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Article Summary: Software for Digital Printing

6.2.00

Digital printing provides an opportunity to print unlimited repeat sizes, unlimited colors, and quality that can not be obtained with traditional rotary machines. It also eliminates the need for engraving expensive nickel screens. Before rushing into digital printing, it pays know the technology and its limitations.

Benefits of digital printing:

  • No limits on printable colors
  • No limits on repeat size
  • Reduced sampling times. Designers can view samples in hours instead weeks for screens to be engraved. Design changes are made immediately
  • Multiple colorways can be created in minutes. Designers may view the effect of changing the screen run order
  • Screen costs reduced
  • Production plant efficiency improved by eliminating or reducing strike-off patches
  • Fabric savings from expensive production minimums
  • Reduced labor costs on short runs

Limitations of digital printing:

  • Speed is much slower than a rotary machine
  • Widths are limited to 60-inches
  • Some color gamut limits
  • Must pre-treat cloth prior to printing fiber reactive and acid dyes
  • Cost per yard higher than current rotary process

Direct digital printing (DDP) is a technical process. There is not a "plug and play" solution. Proper manipulation of information is crucial to success. Thus, training is a consideration.

Digital printing requires three components: good hardware (print engine), good dyes (large color gamut) and goof
software (color reproducibility and replication of the production process). Without these three components, failure is certain. Shortrun digital production is easier to achieve than digital sampling, in which production will be run on a rotary
machine. Matching the digital sample to production requires software to compensate for resist effects, engraving tonal quality, and color absorption effects.

Sophis Systems designs software which optimizes the performance of digital print engines, and affords designers the ability to manipulate their designs to mimmick rotary screen printing.

To use DDP, the design must be in a digital format. This can be accomplished in three ways:

  • Scanning the artwork
  • Create designs on CAD
  • Screen separations

Digital printers can use software to color reduce their patterns, or they can send their artwork to engravers and have them do the color separations. Either way, color separations are required to assign the color to the desired areas. 

The process of generating samples is slow, due to having to print one color at a time. Because of time considerations, the designer only sees one or two strikes of the pattern before it is scheduled for production. Typically the color development in terms of establishing a shade not is complete. This results in the production department not being prepared to match the target, and production efficiencies suffer.

Using DDP the designer may print all colors at once. One repeat is sufficient to see the entire pattern. After fixing the printed color, the designer may make color changes by locating the color in the computer and choosing a more desirable color. Multiple changes may be completed in minutes, without requiring one to weigh more dye. This technology gives one the ability to match color exactly as desired on a digital printer. One may now deliver a patch to the production department that has the colors matched as envisioned.

Do you want to digitally print 10-20 yards for samples, or do you want to rotary print 500-1,000 yards? With digital printing, one can gauge customer interest in the design before screens are engraved. If a customer selects the pattern, then one may have the screens engraved and proceed.

One of the tools in digital printing software allows a designer to tile patterns across the width of the printer. This is handy when the designer is creating multiple colorways of the same pattern. Using the color books available in software, the designer may rapidly create new colorways. The multiple colorways may then be printed on the printer simultaneously. The designer may perform the color approval work and store the files, so that Sales and Marketing samples may be printed anytime. 

Combining available print engines and software gives designers flexibility to design patterns that are repeatable in production. These tools allow companies to produce market samples at a fraction of the cost, while minimizing disruptions. This process allows one to shorten product development time, which permits products to make it to market faster. 

Author: Bill Easterling
Source: Textile World, v150n4, pp.74-76

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