advantage of. In our market, with our business models, we're just looking to bring digital together with screen print. You talk about screen printing for special effects, and we're just trying to bring those two technologies together. Interestingly, hybrid relies on screen print and screen print can rely on hybrid.
We’ve entertained these customisation, personalisation, fully digital solutions where people can go in, do a body scan and then customise garments to the fit, different trims and graphics, different locations. For us, it's still evolving. We're seeing some opportunities but we haven't yet jumped into that DTG arena or the purely digital. We're still relying on the opportunities that we see with screen and digital together.
Graeme: I've learned that, too. I’ve looked at a couple of customisation applications where you body map to get the perfect fit of garment using smartphone technology. I think it's early days. Looking at some of the special effects possible with screen print, I find it very hard to believe we'll ever see them go through an inkjet head — things like reflective beads and some of the coarse materials that can be deposited through screen.
Mark: I think once the speeds come up on 3D digital printing, if they can print sintered metals through a digital printer, then it’s not going to be a piezo-type head. It might be another type of nozzle, another type of a printhead, but I think you're going to start to see technologies merging into a single digital solution. Maybe more like industrial nozzle applications.
Graeme: Samir, you have a foot in both camps. You have an e-commerce brand and you have screen printing. What's your view on the pressure of digital on screen?
Samir: I think the most important thing is to understand the customers and clients that you're servicing. From time to time we receive specs or artwork and it's written that it needs to be printed digitally. Sometimes it's because of environmental concerns, sometimes it's because the graphic designers are maybe not aware of the possibilities of traditional versus digital.
I think the best solution is to consider both the graphic design and the printing process. The best combination and the possibility to apply the advantages of digital to the artwork on the garment will make the change. Today, as I said, we are receiving orders which can very easily be produced with the traditional methods but will be requested to be printed digitally, even in very high volumes. That's actually a kind of conflict.
From the e-commerce point of view, what we are doing in our facility is we’re not printing in the range of tens, but of hundreds. In the range of hundreds, again, screen printing is advantageous when compared to digital cost-wise and quality-wise, because we try to add some special effects on the garments. Digital printing still has room to grow, room to develop speed-wise, quality-wise or special effects-wise. For example, we’re just seeing lenticular prints coming out from DTGs right now.
Raitis: Great comments from my colleagues. The one thing I have to mention is that without print on demand with DTG printing, we wouldn’t have been able to launch a business. Screen printing couldn’t ever provide that low cost for a single item. Basically, you can start a business with the minimum investment.
That's the magic of DTG. One-offs. You can make a great argument why you should go screen printing — about bulk, about some things you can’t do with the DTG, about the quality maybe. But in recent years, DTG printers are working on that, to catch up with the quality. Maybe in a couple of years or decades, it will have, but for now, the one thing that DTG can offer is personalisation.
Any item you sell in your store is unique. You can add your name, or whatever you wish, and that's the opportunity that larger brands can offer their customers. That's the number one argument. The second one is speed to market — how quickly you can offer new designs. You can publish a product and the next day you can start printing it. With on-demand, it's possible. If you want, you can offer a hundred or a thousand different designs. With screen, it’s a little more challenging as far as I know.
Graeme: I also think that if you're starting a brand and you're drop-shipping, DTG can be a great way for market testing. If you stick with it on an ongoing basis, you'll sacrifice some margin as the brand owner for the convenience of having someone else doing all the work for you, but it has lots of advantages. I've worked with several microbrands that just wanted to test design and see how the market would respond to some of their ideas, and DTG was a perfect solution.
In some of those cases, we do the priming with DTG, and then go on to screen printing for a larger production volume when we'd established the value of the designs and the product. It’s a very powerful combination of processes and tools available to us all.
You can see the whole conversations here, and for more information on the first day of the FESPA Innovation and Trends Printed Clothing event, visit here.
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