by Abdul Rahim Chughtai, CEO, Rainbow Inks (Pvt) Ltd.
The world is undergoing fast-paced technological advancement in every field. In the textile industry, digital printing technology is making a room for itself which runs on the same CMYK method as the paper printers. However, some resistance by the traditional school of thought is being faced in adaption of digital printing technology.
One major factor contributing to this resistance is high capital investment, as machines for digital textile printing are expensive. We do have some cheap Chinese options available in the market but that is at the compromise of print quality. The capital investment is surely high, but in comparison to revenue generation, payback period is also exceptionally low.
On the other hand, input cost being high should not be considered as a crucial factor because digital printing saves the whole process of engraving and colour mixing which is used in rotary or flatbed printing. Furthermore, digital printing only requires maintenance of 4-6 colours of inventory instead of a long list of conventional powder dyes.
In the upcoming years, the input cost for digital ink shall go down as well because we now have local manufacturers of ink being introduced into the market. As per statistics issued by Allied Market Research, the digital textile printing market shall tough $8.8 Billion by 2027 at a 19.1% CAGR from 2020-2027.
With the industry still evolving and giving room to exciting new print opportunities, it offers constraint-free creativity in printing at a global level. At present, the output of digital textile printing in European countries accounts for more than 80% of the total output of printed fabrics. This article presents an effective comparison between digital printing and screen printing based on various important parameters and how they effect the overall printing costs.
When making a cost comparison between rotary screen and digital printing, the number of colors in use in rotary have to be taken into account. For each extra color you want to use in rotary, a new screen has to be engraved. Therefore, for a particular design, the operational cost goes up with the increase in number of colors used. Additionally, the number of color ways has to be considered as well. For digital textile printing changing of color ways is instant, whereas in screen printing, this process requires printing paste in each screen to be cleaned and replaced. Needless to say, digital textile printing effectively allows for colorful designs and many colorways while saving additional cost.
Another positive driver in aid of digital textile printing is the speed of printing process. Since no screens have to be engraved, lead times can be curtailed significantly. The digital image file can be set and printed on the fabric in a matter of minutes. It helps to meet the demand of the fast-paced fashion industry in the modern era. In comparison to that, rotary screen printing requires a design to be adjusted with special separation software to reduce the number of colors, and due to the additional steps involved in the procession of screen printing, it costs way more in terms of time-to-market.
An obvious question is the break-even estimate of both technologies: until what print length the costs of digital are lower than rotary? This break-even point varies on different parameters, mainly in the rotary printing process. As pointed out before, it heavily depends on the number of colors, the number of color ways and the number of printed meters per color way one may want to print. Digital printing allows for the shortest print lengths as well as long print runs. In digital printing, printers usually negotiate the price based on quantity of metres to be printed. In general, when the print run is long, rotary screen printing is a more economical option. For smaller print runs, digital inkjet printing would cost less.
The number of colors and the print length are the main direct costs factors which are vital in a cost assessment of digital and rotary screen printing. However, there are several indirect costs that have to be considered when estimating the cost of a printing technology. It is mostly difficult to quantify these indirect costs in terms of monetary figures, but in comparison to the market, these factors play a significant role in terms of the way digital textile printing can assist a business to either save costs or attract new business.
Traditional screen printing requires as many printing stations as the number of colors in printing. The digital inkjet printer, on the other hand, is in contrast to this. No matter how many colors an image has, it does not boost the workload of the worker. A similar design can simultaneously be printed in different colors and it does not cost a dime more to choose any color option that the printer requires. The sharpest of lines and a seamless confluence of colors are printed with much ease.
Sustainability is progressively becoming a vital concern among textile printers. Digital textile printing can effectively facilitate printers to reduce their carbon footprint and enhance their image as being environmentally sustainable. With its low dye utilization and decreased waste material (95% less waste), printers can effectively save costs while contributing to the environment. On top of that, digital textile printing helps printers to reduce water consumption by 60%, chemical usage and power consumption by over 55%.
Digital textile printing enables the printers to benefit from new business models. The most important one is printing what you’ve already sold instead trying to sell what you already printed. It is because of the flexibility of digital textile printing, fashion brands can decide to have small batches of a certain design printed and place repeat orders when that product is selling well. As digital printing saves time, fashion labels are able to meet the demands of their customer in the fast-paced fashion industry of the modern era
While personal preference certainly plays a role, the differences between digital vs. traditional screen printing allow you to make some smart decisions when you’re choosing which method will best serve your project.