Screen Printing - October/November 2017 - 35
closely at how DTG printing has developed in comparison with
wide-format inkjet reveals a few clues.
DTG inkjet technology emerged at the turn of the century, about
a decade after it first appeared for commercial graphics. In both
segments, the early inkjet devices initially met almost universal
derision. Substrate options were limited. The inks were very
expensive and didn't meet all of the performance requirements
of the finished product. And the units were painfully, almost
comically pokey. No one took them seriously as production
equipment, and in hindsight it's not difficult to see why.
It took about two decades for wide-format inkjet to
overtake screen printing's share of the commercial graphics
market. This happened through a series of breakthroughs
that addressed each of inkjet's technological shortcomings
one by one. First came pigmented inks that enabled inkjet
printed graphics to be used outdoors and in semi-permanent
applications. Then solvent-based inks emerged with mechanical bonding properties that made print-receptive topcoats
unnecessary on popular substrates and reduced the need for
expensive lamination. UV inks followed, expanding the range
of inkjet printable substrates and opening up a new category
of flatbed machines that printed directly onto rigid materials.
Finer-resolution inkjet heads were developed, and software
advancements allowed OEMs to use more of them to enable
faster print speeds. By this time, most commercial screen
printers had added inkjet to their production in a serious
way; it wasn't just for samples and short runs any longer.
Then in 2007, the first wide-format inkjet lines that presented
a serious alternative to screen printing emerged: the Onset from
Inca Digital Printers and the M-Press from Agfa Graphics (first
shown at FESPA 2005 through a remote video broadcast). These
units, and more that followed from Durst, HP, EFI, and others,
achieved much higher print speeds partly by using vast arrays
of inkjet heads. They were expensive and slower than the inline
multicolor screen presses that had become common in this
segment by then, but by eliminating the time and associated
costs of prepress and setup, they presented a realistic digital
path to production-length printing for the first time. As ancillary
technologies such as automated substrate handling systems and
more robust print servers that could handle the vast amounts
of data involved in high-speed printing became available, true
technology substitution began.
Most industry observers agree that where inkjet development is concerned, garment decoration is about 10 years
behind commercial graphics, which means 2017 could prove
to be a pivotal year. Recently, two DTG systems have been
introduced that aspire to be what the Onset and M-Press were
in their segments a decade ago: the Vulcan from Kornit and the
Kyo from Aeoon Technologies. Like their wide-format predecessors, both employ more printheads to help achieve higher
print speeds, along with other productivity enhancements
specific to this application. For example, although the machine
designs are entirely different, both the Vulcan and the Kyo
have more platens than standard DTG units; the Vulcan moves
them through a sequential printing process that is analogous to
the print stations of an automatic garment screen press.
While the appearance of these production-capable print
lines echoes what occurred in commercial graphics, it's important to note that inkjet faces a much different proposition in
displacing the established technology this time. First, by the
Courtesy of M&R Companies (left and middle) and Flora (right).