Printing Direct to Textile: The Myths. Myth #1 - Stretch Fabrics.
Textile printing is the fastest rising market segment of our industry. In recent years, printer, ink, fabric and finishing equipment manufacturers have all invested massively to understand this market and forge its evolution path. They have come up with products that are innovative, loaded with technology and... scary to 'the old guard'. One of those innovations is direct to textile dye-sublimation printing.
In this series of articles, I would like to debunk the most commonly heard myths about direct to textile printing. Some of these myth stem from where the technology was at its early development stage, and some of these myths are simply ingrained in the industry mentality and perpetuated through lack of knowledge and understanding of the market today. The first myth I would like to address is: printing stretch fabrics.
'Myth #1 - You can't print direct to textile on stretch fabrics'
Fabric in the graphics industry was typically sublimated using the transfer, or traditional method that consists of printing paper (reversing the image) and then transferring the image to the fabric with a heat press or rotary calender. This method is still largely used in our industry, but tends to be replaced with direct to fabric printing.
There used to be monumental differences between direct and transfer dye sublimation printing, namely in quality, resolution, types of fabrics you could print, etc. This was in the past! Thanks to the evolution of printers that are now equipped with industrial print heads, dancing-bars, tracking/feeding/winding mechanisms dedicated for fabric, we are able to print exquisite, photo realistic quality direct to fabric. Technology in printers has evolved, but we also have to lift our hats and salute the R&D done by fabric manufacturers that also saw where the direct to textile printing trend was heading, and are now offering us fabrics that permits this superb print quality, crease-less features and yes... direct printable 4-way stretch. The ability to print stretch fabrics is a combination of printer and fabric evolution.
Of course, not all printers are created equal and printing 4-way stretch could remain tricky on some units. We've put to the test 4-way stretch on dgen's Teleios Grande G5. The material we tested the printer with is an 8oz 100% polyester 4-way stretch called Star Media Ultra Stretch FR. This material is ideal for exhibit manufacturers, for halo signs and pillowcase structures. The files we chose were skin tones, small text on a solid black background and aligned rectangles to see the consistency of the alignment through the printing and fixation process, and simply to see if the lines would come out straight. With this choice of files, we would have seen an effect immediately (distortion, banding, wrinkles) if the fabric was being mishandled by the printer or in-line fixation unit. The Grande G5 printer jumped over all the hurdles we threw at it and passed the 4-way stretch test with flying colours!
If you are an exhibit manufacturer, and are still reluctant to print direct to textile, I highly recommend putting us to the test. Send us your toughest files, your small text, your skin tones... and see for yourselves what technology lets us achieve TODAY.
Picture 1 - Shows stretch level of the fabric tested.
Picture 2 - Shows skin tones and resolution
Picture 3 - Shows colour gradient and edge straightness.
Fabric shown: Star Media Ultra Stretch FR - Direct and transfer dye-sub printable.