"Deploying inkjet technology into the textile industry is presenting an increasingly compelling opportunity for the print industry, recent research from Smithers Pira reveals this. Double digit growth across 2016-21 is making digital textile printing one of the most exciting market opportunity in the print and textile supply. It is creating new value-adding business opportunities for fabric printers and material suppliers, as the capabilities of the latest generation of digital textile presses dovetails with evolving priorities for end users, like fashion designers."
Deploying inkjet technology into the textile industry is presenting an increasingly compelling opportunity for the print industry, recent research from Smithers Pira reveals this. Double digit growth across 2016-21 is making digital textile printing one of the most exciting market opportunity in the print and textile supply. It is creating new value-adding business opportunities for fabric printers and material suppliers, as the capabilities of the latest generation of digital textile presses dovetails with evolving priorities for end users, like fashion designers.
A booming market
Exclusive data from the new Smithers Pira shows that in 2016 only 2.9 per cent of the overall market volume for printed textiles – 30 billion mt. sq. – is produced on such equipment. Digital print’s share has been increasing rapidly across this decade, however, with total volume rising from 461 million mt. sq. in 2012 to 870 million mt. sq. in 2016. This will push through the 1 billion mark in 2017, and in 2021 will constitute 1.95 billion mt. sq. of fabric – more than four times the volume in 2012.
This rapid expansion is translating into rising revenues – from €592 million in 2012 to €1.17 billion in 2016. Smithers Pira’s extensive research and analysis forecasts that this will grow at a year on year rate of 15.7 per cent for the next five years, reaching €2.42 billion in 2021. This is in contrast to the average growth for all printed textiles – which remains principally on screen presses – of around 3 per cent.
With double-digit annual growth across the board, major printhead developers, ink formulators and press builders are increasingly looking to capitalise on this market. This is especially true as some conventional analogue markets record static or even declining revenues through to the end of the decade. This is simultaneously fuelling both business consolidation and technology evolution. As this occurs, it is having an increasing impact on the global textile supply chain and ordering models.
With conventional markets under threat global print firms are seeing digital textile print as an attractive location to invest in. One strategic means to do this is through acquisition of smaller specialist technology developers. These are typically based in the Como region of Italy, which has developed this expertise to meet the demands of fashion industry centred on nearby Milan. US-based EFI made its own acquisition in July 2015, buying up Bergamo-based Reggiani. The first fruit of this – a joint-engineered printer – was shown in June at Drupa 2016.
Fashion industry trends
As in other print segments digital’s potential is founded on its ability to produce single, short and custom runs more economically and with a much faster turnaround than conventional screen printers. These advantages are important in signage – where digital print penetration is deepest – and fashion. Haute couture and high street fashion demand for digital print is worth €190 million in 2016 and will exceed €420 million in 2021. This is being aided by the fashion industry’s shift towards multiple mini-seasons within one traditional season. This favours digital as it translates into more new designs, and multiple repeat runs of short orders. This customisation potential is now being seen in the home décor segment with bespoke interior furnishings.
Another means to produce unique designs for a customer, is to overprint details onto screen printed textile stock. The need for quick turnaround on such orders also favours relocating textile print to areas like Europe, from lower labour cost regions like the Indian sub-continent. This so-called ‘reshoring’ trend further helped by the current political instability in Turkey, has developed its own regional hub feeding European demand. Sportswear is another key segment that is growing strongly, helped by an increasing interest in high-grade athletic wear from amateur sportsmen and sportswomen, such as cyclists.
Sustainability to the fore
A final motivator for the brands using digital print is the process’s superior environmental profile. Inkjet jobs can consume as little as 20 litres of water per kg of printed substrate – for cotton this can be as much as 10,000 litres per kg, a factor of 10 is the difference quoted most often. Furthermore, polyester and polyester blends used in many digital textile applications are recyclable. Advocates in this area are now coalescing into organisations like the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), and the Textiles 3.0 consortium.