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Here Come the Hybrids

(October/November 2017) posted on Tue Nov 07, 2017

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?

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By Steve Duccilli

Most industry observers agree that where inkjet development is concerned, garment decoration is about 10 years behind commercial graphics, which means 2017 could prove to be a pivotal year. Recently, two DTG systems have been introduced that aspire to be what the Onset and M-Press were in their segments a decade ago: the Vulcan from Kornit and the Kyo from Aeoon Technologies. Like their wide-format predecessors, both employ more printheads to help achieve higher print speeds, along with other productivity enhancements specific to this application. For example, although the machine designs are entirely different, both the Vulcan and the Kyo have more platens than standard DTG units; the Vulcan moves them through a sequential printing process that is analogous to the print stations of an automatic garment screen press.

Courtesy of MHM.

While the appearance of these production-capable print lines echoes what occurred in commercial graphics, it’s important to note that inkjet faces a much different proposition in displacing the established technology this time. First, by the time that production wide-format systems were offered, most substrate-related challenges had been addressed, and that’s not yet so with DTG printing. Depending on their skill and the technology they use, not all DTG users in the field are able to get good results when printing synthetics. Most DTG work also requires the garment to be pretreated. (Kornit has addressed this on the Vulcan with an inline pretreatment station, while Aeoon offers an offline unit that can reportedly treat close to 1000 shirts per hour.)

Another key difference is that by the time wide-format inkjet technology developers set their sights on displacing screen printing, print buyers in segments like retail graphics had already been conditioned to design virtually all of their work in CMYK. In hindsight, although inline multicolor screen lines enabled printers to slash their turnaround times and remain competitive for many years longer than industry analysts had predicted, the shift to four-color process moved the battle against other printing processes to “enemy turf.” Screen printing’s unique ability to deliver an unlimited number of spot colors, dramatic clear coats, and special effects not reproducible by any other means was virtually forgotten by print buyers. Job quotes increasingly became a question of how many CMYK prints could be delivered and at what price, eventually leaving screen printing squeezed between inkjet at the low end and offset at the top.


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