Kornit Digital Debuts New Solution for Polyester DTG
Polyester is so tightly woven (pun intended) into the fabric of American life that there’s even a musical named after it. Like other people around the world, Americans love to flaunt their polyester sports apparel and active wear — especially when it’s decorated with the imagery of the teams and stars they root so passionately for.
Conventional direct-to-garment (DTG) printing techniques predominate in the $100 billion market for sports apparel and merchandise in the U.S. That market, however, has evolved in a direction that screen printing, heat transfer, and dye sublimation systems aren’t always ideal for when the base material is polyester, a fabric that can be as challenging to print as it is sporty to wear.
The demand for custom-designed garments in short runs invites digital alternatives: the specialty of a company called Kornit Digital, which has been developing digital textile printing systems since 2002. Kornit now has what it describes as the first digital, industrial process for high-quality printing on polyester — a solution it says eliminates the drawbacks of conventional DTG methods and opens new creative and business opportunities for the polyester market.
Called Kornit NeoPoly Technology, the process is being brought to market in Kornit’s newest DTG inkjet printing device, the Avalanche Poly Pro. In an April 3-4 open house at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Englewood, NJ, Kornit executives explained how NeoPoly Technology works and why, in their view, it is a game-changer in its application category.
Profusion of Players
The technology has come forward at a “tipping point” in the demand for customized, on-demand apparel, according to Shai Terem, president, Americas, Kornit Digital. He said the potential market is vast, given that in the U.S., 68 million K-12 students play sports, 15 million adults take part in sports leagues, and 250 million fans follow professional teams.
Kornit CEO Ronen Samuel compared the entry of digital systems into DTG production with the digital transformation of photography 20 years ago. “The time is now for textiles to do it,” he declared, “and they will do it much faster.”
Changes in demand across the supply chain are opening the way to digitizing textile printing, according to Samuel, who identified four underlying “megatrends”: personal expression, marked by each person’s desire to be unique; social media and their profound influence on brands; e-commerce, a selling environment of endless choices and short runs in which “analog doesn’t make sense anymore”: and sustainability, a powerful component of demand among millennials and others.
Consumers will pay premiums for goods, including clothing, that conform to these trends, according to Samuel. Nevertheless, he said, of the 50 billion decorated garments produced annually, only about 1% are printed digitally. This is the niche market that Kornit is out to expand with its line of entry-level to high-volume digital DTG and roll-to-roll decorating systems, which print on a wide range of natural and synthetic fabrics.
Omer Kulka, Kornit’s vice president of marketing and product strategy, said that for polyester, the objective is to deliver quality resembling that of screen printing with all of the advantages of digital production. Avalanche Poly Pro, designed exclusively for polyester and polyester blends, accomplishes it with the help of NeoPoly Technology’s two main innovations: a special ink set and a low-temperature curing system that together eliminate one of the most problematic aspects of printing on polyester.
That concern, said Kulka, is ink migration: the tendency of ink in dark (dyed) polyester garments to spread into areas where they’re not wanted after conventional imprinting and drying. A tint appearing in white numbers or letters printed on a colored jersey, for example, is a sign that migration has occurred. (Ink migration is not an issue for undyed, white polyester clothing.)
Because it cures with considerably less heat than conventional DTG systems that rely on dye blockers to suppress migration, said Kulka, Avalanche Poly Pro prevents the effect from happening in the first place. The process protects the fabric’s texture and flexibility as it enables the printing of photorealistic images at up to 1,200 dpi in Kornit’s Oeko-Tex and Eco-Passport CMYK inks, plus high-opacity white.
The device also has an integrated pretreatment system that deposits a fixation agent on the substrate prior to the jetting of the ink. Technical specifications for Avalanche Poly Pro state its maximum printing area as 23.5”x35” and give its maximum production outputs as 85 dark garments or 106 light garments per hour.
The Kornit executives stressed Avalanche Poly Pro’s digital advantages as a cost- effective solution for producing richly decorated polyester garments in small quantities.
The device, according to Kulka, can begin printing within a minute of file upload: a fraction of the time needed in a screen printing workflow. Because there are no screens or other physical image carriers to prepare, color can be spec’d as desired without worries about conventional makeready expense.
What it all makes possible, said Terem, is a DTG system that can help garment printers exploit the opportunities presented by “micro-moments”: sudden, high-intensity occurrences in sports and other events that create instant demand for custom-printed apparel commemorating the feat or tour-de-force.
Friends and end-users of Kornit DTG solutions were on hand at the open house to endorse the company’s view of the potential of Avalanche Poly Pro and NeoPoly Technology.
Fashion designer Anthony Lilore, owner of RESTORE Clothing in New York City, said polyester’s popularity is evident in the fact that “you can’t go anywhere in the country and not see people dressed as if they’re going to a yoga studio.” In Avalanche Poly Pro, he declared, Kornit has removed the “any two” limitation of choice among speed, quality and price with a machine that delivers all three.
“Polyester will be in every closet in America,” agreed Scott Goldstone, a 40-year veteran of the decorated-apparel business. He owns Breakaway Sports, a New Jersey company that makes uniforms and other items for thousands of team-sport participants and fans. Goldstone said that because demand is growing for personalized team wear and fan garments alike, there is a “huge advantage” in being able to produce them in polyester on a device like the Avalanche Poly Pro.
Shorter than Short
Deborah H. Merrill, representing one of the system’s first U.S. adopters, is already well versed in Kornit technology for short-run garment production. DTG2GO, a company she oversees as CFO of Delta Apparel Inc. and president, Delta Group, operates 85 Kornit DTG machines in five all-digital manufacturing locations. DTG2GO’s Kornit fleet includes 10 of the manufacturer’s recently launched Atlas systems, designed for high-volume garment printing.
According to Merrill, the company produces 70,000 unique prints per day with an average order size of just 1.7 units. “We consider our business a one-off business,” she said, noting that digital production is indispensable in a small-run, quick-turnaround, fast-ship environment like DTG2GO’s.
Merrill added that although the unit cost of digital output may be “a little bit higher” than screen printing, relying on the Kornit devices spares DTG2GO the “disruption on the print floor” that would be the outcome of trying to get the work done with conventional equipment.
Kornit Digital will exhibit at PRINTING United (Dallas, Tex., October 23-25) in booth 1007.