Fast fashion

A continuous inkjet printing process, developed jointly by the Netherlands and France, claims to help make Europe’s textiles industry more competitive with Asia.

Dutch textile printing company Osiris and French inkjet specialist Imaje, part of the Eureka Factory Copritex project, claim to have reduced the time it takes to print textiles by replacing screen-printing, which is a mechanical process, with digital printing.

The system uses a print-head with multi-deflection technology and a continuous flow of ink to speed up printing. The ink is cycled through a chamber and deflected on to the fabric where it is needed, and the remainder of the ink isrecirculated into the system.

This increases the speed compared with drop-on-demand inkjet printing, where ink only flows when it is being used in a ‘stop-start’ process. It also reduces the cost of ink and makes the process more environmentally friendly because there is less waste than in conventional printing methods.

The main advantage of digital printing is the reduction in preparation time. For conventional screen-printing the time from finished design to printing can be six weeks because physical patterns need to be engraved and a separate screen has to be created for every colour used in the process. Parts also need to be cleaned and aligned, which can take up to an hour.

Digital printing, on the other hand, is claimed to convert plans using image-editing software intoa process and begin printing within an hour of receiving the designs. Set-up is said to be about 10 minutes so the machine is able to spend 95 per cent of the time printing.

While the systems’ processing rate of 20m/min is slower than conventional printing — which can reach speeds up to 40-50m/min —this reduction in preparation time means the technology is more cost-efficient as it saves money on orders under 700m.

‘Today, the average print run is around 600m,’ said Paul Morskate, technical director at Osiris. ‘This is because the garment industry will not buy more than 600m of the same pattern because not all women want the same dress.

‘Also, it is possible to have a different fashion every two or three weeks. Today the market is asking for a quick response, so if you can respond quickly to the samples and the production orders you can bring back the textile printing business to Europe,’ he added.

And according to Haje van Wezen, chief executive of Osiris, Spanish clothes brand Zara changes 50 per cent of its collections every two weeks.

Morskate believes that digital printing is the answer to this demand for quick reaction to today’s fast-changing trends.

Further, he said that making the printers available in Europe will reduce the time taken bringing the product to market.

The final system is the result of eight years’ work to create a long-term replacement for rotary screen printers.

According to Worskate, while the initial investment in new machinery is high, the system is 20 times faster than other digital printing solutions. He claimed that in the next month three large European printers will buy Osiris machines.