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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

Assuming that the underbase covers all of the design areas where the CMYK ink will be applied, hybrid printing eliminates the need to pretreat the garment; the print goes onto the underbase, not the garment itself. Printing the underbase via screen instead of DTG reduces ink costs and eliminates the speed of printing the white ink as a production consideration. It also reduces the amount of fluid being applied to the shirts, which can facilitate faster drying times. In most situations, at least four conventional screens are eliminated, further reducing costs and simplifying the job setup. The number of flash stations also goes down.

Hybrid printing presents an interesting combination of benefits that differ from those that commercial graphics printers considered when they faced the question of technology displacement. (Note: The M-Press was offered with an optional inline Thieme screen printing station; three such hybrid lines were reportedly installed in North America before the M-Press was discontinued in 2013.) But hybrid printing isn’t new; why is so much happening in this segment now?

The ability to combine finely detailed digital graphics with special effects such as the glitter on this shirt is unique to
hybrid printing. Courtesy of ROQ.

It’s tempting to chalk it up to the competition between the two technologies becoming more intense. To this point, DTG printing hasn’t been a real threat to screen printing. It has expanded the market for decorated apparel without eroding screen printing’s share of the pie. The Vulcan and Kyo (and other production-oriented DTG units that are sure to follow) clearly aim to change that dynamic and flip significant volumes of work that, until now, would have been screen printed, so it’s not surprising that vendors of conventional technology would respond.

But the reality is that these systems – the hybrids as well as the production-length DTG lines – have been in development for a long time. They all benefit from recent advancements that enable faster production speeds via inkjet. Manufacturers of hybrid systems are now quoting speeds as high as 700 shirts per hour, not as fast as a top-end automatic screen press running at full speed with no job changeovers, but at least three times faster than what was possible just a few years ago.


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