Pushing Pigment Print

 In Market Intelligence

Since long, the holy grail of digital printing is said to be an ink that can print on any surface. It is an ink that will have optimum fastness properties, while also having a wide gamut. An ink that could provide all the positive characteristics, with less of today’s problems, would be the instant breakthrough solution that warps digital print production into the de-facto standard of putting color onto anything that needs a design printed on it. The quest remains, although some have already claimed its existence.

Up until now, we have come to rely on the many different forms of inkjet ink, all tailored to meet the specific requirements of the materials they are used on. Reactive, acid, sublimation, disperse, UV curable, solvent. Some water based, others with other components inside. And every type of ink has its own process to make it stick to a surface. Mostly developed for a certain substrate and often in combination with a coating, a pre-treatment or a post-treatment. But always according to the possibilities and limitations of the inkjet print head used in a printing system as well as to application specific requirements.

Print on anything

When latex ink was launched a couple years ago, it held promise of the solution that could do it all. And, true, it has opened up the market for many to provide digital color printing on many different substrates. It sure has captured the attention of sign and display print shops. And now, with the latest generation of pigmented inks, another wave of excitement can be noticed in the digital printing industry.

It seems we’re on the verge of a new leap in digital print production. More precisely, digital textile print production. And it is based on the push of pigment.

Recently, Bordeaux started the promotion of their Velvetjet product. Just prior to that, Alpha Ink Jet brought to market a wide gamut pigmented ink for textile. And many of the known players in this industry, including my former colleagues of Kiian Digital, have started to deliver water based pigmented inkjet inks for digital production. At the latest ITMA exhibition, Kornit showed some fine examples of fabric prints made with their solution. During this year’s Fespa show in Amsterdam, Durst successfully ran its high speed system, showing vibrant colors and impressive detail.

Future direction

When being asked what the near future trend would be, I answered a long time ago: “high productivity machines and pigmented inks”. Of course, that’s with the perspective of digital textile printing in mind. But digital textile printing still only represents a very small portion of the total global production of printed fabrics. On top of that, many have grown accustomed to existing processes and combinations that are already perfect for the application they were designed for. Disperse for flags and banners, sublimation for promo and sportswear, acid for carpets and reactive for fashion, to name a few. In some cases, there is no valid reason to change to something new.

As outlined in my earlier article “Gathering of Giants in Digital Textile Printing”, high productivity machines have been launched, sold, installed and are printing fashion and interior fabrics. But most of these are running the same ink chemistry that proved to be most compatible with the media in traditional production settings. Often, this is the result of adding digital printing to the traditional production process, benefiting from the ancillary character within the whole existing workflow.

Still, the wish to simplify and harmonize processes by using one universal, can-do-all chemistry is what everyone seems to be searching for.

The biggest delay factor in the development of a pigmented ink for digital inkjet has been the combination of small nozzles and relatively big color particles. Frequency and drop sizes need to fit the physical properties of an ink. Jettability is one of the major concerns to keep a system running without problems. With the latest series of print heads, this may become less of a problem. This can also be said for nano colorants as a future solution to circumvent technical problems. Today, a binder is still needed to bond the color pigment particles with the fabric. Most people are therefore investigating the best balance between a pre-treatment of the fabric and an ink with a binder component in its formula.

We’re not just there yet, but we’re getting close.

It will be interesting to see what 2016 will bring in regard to the many different printing solutions for the many more fabric types and textile applications. At Drupa, we will be seeing some of the companies that have been promoting their newest offerings since late last year. It’s only a matter of time until the push for pigment settles as one of the predominant chemistries in use for a multitude of applications. Whether it will be the long awaited holy grail or just another new and improved solution remains to be seen. It is a certainty however, that we will be seeing new offerings, as well as new challenges in this area.

This article was written by Roland Biemans, founder/owner of LMNS. With an international background of research, development and marketing of software, hardware and supplies in the inkjet printing industry, Roland played an important role at different companies adapting and transforming technology for the development of innovative practical solutions. Among these solutions were the first refill sets and bulk ink systems for large format inkjet printers, edible ink, media winding systems, the first ever double-sided digital textile printer, software for controlling engravers, routers and cutters and an award winning contract proofing software. Most of his time was dedicated to the development and sales of software for color correction, color separation, proofing, photo editing and driving inkjet printers in the sign, banner and color reproduction industry.

Roland initiated the digital textile print competence center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Early 2013, he became board member of the European Specialist Printing Manufacturers Association (ESMA), and continues to support the association as Technology Partner. The Specialist Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) awarded Roland with the outstanding service award in recognition of his effort in advancing the industry and its association.

More information about Roland can be found at his LinkedIn page at: linkedin.com/in/rolandbiemans/

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