Some tips and pointers before taking the first step
If you have a print services business, you are probably thinking about textiles as a potential growth area. Whether it’s because your clients are asking for it, you want to enter new markets, one of your competitors has already taken the plunge, or because of all of the above, the truth is that digital printing on textiles is a great opportunity for growth and diversification, although it does come with risks. Here are some tips and pointers that I hope will help you make the best decision.
1. What are we talking about?
Textiles is a huge and complex market. There is continuous innovation when it comes to fabrics, and each material has its own characteristics in terms of treatments, printing, and finishes. In general, we could say that there are six major markets that are adopting digital printing technologies in textiles:
If you are not currently printing on textiles, I would recommend you to start by exploring how textiles can be applied in your current market and considering it as a line extension, before moving to a new market.
2. What technology do I need?
One of the complex aspects of the world of textiles is that practically every type of fiber requires a different printing technology (see attached table).
Luckily, an easy way to start is with polyester. Approximately 60% of all digitally-printed square meters are polyester or blended polyester, i.e. a mixture of fibers with a composition of 60% or more of polyester. Polyester is the dominant fiber in signage, merchandising, decoration and sportswear, and is also becoming popular in garments and fashion. This is why dye sublimation or dye-sub technology is experiencing strong growth and is expected to continue growing in the next 10 years. It is not surprising therefore that HP has decided to enter textiles with the new HP Stitch S Printer Series, the first dye-sub printers to use thermal inkjet technology.
The other digital technologies (acid, reactive, etc.) are too complex to adopt and have a high environmental impact. What we expect to see in the near future, in addition to the growth of dye-sub, is a rapid evolution of pigment-based technologies (pigment inks), which have the potential to cover a wide range of materials and eliminate much of the pre- and post-processing.
3. What other investments do I need to consider?
In order to print on textiles, in addition to investing in printing, you need to factor in investments in processing, finishing, color management, and workflow management.
This is probably the most difficult question to answer, since volumes will be progressive, and the return will depend very much on the investment to be made. For printing, I would recommend calculating the amortization of the printers between 6 months and a year, since there is currently a wide range available, and you could start with small equipment and increase your capacity as you grow. On the other hand, in terms of processing or finishing equipment, I would recommend investing in capacity and using longer term depreciation criteria (between one and three years), as you can increase and update your printing capacity progressively using the same processing and finishing equipment.
One last piece of advice—a good way to get started in the textile world is to take advantage of the versatility of technologies such as HP Latex; if you have an HP Latex printer, you will find a wide range of durable textiles for latex inks, which will allow you to kick off your production simply and directly (without the need for post-processing). Once your volume increases and you can justify a fully dedicated printer, it will be the perfect time to take the leap.
4. How can I develop my business?
Let’s say that you’ve already made the investment, and now you need to boost volumes... here are some tactics that could help you develop your textile business:
In short, textile printing is a good opportunity for growth, but you must plan well and do your homework before making the leap. At HP, we will be happy to help you grow your business, and we encourage you to learn more about our HP Stitch textile solutions.
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