19 November 2019 Digital Printing Technologies

The Stitch in time for fabric’s growth: HP's first incursion into dye sublimation

Textile printing presents an opportunity that HP believes will be vast, hence its development of a first dye sublimation printer.

Magnus Mighall is arguably the UK’s Mr Textile printing. He has supplied businesses across the spectrum with screen printing technology, different dye sublimation printing and now his company, RA Smart, is the UK’s sales channel for HP's first incursion into dye sublimation printing, the Stich, as well as being a printer of choice for the UK’s fashion industry.

“I have been involved with textiles for 36 years, 22 years in digital printing for textiles,” he says. “Stich is one of the most exciting things to happen in that time.”

The Stich builds on HP's latex technology to replace solvents and eco solvent inks in dye sublimation inkjet with water based inks. HP has gone a step further, adding features and technology to the printer that will be welcomed by printers looking at the opportunities in fabrics.

HP's UK sales manager for large format, Phil Oakley, says that latex technology is already used in soft signage applications and interest in printing textiles has grown and grown. “Printers are moving to different applications that are more suited to a different print technology, namely dye sublimation. That has meant a longer term strategic investment for HP.”

It is the same combination of print on demand, personalisation, and distributed supply chains that other parts of HP's have driven. And now inkjet is moving from graphics to wall coverings into soft furnishings. “That’s where dye sublimation really helps. It’s a very different business to that we are used to which is why we have partnered with RA Smart.”

HP thinks that it will be possible to produce half the 32 million square metres of printed fabric a year using digital printing, extending print into parts of the market that print does not currently reach.

“Every device we bring out is placed to accelerate the transformation,” says Oakley. “It will encourage textile printing to come back to the UK from the Far East. And people want UK printing.”

Currently there are three Stich models, the S300 and S500 as the entry level machines and the S1000 as the printer for high productivity. “The S300 will be very successful in the education sector,” says Mighall. “This is for the textile design colleges, for proof of concept designs and short run production.

“We have customers replacing two other machines with a single Stich, and it will sit nicely with art colleges and institutions around the country and companies that want to bring in dye sublimation as demand for personalised goods increases.”

Throughput of 34m2/hr is, he says, “more than a match for similar machines out there”. And an onboard spectrophotometer, calibration and colour management ensures consistent quality across multiple devices and during a production run. “There are plenty of customers with this sort of business model,” Mighall says.

The spectrophotometer is a first for this class of printer. It is measuring an image on the transfer medium which is subdued compared to the vivid colours produced by the dye sublimation inks when driven into the fibres of the fabric. This is not the constrained gamut of CMYK litho.

The S500 offers the same 1.6 metre print width but with larger ink capacity and a larger roll, while the S1000 goes to 3.2 metres wide. “It has been exceptionally well received and had pre sold our 2019 allocation before it was launched at Fespa. There are not many products that have been as well received as the S1000,” says Oakley.

It has opened up new customers for HP. There are those that have used HP Latex for the majority of their work but another brand for textiles; others are companies previously using UV to print on fabrics. This was a key reason for involving RA Smart in behind the scenes revelations well ahead of the launch, something that got Mighall excited about the technology and ensuring that the dealer wanted to take on the Stich – but only as UK exclusive dealer. RA Smart’s extensive knowledge of the market and ability to support the end to end solution for end users was too appealing for HP to ignore.

That said, Stich has been designed with the onboard technology to deliver smooth feeding, to deliver consistency and with an interface that has the same look and feel as other machines in the HP portfolio. In all, it is about making the transition to dye sublimation as straightforward as possible.

“I just can’t believe how much technology is in the machine,” Mighall adds. “It has a completely new print head, providing an advantage over other machines. It’s going to work for corporates, fashion, furnishings or a bureau looking to be able to offer all types of printing.

“Direct to textile suits banners and flags, but for sportswear and fashion, it has to be dye sub. With the Stitch, you can produce both on the same machine where you will need two machines from other suppliers.”

As with other HP inkjet machines, the thermal inkjet heads are considered user replaceable consumable elements. When this is done, the new head will print a colour block to profile it and to align the printhead correctly. This ensures its colour consistency through the machine’s life, having been developed for the R series of latex flatbeds.

“I have the feeling that HP is extremely serious about getting involved in textile printing,” says Mighall.