Fabric design approaches the jet age

New research into jet printing on textiles could lead to a faster, cheaper alternative to conventional ways of dyeing fabrics. Jet printing could also deliver valuable design benefits, allowing a wider choice of colours to be used and avoiding the need to repeat patterns in a design.

The research is being carried out at Leeds University, with funding from the Swindon-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Involving a number of industrial partners, the initiative is also bringing together textile experts, mechanical engineers, colour chemists, materials researchers and IT specialists.

The textile industry currently prints fabrics using screen-printing technology. Although productive for long print runs, it is slow and expensive for today’s increasingly smaller order quantities.

Jet printing offers many advantages, such as the ability to download designs straight from computer to material. It also has the potential to make short print runs economical and enable small quantities of fabrics to be made to order, eliminating the need to keep stock.

However, many technical barriers need to be overcome if jet printers are to be developed that are big enough, fast enough and reliable enough for commercial-scale use by the industry.

The present project is addressing a range of relevant issues. Colour chemists are focusing on the key task of developing dyes that do not clog up a jet printer’s nozzles. Work is also being undertaken on the development of optical monitoring techniques able to inspect fabrics immediately before and after application of the dye, to help ensure that the right amount has been applied. Mechanical engineering researchers, meanwhile, are using computational fluid dynamics to model dyes and so help materials researchers develop piezo-ceramic print heads that apply them efficiently and neatly.

Dr. Abbas Dehghani, one of the investigators at Leeds University, says: ‘Jet printing could revolutionise the world of design. It could extend the range and creativity of designs that are produced and substantially reduce the time it takes to bring them to market.’