Weaving new business opportunities through textile printing
Digital textile printing provides a fast route from idea to created products, but what's driving the growth, how big will the market become and is it right for you?
Designers are always looking for processes to help them push the boundaries of creativity. In turn that can be galvanised by advancements in printing technologies, and the latest developments in digital printing – supported by progressive industry R&D into new ink types – are driving the textile printing sector into exciting new markets.
Being able to order high quality, personalised work on demand and in short runs is bringing ideas to life that previously only existed in the vivid imaginations of designers. This in turn is creating a number of business opportunities for printers in the wide format market to carve out a profitable new niche and grow their business.
The scale of this opportunity is reflected in the estimated value of the market. According to a 2013 Infotrends study, the global textile industry is worth $1 trillion and the digital textile printing industry approximately $165 billion. While the value of digitally printed textile garments, décor items, and industrial products was valued at $10.3 billion in 2012, this is estimated to rise rapidly, with digital textile equipment and ink sales expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39%.
Growth is being driven by demand for print across a number of industries. In the fashion industry, where print is ubiquitous, digital printing is still a relatively new technique (although the likes of Mary Katrantzou have previously used it). But its numerous practical and creative aspects are increasingly appealing to designers.
Fabric printing has historically been done through rotary and flatbed screen printing, requiring individual screens for every colour and pattern used. Because of set-up costs, printing in larger volumes is more economical and shorter runs can be less cost-effective, but with the introduction of digital print to textile printing, the number of patterns that can be affordably printed in small volumes is infinite. This gives designers the flexibility to create one-off prints for bespoke pieces.
This capability has caught the attention of the luxury fashion market, explains Debbie McKeegan, Creative Director of Digetex, a UK-based specialist in digital printing of textiles and wall coverings. “There’s a real trend against “mass production”, with the fashion market embracing new technologies and the creative freedom that comes with them. Designers are now free to create fabulous bespoke collections for discerning clients.”
Strong examples of print-centric designers benefiting from print include Cath Kidston, whose global empire – worth £75 million – is built on the production of retro-printed household goods, bags, clothing, fabric and accessories. Equally high profile, Orla Kiely’s distinctive 1960s and 1970s inspired collections combine her love of nature with her understanding of print. At the other end of the scale are personalised textile printers such as Print All Over Me, which provides a platform for up-and-coming designers to create, share, promote and sell their designs printed onto blank garments and objects that consumers can purchase online.
The interior décor market is also benefiting from digital textile printing. Curtains, blinds, furniture upholstery and carpets can now be customised and printed in runs of just one, providing the commercial and residential interior design market with boundless possibilities. “There is simply no comparison between the signage industry and the production of beautiful textiles for home furnishings or fashion. Digital printing technology has changed the print process beyond recognition,” adds Digetex’s McKeegan.
A large proportion of the interior décor market’s growth is being driven by digital inkjet printing, explains Oliver Luedtke, Marketing Manager, Kornit Digital: “Digital textile printing makes an interesting opportunity for any print service provider that wants to escape eroding margins and commodity prices. Most printers have 50% of the knowledge already there, with vast experience of file handling, workflow, RIPs, colour management and web-to-print. They can apply this knowledge to textile printing and create quality products that they can charge a premium for, introducing a profitable new revenue stream.”
For print providers considering a move into digital textile printing, it is important to understand how the latest inks work with certain fabrics for a quality end product. Rosaria Pozzoni, Business Operation Manager, J-Teck3 s.r.l. says that ink is critical to quality textile printing in terms of appeal and durability. “One of the most important things to consider is the use of vibrant and solid colours which can resist weathering, light and washing but, at the same time, are suitable to reproduce striking graphics and designs for any type of textile printing applications and fabrics. Therefore it is vital to work with a supplier that understands these complexities.”
A business also needs to have the right staff to be able to optimise the capabilities of its technology, explains Vicky Begg, Bureau Co-ordinator at the Centre for Advance Textiles (CAT). “It’s vital to have skilled staff who understand the matrix of challenges that arise from printing directly onto fabric. While consistency is very important for our customers (as with any print-based market), the different batches of fabric and processes involved mean that you can never guarantee an exact match. This needs to be communicated to your customers. But the potential of possible applications supersedes this.”
Printing off samples on different fabrics enables printers to demonstrate what is possible to their customers. Equally important is explaining what technologies work best for what sector, because different inks are suitable for different fabrics and some services might be more expensive when printing lower volumes, so it is essential to advise customers according to the volume required and the budget available.
Consistent software and colour profiling also help deal with a broad customer base, ensuring colour consistency and fast turnaround printing – without the need for time-consuming test runs. A close partnership with suppliers can also be beneficial, as they can advise on the right hardware, software and ink for a printer’s business and the needs of their customers. Finally, it is important not to overlook the opportunities of web-to-print platforms, which allow customers to submit designs online; a flexibility that meets the unpredictable and ad-hoc demands of the modern designer.
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