Specialty imagers find, once again, that the question of analog versus digital isn’t a black-and-white one. What could be the impact on garment decoration if we leverage the best of both worlds?
It took about two decades for wide-format inkjet to overtake screen printing’s share of the commercial graphics market. This happened through a series of breakthroughs that addressed each of inkjet’s technological shortcomings one by one. First came pigmented inks that enabled inkjet printed graphics to be used outdoors and in semi-permanent applications. Then solvent-based inks emerged with mechanical bonding properties that made print-receptive topcoats unnecessary on popular substrates and reduced the need for expensive lamination. UV inks followed, expanding the range of inkjet printable substrates and opening up a new category of flatbed machines that printed directly onto rigid materials. Finer-resolution inkjet heads were developed, and software advancements allowed OEMs to use more of them to enable faster print speeds. By this time, most commercial screen printers had added inkjet to their production in a serious way; it wasn’t just for samples and short runs any longer.
Then in 2007, the first wide-format inkjet lines that presented a serious alternative to screen printing emerged: the Onset from Inca Digital Printers and the M-Press from Agfa Graphics (first shown at FESPA 2005 through a remote video broadcast). These units, and more that followed from Durst, HP, EFI, and others, achieved much higher print speeds partly by using vast arrays of inkjet heads. They were expensive and slower than the inline multicolor screen presses that had become common in this segment by then, but by eliminating the time and associated costs of prepress and setup, they presented a realistic digital path to production-length printing for the first time. As ancillary technologies such as automated substrate handling systems and more robust print servers that could handle the vast amounts of data involved in high-speed printing became available, true technology substitution began.
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