There are huge latent opportunities in the ever growing domestic printing industry as India stays way behind global dye sublimation market’s compound annual growth rate of 18.4 %.
Globally textile printing industry represents 30 billion square metres of material volume on an annual basis worldwide. According to the World Textile Information Network, digital textile printing is estimated to welcome a record 25% growth in time to come. When it comes to value, Sam Gulve of EFI estimates the size of the textile printing market at 7.5 billion dollar, and is projected to grow more than 34% globally, foretelling outstanding opportunities in the way.
In a recent study ‘The Future of Dye-Sublimation Printing to 2021’ (See Box for further Detail), it’s revealed that an estimated 384 million square meters of fabric were printed digitally via dye sublimation in the year to the first quarter of 2016, having grown by aound 18.4% in the past year 2015-16. It is set to rise to 892 million square meters by 2021.
Growth drivers behind this prediction, for that matter, are four major end-use segments i.e. garments, household (carpets, wall coverings and upholstery), technical and visual communications (displays and signage) and technical textiles. The last category includes automotive (seats, seat belts, seat head lining, panels, sound absorption), bags, medical and scientific textiles, sails, tents, parasols or umbrellas, accessories and sports equipment.
The garment segment is the largest end-use sector, contributing 75% of the market share by value in 2016. The other segments each take a 5 – 10% of the market. Globally digital textile printing output grew at more than 45% annually between 2004 and 2009. From 2009, growth slowed somewhat because of the global economic slowdown, but the slowdown can’t definitely dampen the hopeful future figures.
What is Dye Sublimation?
An image or photograph passes through the printer, and it prints the image, in reverse, on to a sheet of transfer media, a treated paper. It is then penetrated to the chosen fabric, and sent through another unit with heated pressure rollers. These rollers heat up to certain temperature, and with the heat and the pressure, the dye changes from a solid to a gas, and fuses itself to the polyester fabric, creating a continuous tone print much like a photograph. Dye sublimation printing is done on to various types of fabric such as polyester fabric that are used in clothing and advertising displays and banners, and many other items.
Dye sublimation grabbed attention in India only after the high profile campaign that IPL flagged off in 2007 when IPL t-shirts were first rendered by Epson through its Surecolor SC-F6070 and SC-F 7070 with the Epson Ultra Chrome DS inks. There’s no looking back after that as the country’s textile printing industry got a new dimension, and has nowadays been emerging as a very strong segment. The testimony of the fact is more and more shows entering the fray including the recently concluded in New Delhi the first edition of GARTEX, showcasing the strength of digital prints with textiles. The reason is obvious – market expanse plus promised growth potentials.
Agrees Rajat Jaitley, Marketing Manager, Apsom Infotex India Pvt. Ltd. – the sole distributor of Roland DG in India, the dye sublimation printing industry here is moving at a sound and stable growth rate. “With changing requirements, dye sublimation printing is getting a major boost as it promotes environment-friendly practices that include zero water wastage, use of fabrics as media, enhanced production feasibility, extremely economical running & project acquisition cost. Above all the return on investment is faster,” says Jaitley adding that the company is currently busy coining the opportunity by expanding its infrastructure to offer its valuable clients awesome products with strong technical backup to enhance repeat purchase business,” asserts Jaitley.
Quite similar are the observations of the other industry players. “The growth of dye sublimation printing market is seeing a number of moves by mainstream print companies. All thanks to the uninterrupted surge in demand that is driving the development of larger presses in turn stimulating a new generation of industrial high-end printers. Of late, a host of new and improved inks, media, hardware and software have been introduced to fuel dye-sublimation printing technology and play a larger role in the sign industry, particularly in cases where signs and displays can be used multiple times. The durability of these inks and fabrics will gradually move this market outdoors,” opines Nishant Shah, CEO, Caterpillar Signs Pvt. Ltd.
The surge in demand for these relatively new technology printers is for many reasons. According to Shailesh Mehta, CEO, Mehta Cad Cam Systems Pvt. Ltd., it is because of the rapid awareness campaign on environmental issues in many cities/states that the solvent printers are getting banned. “This is actually fuelling the demand for dye sublimation printers, and hence, carving the growth trajectory for the sublimation printing technology as it is the only alternative present for now that can address environmental issues, besides meeting the contemporary needs,” says Mehta cautioning that it will take another year or two to get the needed momentum. “Further, we believe that the multi-purpose sublimation printer that can simultaneously print on sublimation paper as well as direct-to-fabric will soon be in demand due to its versatility of applications for not just flag printing but also signage.”
Taking note of the vivacity that the market is currently presenting, Negi Sign Systems has plans to soon introduce high speed dye sublimation printers at an affordable rate. As of now, Negi offers dye sublimation printers in various sizes ranging from 42” to 100”. “Our ValueJet sublimation printers, from Mutoh, print directly on non-stretch polyester fabrics and are suited for the production of high quality company flags, country flags, beach flags, personalised advertising, textile gadgets, clothing as well as home decoration fabrics,” shares Vijay Kandari, Sales Head, Negi Sign Systems & Supplies Co.
Inking A New Growth Line
Notably, India is known for it being a very traditional textile printing country, and technology has added an all new dimension making it further vibrant. Considering this, many giants from digital printing worlds have moved towards India during last decade, as for here, in terms of capacity and quantity manufactured the most. However, with complexities all round, the market is never that easy as it looks like. Industry experts opine that people here are now asking for shorter and shorter print runs thereby making it rather costly to comply with the market’s need and earning profits, at the same time.
Interestingly, the world is going digital and market needs solutions which have smaller environmental footprints and capability to expand businesses into new products, without the need for large capital investments. People are asking for specific solutions i.e. one ink that simplifies the entire printing processes. This can be an important factor for making a success for which the giants are striving hard for the past few years and somehow able to introduce exactly the same what the market required. Though, a bit costly, but it is getting embraced for sure, especially by the early adopters replacing quite a few regular products, for the demand is already there in the market.
Jaitley suggests that sportswear has been a recent driver for the fluorescent inks; however, the potential is largely undermined. “With the growth in demand for spot colours, the fluorescent inks have seen some decent volumes & sales traction. We have recently launched the fluorescent inks in the Roland Texart SBL3 – 3rd generation sublimation inks to offer our customers the best of process & spot colours. This powerful winning combination is our key USP and is giving us a clear edge over the competitors,” he asserts.
While opportunities are right on the floor, companies like Roland, ColorJet, Mimaki, Epson, HP, Negi, Orange O Tec (MS), etc. are trying to grab the most by giving more options to customers. All these giants have either recently introduced or are planning to launch their respective new products keeping in view the contemporary as well as future needs of this ever demanding market.
This could clearly be felt in the recently ended GARTEX 2016 in New Delhi where a handful of exhibitors displayed their latest textile printers. The Expo also witnessed that instead of moving to dye sublimation for printing only on soft signage, which is not pure textiles, most of the technology suppliers have come up with the products that enable printers to expand not only into soft signage, but also into pure textile such as upholstery, garments or home decoration.
Roland DG and Apsom Infotex recently launched their eco-friendly Texart XT-640 & RT-640 dye-sublimation transfer printers that embrace wide range of textile applications including sports merchandising, fashion apparel, soft signs (polyester banners and flags), home furnishing, interior décor, promotional items and personalised gifts.
Negi Signs along with its dye sublimation printers Mutoh RJ 900s and VJ 1624, introduced its India-made the 8-colour, 8- & 16-printheads digital textile printer NegiJet TX R-1900 that is powered by Ricoh Gen5, and can reach up to a maximum of 120m2/h and 240m2/h, respectively.
Arrow Digital’s newly launched MTEX range of digital printers boast extremely user-friendly interface. Compatible with all types of inks – pigment, acid, reactive, and disperse, the 1.9m wide format MTEX 500 series works at a speed range 45 to 98m2/h, and is suitable for fashion, home textiles, swimwear, apparel, and silks.
Apsom Technologies presented Konica Minolta’s scan-type high-and medium-speed inkjet textile printers, Nassenger 10 (580-310m2/h) and Nassenger 8 (240m2/h). Equipped with newly-developed inkjet printheads, these models are capable of higher-quality reproduction of colour gradients and thin lines as well as fine, repetitive geometric patterns that are difficult to reproduce on conventional textile printers.
MS JP5evo, 1.8m digital textile printing machine from Orange O Tec Pvt. Ltd. with its Kyocera technology, is compatible with almost all the ink types – reactive, disperse and acid; while Green Tech put forth its sublimation printing systems in its range of displays that attracted the most footfalls on its stall especially the T-Shirt printing and lanyard printing machines.
Epson’s SureColor SC-F2000 that can print a t-shirt in just 27 seconds owing to its PrecisionCore TFP printhead technology; and J. N. Arora & Co’s Coltex sublimation printers & Cheran roll-to-roll heat transfer machines are new to the Indian printing turf.
Besides these, Mehta Cad Cam Pvt. Ltd. is also planning to augment their dye sublimation printers’ portfolio soon. “Our supplier Gongzheng has done a good job in sublimation printing on a paper with Spectra Starfire 10 PL print head. Today Starfire is considered as most stable high speed with longest life of printhead. Further, we are coming out with Gongzheng’s high-speed 7PL Starfire sublimation printer for very high resolution printing,” informs Mehta adding that increasing demand of sublimation in textile industries is attracting more advanced technologies, which also will help signage industries to grow in sublimation fabric printing.
These are a few only but seem enough to convince that the market for dye sublimation in India is touching a new high in India so is the demand for the same as every single printer, either doing commercial printing or wide format printing, likes to expand to soft signage, flags and t-shirts. And as of now, there is no solid alternative but dye sublimation.
The Job Providers
Anupam Gupta, Managing Director, JMD Digital Art Xchange Pvt. Ltd., who has recently opted for the 9-colour dye sublimation printer from Mimaki featuring 65m/h, cites potential business opportunities coming its way from across the segments including signage, garments or home furnishing. “Dye sublimation practice is not there in the country’s signage industry as the trend of textile/fabric is yet to pick up when it comes to making flags and banners. However, with recently installed dye-sublimation machine, we are catering to the ever increasing needs of garment industry for home furnishing. We are getting good business out of this segment and hopeful of making it bigger in time to come.” The Mimaki machine can work for both – dye sublimation as well as reactive.
Shashank Saraogi, Managing Director, Rajdhani Creations Pvt. Ltd., has been using 4-colour, dye-sublimation printer that delivers industry’s highest speed @150 m/h producing highest quality prints to serve the ever increasing need being generated incessantly from the market. “We have recently installed Durst an Italian brand that delivers at the. We are catering to the needs of sportswear and school dresses, besides flags and banners. Though, we serve both the options – direct & indirect, but indirect i.e. dye-sublimation is having no match when it comes to print quality in terms of resolution and sharpness,” he asserts adding that the quality of prints depends on the inks used for the purpose.
Saraogi goes on adding that the demand for sublimation inks was high because of its reasonably low cost owing to low demand and the availability of disperse inks which made it possible to print direct on to fabric surpassing the role of papers from the middle. “For us, we have got universal inks that work both ways and hence, we don’t need to change inks for different job works. This enables us to prints 2000 m/day with a 10% contribution from signage industry. Soon, this share will go up as quality takes time to get routed in,” he says.
Shift in Usage
Dye sublimation printing to fabrics has definitely energised the trade show and retail markets over the past couple of years. “Customers, looking for high-end branding with better colour vibrancy, are shifting towards fabric from vinyl and flex. We see increased fabric usage in displays, backdrops and trade-show booths. We, at Caterpillar Signs, are seeing dye sublimation fabric prints touching on most indoor POP applications that have traditionally been done on vinyl or rigid,” says Shah adding that the popularity of the newer silicone edge graphics (SEG) with customised fabric frame systems have emerged as the preferred material for interior backlit and sidelight signage.
Direct Vs Indirect Sublimation
According to Jaitley, DTG printers need comparatively a stronger push from the marketers’ side. “Direct sublimation or the soft signage application uses direct disperse ink, which still is in its primitive stage of the product cycle due to unfortunate market awareness, less visibility among brands, no readiness for environment friendliness, lack of versatile print media support & improper fusing/curing solutions offered by vendors. Contrary to this, the indirect sublimation or the transfer printing is heading at a phenomenal pace to address various industry applications including sign & POP, fashion, sportswear, home décor for the print & stitch markets, followed by soft-bound sublimation on polyester, nylon & synthetic fabrics and gifts & merchandising products for hard-bound sublimation,” explains Jaitley.
Speaking on the success of Roland’s products, Jaitley shares that highest quality & lowest production costs are the mantra for the Texart products. “We are getting a phenomenal acceptance from various textile markets for Roland Texart products. Apart from soft sign polyester fabrics, the development on the side of polyester-based Spandex, Lycra & Knitted blended fabrics have given a major fillip to the acceptance of our Texart products. To further assist the transfer/fusing, we offer our customers the Industry’s leading calendars called Transmatic – the Italian global leader in heat seal machines for the last 26 years for high quality transfers,” avers Jaitley.
Kandari takes it otherwise as both the sublimation techniques, direct and indirect, are different and applicable on different types of fabrics/textile media. “Therefore, any development in direct-to-garment format of the machine will not affect the market of dye sublimation and vice versa. As far as high-speed is concerned, which has just been added as a unique feature in the newly launched direct-to-garment, will soon also be there in the dye sublimation printing technology. Under ‘Negi’ banner, we will introduce high-speed dye sublimation printers in the near future that will catapult India’s fabric printing industry,” he asserts.
Shah believes the dye sublimation printing technology with invisible growth potential evinces visible limitations and that in the absence of proper awareness campaign; it is yet to catch the needed momentum. “Despite the overall positive outlook for dye sublimation, as a process it is limited to specific fabric type and mainly focusing on indoor signage. Technology is still evolving and has high investment cost. Only large size printers are creating dye-sublimation infrastructure alongside their existing solvent and mild-solvent machines. As awareness and demand increases, it will become more sustainable for medium and small printers,” he explains.
“Because of increasing demand of sublimation in textile industries bringing more and more advanced technologies, which will also help signage industries to grow in sublimation fabric printing. Now there are various types of fabrics available for different applications, which is also an added advantage. We believe that digital printer of sign industries will also adopt the sublimation printing technology to fulfil some of the requirements of corporate printed fabric for signage,” shares Mehta.
The number of requested applications of dye sublimation products is seemingly growing across the international front, but the taker of technology in India is not showing instinct that is needed to accommodate global advancements. In the meantime, despite the overall positive outlook for dye sublimation, as a process it is limited to use with synthetic or synthetic-coated materials, especially polyester for its rare requirements of binding the dyes into the internal fibres. Going forward, in future dye sublimation systems may face competition from pigment inks if their suppliers can resolve quality, reliability and other issues.
International Scenario – Projecting a rather Wider Spectrum
Dye sublimation print market to reach $3.4 billion by 2021
The global dye sublimation print market is expected to reach more than double in the next five years creating a global market worth nearly $3.4 billion by 2021, predicts Smithers Pira in its new report titled ‘Future of Dye Sublimation Printing to 2021’ tracking the increased use of this technology across key end-use segments – signage, technical, household, and garments.
According to the latest exclusive market data from Smithers Pira, which carries out global testing, consulting and information services business on the packaging, paper and print industry supply chains, a strong year-on-year growth is projected in the amount of material printed – 18.4 % – over the next five years. It predicts that in 2021, nearly 9,00,000 sqm of textiles will be printed with the process, creating a global market worth nearly $3.4 billion.
As the dye sublimation market booms, it will create numerous opportunities for ink and textile suppliers, press builders, and partners across the value chain. According to Smithers Pira, five factors that would shape the growth of the international dye sublimation print market are: garments, new machines, Italy the key hub, takeovers and pigment inks.
Smithers Pira’s data revealed that garments that include swimwear, sportswear, haute couture, fashion, ties and scarves, and other clothing, represent a clear majority of the market value and volume in 2016. Greater use of the dye sublimation printing technology will be aided by the fashion industry.
The report, further, pointed towards an interesting variance in the market: while Asia was poised to remain the biggest volume producer of dye sublimation materials, the highest per-unit prices were commanded in Western Europe.
The cluster of fashion houses in North Italy had made the region a world centre for development of dye sublimation textile printing. Italian print service providers consequently represent over three quarters of the garment dye sublimation market in Western Europe today.