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?
DTG technology has been capable of printing sufficiently opaque whites for many years now, without the stiff hand that screen printing can be prone to, especially when not done well. But it takes more ink, which brings time and expense into the equation. Many DTG developers employ multiple white printheads in order to achieve these thicker ink deposits faster, but on most systems, printing on dark garments still slows the process down. (The Vulcan is an exception, with quoted speeds of up to 250 garments per hour regardless of the shirt color.) And at any print speed, the additional ink increases the per-piece cost, which can be a limiting factor as the run sizes go up.
The concept behind hybrid printing is simple and hasn’t fundamentally changed since the first Paradigm units were marketed five years ago. Instead of thinking in terms of one technology versus another, the idea is to use each process to its strengths. (Note: The charts accompanying this article provide basic specifications on the hybrid lines available in mid-2017. One additional manufacturer, the Italian company Tek-Ind, exhibited the Alfa Digital hybrid press at FESPA 2017, but did not respond to requests for information.)
All hybrid print lines include an inkjet station that takes the place of one of the printheads on a carousel or oval automatic screen press. These DTG stations print in CMYK only, not white; instead, jobs are configured so that one or more underbase colors are screen printed and flashed before the platens advance to the DTG unit. After the CMYK digital inks are printed, additional screens can be used to print highlight or spot colors, special-effect inks, adhesives for flock or foil application, and more. Then the finished shirts are put through a conveyor dryer, just as with a conventional screen line. Often, the line will be supplied with an interface that allows both the DTG and screen heads to be run from the master print controller.
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