Screen Printing - October/November 2017 - 38
One of the limitations of hybrid printing is the use of an analog underbase that can't be changed on the fly. printers may find a way to get
around that, by making the image itself variable on a common underbase. Courtesy of M&r Companies.
considered when they faced the question of technology displacement. (Note: The M-Press was offered with an optional
inline Thieme screen printing station; three such hybrid lines
were reportedly installed in North America before the M-Press
was discontinued in 2013.) But hybrid printing isn't new; why
is so much happening in this segment now?
It's tempting to chalk it up to the competition between the
two technologies becoming more intense. To this point, DTG
printing hasn't been a real threat to screen printing. It has
expanded the market for decorated apparel without eroding
screen printing's share of the pie. The Vulcan and Kyo (and
other production-oriented DTG units that are sure to follow)
clearly aim to change that dynamic and flip significant volumes of work that, until now, would have been screen printed,
so it's not surprising that vendors of conventional technology
But the reality is that these systems - the hybrids as well
as the production-length DTG lines - have been in development for a long time. They all benefit from recent advancements that enable faster production speeds via inkjet.
Manufacturers of hybrid systems are now quoting speeds as
high as 700 shirts per hour, not as fast as a top-end automatic
screen press running at full speed with no job changeovers,
but at least three times faster than what was possible just a
few years ago.
Still, the hybrid approach has limitations, the most
obvious one being the analog underbase. Printing the white
ink via screen may be more production-friendly, but it
doesn't lend itself to short runs or variable-data printing,
applications that helped give rise to DTG in the first place.
It also introduces another process with its own potential
points of failure into the mix. Just as wide-format inkjet did
in the commercial graphics market, DTG has brought an
interesting variety of new players into garment decoration
that aren't screen printers and never were. Some of these
producers are also in search of higher-productivity equipment, but it's hard to see them bringing mesh and squeegees
into their businesses.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of hybrid printing is its flexibility. Thinking about how printers may employ the technology
in the field brings some intriguing ideas to mind. For example,
one approach to getting around the limitations of a common
underbase would be to use the extra stations to load multiple
screens with design variations that would be applied after the
CMYK is printed. If a 2000-piece order involved five groups of
400 with different city names, the printer could load all five of
the screens in a single setup and program the print controller
accordingly. Printers could do the same thing by selling jobs
with common designs and varying special effects, offering
clients the ability to offer many more design options without
making the jobs cumbersome for the printer to produce.
A similar idea would be to develop designs in which a
common underbase could accommodate variable images.
Picture a licensed sports design featuring a cap or helmet and
text elements that could be universal - the year and the name
of the league, for example. Instead of dropping in different
text for each team, the design on the cap or helmet could be
varied instead without requiring a change to the underbase.
Such ideas will require a new mindset throughout a printer's
organization. It goes beyond waiting for an order to come in
that combines a photorealistic halftone with puff type in order
to turn the DTG station on. Printers will need to look creatively
at how the two technologies can be combined to produce
garments that neither process can do alone, and then think
strategically about how to bring those creations to market.
Printers will also need to think out of the box about how
to reinvent their production strategies to truly leverage hybrid
technology. Can they find ways to run jobs in parallel, with
conventional orders running alongside DTG prints (with or
without an underbase or post-print embellishments)? Would
a second or third DTG head lead to exponential productivity
gains if things like job staging and multiple load/unload stations could be worked out? The possibilities seem unlimited,
and suggest a future that goes far beyond a simple choice
between screen and inkjet printing.