2016 D2 Report

For the Business of Apparel Decorating

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A lthough it has only been around for about 20 years and widely available for even fewer, direct-to-garment (D2) printing has undergone many developments and improvements since its inception. Here, we'll look back at where the D2 printer started so we can truly appreci- ate where the technology is today, and how it will likely progress in the future. FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS Mark Bagley, Brother, explains that the demand for short- and medium-size decorated apparel runs came with the dawn of the digital age. Orders of these sizes weren't as feasible with the technology of the time, since screen printing was, and still is, better suited to larger jobs. Many decorators began to look for features that were not possible with heat transfer or screen-printing technology at the time, explains Bagley, such as a softer hand or faded designs, so the need for digitally printing onto a garment arose. Jerid Hill, BelQuette, says decorators wanted the ability to print a full-color design on a T-shirt faster than they could with more traditional methods. Since inkjet tech- nology was being used for full-color printing, it seemed it would be a good fit for garments. In response to this demand, much of the research and development dedicated to D2 printing began in the 90s, with some of the first printers officially launching just a few years later. But, the technology wasn't born overnight. "I'd like to say the idea came in a flash of genius but, as with most new product development, it was more a yearning for an easier way," says Matthew Rhome, Epson, who was the first to patent the technology in the U.S. in 1996. D2 technology was initially received very well at trade shows in the U.S. However, some decorators within the industry wor- ried that D2 printing would overtake screen printing as a method. Eventually, people came to undersand that D2 printing was in- stead a process in its infancy that would run parallel to traditional screen printing. Bagley notes that there was additional skepticism toward the technology, due to initial capabilities of the ink chemistry avail- able at the time; the inks and print heads were not designed spe- cifically for apparel applications as they are now. Because of these limitations, some early D2 manufacturers found that the amount BACK TO THE FUTURE A Brief History and Evolution of D2 Printing B Y S A N D R A S E PA N I A K Right: D2 printers are now able to print on a variety of both hard and soft sub- strates, from apparel to wood and glass. (Image courtesy BelQuette) Inset: A sketch of one of the first printers with details about how it works alongside early cov- erage of the equipment. (Images courtesy Mat- thew Rhome). 2 • THE DIGITAL DIRECT REPORT • 2016

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