27
Wed, May

Textile transformation

According to InfoTrends’ ‘Transforming Textile Printing’ report published at the start of this year, the global textile industry is worth approximately $1 trillion. While the digital textile printing market is tiny in comparison to the entire textile industry, it is growing rapidly from a global perspective. So are you in on the action?

The Image Reports Widthwise Survey 2013, which polled 223 UK and Ireland companies involved in large-format digital inkjet, showed that almost a quarter (24.7%) are now involved in textile printing for flags/banners – 9% are involved in garment printing, and 8.5% in textile printing for home/interiors. When asked which print sector is the fastest growing within their own operation, 4.9% said textile printing for banner/flags - under 1% listed textile printing for garment or home/interiors.But, asked which wide-format markets respondents are looking at getting involved in over the next two years 11.2% said textile printing for homes/interiors, 9.9% textile printing banners/flags, 4% printing textile re. garments.So what’s the story? We asked five companies to comment.

 (Questions)

(1) Are you currently involved in large-format digital textile printing?

(2) What’s your take on the ROI required?

(3) When it comes to large-format print companies diversifying into textile printing, which markets do you think offer the greatest growth/profit potential?

(4) The arguments for expanding into textile printing seem very strong, so why do you think UK printers are still proving so reticent about getting involved beyond soft signage?

(5) The finishing aspect of the textile print workflow is often highlighted as a particular obstacle. Do you agree?

(6) How big an education job is still to be done in getting to the point where the market starts demanding textile print – and is that problematic?

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James Jenning

Sales manager, MacroArt

(1) We have been involved in large-format digital printing (using 5m wide systems) since 1992. We moved into large-format dye-sub textile printing in November 2010 but I have to admit that it took over six months before it started to operate properly as it required an enormous learning curve to understand:

  (a) the 3.2m wide printers and sublimators and how to best operate them.

  (b) humidity requirements.

  (c) selecting a range of textile substrates, understanding how they handle, print and their 

       stretch factors.

  (d) establishing expertise in framing and display systems to hold dye-sub prints.

  (e) repositioning the company to be able to provide a total service - ie print, frames,

       technical advice and installation anywhere in the EU.

 In 2013 we expect our dye-sub turnover (print,frames, installation) to be close to £2m. Currently gross profit percentages on dye-sub operate 10+% above those of UV/solvent.

(2) As a company we average 30-40% return on capital employed and expect dye-sub textile printing to be high in that band. Like everyone else we kept reading about dye-sub printing and the growing demand for textiles on the continent. Our two most senior production managers spent 2009/2010 identifying the best machines on the market and an initial range of textile substrates. Adding new printer capacity and staff operating in a dedicated new building to produce dye-sub prints seemed a natural add on to what we already did - producing well over 500,000m2 of UV and solvent prints on a range of PVC's, mesh and textiles.Textile dye-sub printing at 1440dpi is more profitable than our other wide-format products (typically 300dpi but latterly also 1000dpi) and so should it be on print quality grounds alone.

(3) It's early days to answer this question properly. The main market sectors for truly beautiful 1440dpi dye-sub textile prints are POS, exhibition displays and dressing offices. But you need to know that to satisfy 90+% of the market, you cannot just do the print and finishing and deliver it - you need the resources to also advise on and provide framing systems, and then be able to install both the print and frame.

(4) Printer reticence to get involved in textile printing would include:

 (a) ideally it needs dedicated space plus climate and humidity controls.

 (b) ideally, it should also have its own production staff - not just to operate the printers and the sublimators but to understand the very different material handling issues and understanding warp and weft stretch factors.

(c) unlike all other systems we have known you will not install the printer on Monday and then be producing good work before Friday. Unless information and help is now more readily

available expect a six months baptism of fire; and an operating loss in those six months of say £100,000+ before you understand 'what to do'.

(d) clients will invariably look to you to also provide structure to hold the dye-sub print and install both. You will therefore need to recruit in this expertise or have an agreement with a frames supplier to fulfill this vital role.

(5) 90+% of all textile prints demand the perimeter is finished by stitching on a silicon keder or

bead to get a millimetre accurate finished size. Crazy, but that is the established tensioning

system in the EU as well as the UK. Initially, we tried fighting against this and introducing a more flexible system. It was pointless. We now fully accept the system. It is good, does work, client staff can do changeovers but great attention has to be given all the time to substrate stretch factors and final finished sizes.

(6) When clients see what can be done with 1440dpi dye-sub textile prints they love it. Then you tell them it fits the 'green profile' and they love it more. Then you tell them you can train their own staff to exchange textile displays (no more reinstall costs) and they are all over you. Finally you tell them about their investment in a tension frame; and that dye-sub textile prints cost tow to three times more than other substrate costs and their love diminishes a little. Basically, it just takes time to get them onto dye-sub textile prints. But when they proceed we believe they will not want to go back. So far none have.

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Paul Calland

Director, H&H Reeds Printers

(1) We originally experimented with textile printing on an Encad Novajet with GO inks and soft cloth years ago. We found a few clients who liked this but it was almost a novelty item. Since we installed a HP latex printer over three years ago we have been using textiles for ultra lightweight banner stands and some display prints, but these are a bit of a niche market product. We had a brief experiment with flags and soft signage but the take up has been 'light' amongst our client base.

(2) We already had the HP latex printer so no extra printing kit was required or we would probably not have bothered at all. Obviously a serious justification needs to be made for the volumes required to enter into dye-sub prints.

(3) I don't think our existing client base and experience gives us the facts needed to answer this. However the interior design, soft furnishing markets look interesting for those with the contacts and the R&D required to ensure the solutions are fit for purpose. I'm personally not convinced by soft signage, especially 'see through' fabric panels and dull colours - we have spent years trying to hide exhibition stand frames and get the most vibrant colours possible!

(4) I would say doubts that the prints are suitable for purpose, durable enough etc, especially when faced with a bewildering range of fabrics that are for different purposes, and suppliers who in a few cases have jumped on the media band wagon but tend not to have too many facts handy about applications, compatibility or case studies. The result has been a steep learning curve seemingly at our cost. Plus the main fact that its a different industry altogether if your primary work is display stands and exhibitions like ours where we know we can do a great job with our existing tried and tested materials. Then there is the finishing required...

(5) When we first looked into textiles we quickly realised that sewing machines and skilled operators are required. Unless you have access to these locally on a freelance basis with industrial machines - not your local dressmaker - or you can justify buying some kit and employing someone, then it will be a struggle. We have since seen specialist equipment that speeds up sewing and needs less skilled operators, but so far we can't justify the set-up costs as we do not have enough demand – it’s a catch22. The whole silicone keder strip thing is a pain in the proverbial in my opinion. Is this the best the industry can do? We have even been shown systems where you need to sew zips in - really? Does it not outweigh the argument for speed of production and neat and compact packing of graphic panels when there is apparently messy finishing and nothing folds up neatly because of all the strips? 

(6) Until we are convinced that it works properly, can be finished (ideally in-house) and we have seen some decent 'real' day-to-day case studies rather than manufacturers portfolio pieces, then how are we to convince our clients to turn to textiles? We have felt guinea pigs in the past and in one case supplied some flags that faded while you watched them, despite being told the material and our print process was ideally suited to the application, and after having them sent out for expensive sewing and finishing. If only we could do experimental work like this with our clients, and expect them to pay if it works or not. As a small company it is difficult to compete with the larger companies with their R&D, experience, specialist equipment, skills and finishing, so now we buy flags in complete! 

I am sure that there are now better printers and more knowledgeable suppliers with ranges of compatible textiles for anyone with deep pockets and enthusiastic/understanding clients. Being located in a city with a bigger and more varied client base would help here I am sure. But I suspect we scared a few of our clients off while the industry was trying to figure it out, and they (and I) are now understandably a little wary! Did we try and get involved too early? 

 

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Alan Watson

General manager, OP Graphics

(1) Yes, around a year ago. Our business turnover in textiles is still modest but enhanced margins have been realised for niche, personalised products. The potential for new revenue streams and improved profitability is the key driver as OPG continues to invest in, develop and promote printed textiles for communication, brand promotion, and decoration. Our newly installed HP Scitex LX850 latex printer boasts an in-line ink collector allowing us to print on unlined fabrics (including flag), and was an influencing factor in our recent investment decision.

(2) ROI is everything - especially in a recession. Dedicated textile printers remain the benchmark in textile printing yet these could yield disappointing ROI if textile sales ambitions fail to materialise. Consequently, OPG chose not to purchase a ‘one trick pony’ and avoid the hazard of it becoming a ‘white elephant’. We invested in HP latex technology because it offers increased versatility - including double-sided textile printing - as well as a widening range of regular substrates. The reality of new, premium priced, speciality products added to our portfolio should enhance projected ROI.

(3) Retail and leisure sectors. The possibility of ‘brandscaping’ – ie. brand promotion, communication, and interior design using decorated textiles in novel, imaginative ways. Digital textile has an upscale look and feel. When creatively produced, the finished product always looks more than the sum of the parts. This should equate to higher customer satisfaction and profits.

(4) It’s tempting to stick to what we know and are known for. To realise the market potential for digital textile, fabric needs to be appreciated for what it is. We miss the point (and perhaps the boat) if we view fabric as just another substrate. It looks, feels and moves like no other substrate. It can be finished and applied like no other, yet therein lays both the prize and the pain. Existing business model, skill sets, infrastructure are probably not up to the challenge of fully realising the potential of textile.

(5)Yes. Beyond the obvious cut’n’sew skills that most large-format producers don’t have, there’s the myriad choice of tensioned framing systems, LED backlighting, suspension systems, etc. There is the temptation to ‘allow the tail to wag the dog’ and design projects that suit available skill sets, experience and plant. This is restrictive and stifles creativity. The medium can be the message when it comes to digital textile. OPG sees value in strategic partnerships with other businesses whose expertise is not printing, but who can add value through converting raw print into new graphic solutions.

(6) Most print buyers, interior designers, shop-fitters, architects, events management companies, even consumers, are unaware of the possibilities of digital textile. The irony is LFP delivers the marketing dreams of businesses daily, yet is rarely marketed itself. This chicken and egg scenario means scant awareness equals inadequate demand. To stimulate demand, we need to communicate the value of digital textile to customers, which we’re addressing through revising our marketing strategy. The downside of digital textile is we do have to ‘educate’ our customers - the upside is it isn’t yet commoditised.

 

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Alessandro Tenderini

Director general, Pixartprinting

(1) Yes, we are definitely involved in large-format textile printing, where we have been producing since 2007. We started by printing flags but soon realised that there was so much more potential and therefore we decided (pretty quickly) to move in that direction.

(2) The textile market has been appealing since day one as far as our costs are concerned. This is because either material or technology have been adapted from their analogue counterparts and the digital printing machines have been easy to find because they are pretty much the same as the UV and easy solvents devices. That said, because of the relative lack of competitors and the ease of use of an ecofriendly substrate, the profit margin can be interesting for sure.

(3) We are focused on the advertising market (trade exhibitions and such) and most of our customers are resellers. So where do we see potential? Most of countries have very stringent environment laws and are pushing to use eco-compatible substrates. This means, in short, that willing or not willing, everybody in the future will be forced to transition to textile materials which are easily recyclable.

(4) It's just a matter of time. At the moment, companies are a tad reticent to move to new technologies and new products because they have invested in some other still pretty recent printing devices and, because of the very delicate economic situation, do not feel comfortable in buying new equipment. But as already outlined in the previous answer, no matter what you think now, the market is going green and therefore sustainable materials will be de rigueur in the very near future.

(5) Yes, it is a little bit more complicated but it is just a matter of getting organized. At the end of the day it’s not a big deal. 

(6) There is a time for everything. Today the market is growing slowly but very likely it will pick up its pace in the very close future. So again, it's just a matter of getting involved (possibly before the others do) and grow organically with the market. We need to stress the facts that:

a) substrates and technologies are cheap

b) materials are sustainable

c) quality is pretty much the same as other more popular technologies. 

 

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Tim Porter

Managing director, Rocket

(1) We are involved in large-format digital textile printing but on UV printers as opposed to dye-sub etc. This fabric printing totals around 1-2% of total turnover.

(2) The ROI on fabric print plant seems favourable assuming that current prices are sustained. However, new materials are becoming available for UV and latex printers which will allow companies with such machines to enter the market. This will create competition and ultimately the ROI on dedicated textile printers will become less attractive.

Textile printing is probably one of the higher profit processes we offer although specific finishing requirements eats into this. 

(3) Soft signage seems to offer the greatest potential and seems to be the easiest market for large-format print companies to break into as it tends to replace traditional large-format graphics. 

(4) We only really have experience of soft signage and as a company are not experienced in other textile printing areas.

(5) Finishing is a large issue for us as a graphic production house. We have looked at the latest finishing machinery available and have been encouraged to find that this technology seems to be operable by untrained staff. We tend to focus on textile/fabric printing which does not require finishing, such as prints for tensioned edge profile, stapling etc.

(6) I am not sure that the market should be ‘demanding’ textile print. Textile print certainly has its place and is perfect for certain applications, however traditional methods often offer better quality and value in applications where these are demanded.

 

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