Current State of Technology of Sublimation Digital Textile Inkjet Printing

The development of digital sublimation textile printing has profoundly affected the design, creation, understanding and use of textiles. In fact, the technology has reached such levels of performance and speed that it no longer is considered as being useful for only sampling and low volume runs.
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The Textile Opportunity
Printed textiles are used in a wide range of applications, the most common being apparel, carpets, bed linens, curtains and upholstery. Inkjet printing garnered some excitement in its infancy, but its low production speeds and restrictions on the types of fibers that could be printed were major limitations. Early speeds of 150 m2/hour (hr) were only good for sampling or very short production runs, and it was well below the speed requirements for high-volume production applications like fashion apparel or home furnishings. However, the textile industry is currently witnessing incredible advancements with the introduction of several unique, high-volume inkjet printing systems.
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Until recently, textile yardage was printed mainly by rotary screen or flat screen, each having great volume throughput capacity, but with limitations on the maximum image size. Inkjet printing allows for greater flexibility in the printing process, and freedom from pattern repeats (the maximum image size achievable with rotary or flat screen printing). The largest rotary screens have a circumference of approximately 40 inches (in), therefore the maximum repeat size of the pattern is about 40 in. The same is true for flat screen printing; the image size is limited by the frame size. Neither of these factors are at play with digital inkjet printing. To this point, the technology has been too slow to garner interest and adoption by the high-volume printers - but all that has changed.
Ink Chemistries & Compatible Fibers
There are four major textile ink chemistries used in digital inkjet printers: acid, reactive, pigment and two flavors of disperse dye (direct disperse and dye sub transfer). All of these are combinations of water, the dye or pigment, humectants to retain moisture, viscosity/rheology modifiers to control flow, dispersants to keep the dye or pigment suspended in the fluid, surfactants that lower the surface tension of the ink, and antimicrobial agents to control microbial growth. For some pigment inks, a binder (resin) is also included that essentially "glues" the ink to the fabric. Each of these has an affinity to specific fiber types (see Figure 1), and each chemistry comes with its own benefits and limitations.
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