Simplifying the Digital Textile Print Process: Does Wet-On-Wet Print Technology Offer a Gateway to One Step Digital Textile Printing?

Digital textile printing has made it possible to reduce factory footprints and eliminate ancillary equipment. This simplification is facilitated by wet-on-wet print. WhatTheyThink’s Debbie McKeegan explores wet on wet, single-step textile printing.

The industry continues to rationalize the print process with each new iteration. This leads to a more streamlined, unified and one-step solution.

Recent developments have reduced the size of the factory for technology and also the need for ancillary equipment (if not eliminated altogether). The main contributor to this simplification is wet-on-wet print.

Typically, in digital textile printing, the ink is printed onto a pre-coated fabric—this is known as wet-on-dry printing. Wet-on-wet—a term carried over from rotary textile printing—is a technique used in the digital textile industry to apply ink or dye onto fabric in a continuous process.

This method allows for better color blending and ink penetration because the fabric remains moist and pre-coated throughout the entire printing process. This method is also called direct-to fabric printing because it allows the ink to be directly applied onto the textile without needing any extra steps, such as post-treatment or pre-treatment.

In a global printed textile market—analog and digital—that is predicted to exceed $260 billion by 2025 (Grand View Research), pigment printing, at 57% of the total, is the largest individual ink component, overshadowing any other ink type, be it acid, reactive, disperse, or dye sublimation.

You might ask: why this figure—57%—is not reflected in digital textile printing sector?

In 2022 the digital sublimation segment dominated the market. By 2030, it is expected that its share will increase to over 53%. (Research&Markets) The adoption of digital pigments has historically been slowed by issues with color vibrancy and fastness, and technical challenges with speed. In the short term, however, new technical developments, innovations, or applications of pigment could improve these figures. 

Many machinery manufacturers are focusing on digitally printing non-coated fabric in one step. This could be the key to increasing adoption.

JK Inks has made significant progress in the sector recently, offering 4k Pigment Inks that offer excellent wash and rub resistance, along with good lightfastness. The inks, however, are only compatible with Kyocera heads and the tests are all on cotton.

Ink formulations cannot provide a complete solution. Wet-on wet may simplify workflow and the printing process, but its technical execution can be challenging. Machine engineers and chemists will have to overcome this challenge. It’s from the heart of these elusive R&D departments that the latest innovations will emerge. To be continued…

Kornit Digital was one of the first innovators in wet-onwet printing, whether it be direct-to garment or direct-to fabric. Their launch of the Presto system in 2019, marked a major shift for their technology. It continues to improve with impressive results.

“When we first unveiled our industry-leading Presto MAX in 2021, the intent was to change the world of fashion and textiles forever, tapping into the power of on-demand digital decoration to set new standards for sustainability and creative fulfilment,” said Ronen Samuel, CEO at Kornit Digital. “We’re proud to highlight how Kornit anticipates the needs of an industry facing new opportunities sparked by digital transformation, while addressing mandates to cut waste and overproduction. Continuous innovation across our production systems, as well as supporting automation technologies, software, and partnerships, ensure customers achieve the highest possible return on investment, receive best-in-class support for their operational and business needs, and prepare to capitalize on trends shaping fashion and textiles for years to come.”

Kornit’s work has been protected over the years. A large percentage of their 130+ Patents are related to wet-onwet processing, such as chemical compositions and methods, or printing systems.

The digital wet/wet process presents a transformational opportunity for the pigment print industry. All stakeholders in the digital sector are now looking to on-demand printing as the future. In order to achieve this, technology will need to move beyond rotary to create a seamless infrastructure that can support multiple textiles industries of different scales.

The printed textiles industry is massive and offers a dynamic global market with a rich legacy. It’s also a market that must adapt if it is to meet its environmental responsibilities and obligations—and it’s primed for disruption.

2023 brought new innovations in the pigment world: Optimum Digital (Kyocera), MS Printing Solutions (D.Gen), Aleph, Atexco and EFI Reggiani all invested into one-step technology.

Kyocera’s FOREARTH digital textile print uses a cycle that discharges their proprietary pigment ink blend, pre-treatment fluid, and finishing agents in one step. This system can print on a variety of fabrics, including cotton, silk polyester, nylon and blended fabrics.

EcoTERRA from EFI Reggiani is also a one-stop solution for water-based printing pigments that does not require any ancillary equipment to pre- or post-treat. EFI Reggiani EcoTERRA, with its enhanced polymerization unit and finishing unit is said to offer a more tactile fabric experience.

MS Printing Solutions’ Lario Compact, currently under development, utilizes a total nine printheads. Two are for pre-treatment and six for color. One is for the binder.

This activity is aimed at bringing digital pigment print from its current discontinuous method to a more similar one, which is closer to its rotary competitor, where the fabric is printed in a single step, then cured and softened to produce a finished product ready for cutting and stitching.

With the rapid advancement of print technology, it’s now possible to imagine a future in which the use of pigment printing with its multi-fiber and blended printing capabilities will reach new heights for adoption within the digital textile industry, currently dominated by reactive and dye sublimation printing.

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