Manchester Print Services is the first UK user of the HP Stitch 1000 dye sublimation printer, taking delivery of the 3.2 metre printer in time to produce the graphics for the HP stand at the Print Show in September.
It was not, however, a first incursion into textile printing for the display print specialist. It has been printing in UV and latterly dye sublimation using a Mimaki JV5. That was not really designed for dye sublimation, but provided step up into the technology.
“We have been printing high quality back lit fabrics on the JV5, but is was too slow,” says director Lee Egan. “Because it might need 12-16 passes under the heads, the output might be down to 30m2/hr. The Stitch 1000 runs at 130m2/hr.”
The company has been able to print fabrics on its Vutek GS UV printer, but without the benefits of the dye sublimation process. The EFI FabriVu was a possibility, but beyond the company’s financial reach. “We have also got a couple of HP Latex 360 printers and in five years we have only had the engineer out once,” he says.
“We have been happy to print everything UV and can continue to print direct to fabric, but a lot of our competitors have moved to dye sublimation, so knew that we would have to move to dye sublimation,” he says. “That led us to the Mimaki and then to the Stich.”
Egan likes the on board spectrophotometer on the Stitch 1000, used to deliver output consistency and able to measure the colour on the transfer paper. Other features allow the printer to run unattended overnight thanks to taking a 300kg roll.
Retailers like backlit prints for tension fabric systems where the dye sublimation process offers more vibrant colours than direct to fabric UV. These are not going away, hence the need for higher production. Egan says he first saw the Stitch at Fespa, ran tests at HP in Barcelona and checked performance with one of the first US users. And in the first weeks of use, the new printer has lived up to expectations.
“We have been testing different fabrics to check which performs best,” he says. “We have never seen any banding in the print. In fact it is pretty straightforward and pretty user friendly. The heat press stage is the most difficult because we have to understand the amount of shrinkage in the fabric.
“We are now testing a new fabric that is reasonably priced and once printed can be folded up into a delivery bag.”
This is Pongs Softimage Creaseless Premium, supplied by CMYUK. It is not the cheapest material, but performance outweighs these considerations. The material is claimed to be very stable. The sizing of the material is exactly the same through the whole batch. This can be an issue with other suppliers – roll sizes can be different due to moisture or humidity issues or the way the fabric is wound in the factory.
The printer was supplied by RA Smart, Macclesfield, which has an example of the machine in its showroom, providing a comfort factor for Egan. If necessary, he says, the supplier can use this as a back up.
Manchester Print Services began its textile journey from producing print on boards for exhibitions and point of sale applications. This grew rapidly leading to the UV Vutek and then to the Mimaki. It also sparked investment in finishing.
It has invested in a Summa cutting table, but while good for exhibition work, was not ideal for larger format jobs. The company needed to find a larger cutting table and viewed the conventional suppliers. This led to Blackman & White which wanted a reference site for its latest laser cutter/router. Egan has not regretted his choice. “It has been a good decision,” he says.
“We use the Blackman & White for almost everything, including vinyl and sign boards, which can leave debris on the cutting bed. When cutting blank white fabrics for tension light boxes this isn’t ideal, but by using the contact-free laser tool we can avoid this and achieve clean edges. Around 80 per cent of our work is now tension graphics so this is very important.”
The laser leaves clean edges rather than the uneven finish that can come with a dragged blade. It is also fast, running at 1,100mm a second with an accuracy of ±0.02mm, more precise than a knife. “It always cuts square and to size,” he says. The head holds both the laser and the knife for a fast switch between the two according to the material handled.
It has been relatively trouble free, a few software issues at the outset “and if we had any issues we can always call Alex White directly which is not possible if we had chosen a Zund or an Esko”.