Part Two: How the Pandemic was a Catalyst for Digital Transformation in Textile Printing
In part one, we discussed how customer demands are changing and how this creates new requirements for print service providers of digital textile printing services. In part two, the discussion continues, examining the impacts of e-commerce and the trends that are driving the North American digital textile market forward.
Recently we spoke with some of the market-leading equipment manufacturers; Mike Syverson, Textile Manager, Durst North America; Joe Dawson North America Business Development, Textiles at HP; and Micol Gamba from EFI-Reggiani to get their views on the dynamics that are driving the acceleration of digital textile printing.
How has the growth of e-commerce through the pandemic impacted the market?
Dawson: With e-commerce, the whole workflow all works together from design to production. There are some great examples, Spoonflower is one of the best. Spoonflower was recently acquired by Shutterfly, but that is a great example of e-commerce and digital textile printing. That goes into the whole supply chain issue as well, the ability to personalize or customize short runs and get them really fast. With our PrintOS, we’re trying to help print shops easily integrate web-to-print tools into their online presence.
Gamba: Web-to-print has really accelerated because of all of the people in lockdowns, so there are people shopping from home for customized products. We’ve also seen large-format print shops that have started an adjacent business using their digital textile printing capacity purely with an online presence, and we’ve seen a number of designers have started creating their own lines using e-commerce, so completely new businesses are starting up this way.
Syverson: E-commerce has grown exponentially across the board throughout the pandemic. The lack of in-person meetings has driven the industry to look at alternative ways to conduct business. Companies that have been e-commerce based saw exponential growth in their business. Some studies are showing the e-commerce adoption across the board has been accelerated by 5-7 years since the pandemic started. From the PSP perspective, having an e-commerce solution is another tool in the path to automate and reduce touches on jobs, whether it’s a display graphic or a more traditional textile printer.
What barriers still exist and what do you think can help overcome those in the coming years?
Dawson: There is still a perception among print service providers that digital textile printing is too hard to do, too expensive, too labor-intensive, etc. And in some ways they are right, it is not a cheap endeavor. But there is a lot of education to do as they do need to understand that this is a more sustainable way of production, that they are able to achieve better results and better quality, and that owning their own systems makes them more self-reliant.
Gamba: Part of it is that there are geographic markets where some of these demand drivers such as sustainability consciousness are relatively new such as China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, and this is also where a lot of textile production is done. Another issue is speed. With analog printing, it is possible to print up to 90 meters per minute; until fairly recently we could not have done that with digital printing. With long-run lengths, 10,000 m2 and larger digital just could not compete. Single-pass printers can now reach these speeds and match the costs to produce. Other new technologies on the finishing side, such as automated cutting and sewing, will make it even more cost-competitive. It will be a gradual process, but it is happening, and more conversion from analog will happen, also any new businesses are going straight to digital.
Syverson: The digital transformation of textiles has been slower than in other print markets. However, the printing technology is now at a point where it can compete with analog printing (rotary and flat screen). A big challenge was the production speed of the systems. The systems we sell today, such as the Durst Alpha, are competing with traditional methods, particularly as the print run lengths come down, and varieties of designs and colorways continue to increase. With more frequent roll-outs and the demands of fast fashion, production cycles for textile printing are also being compressed. Digital solutions are a natural fit for these changes.
IDC research also says that while the soft signage part of the digital textile printing market is growing nicely, the garment sector in North America is growing more slowly. One of the other barriers to growth is the lack of ability to productize garments using fabrics that are digitally printed. To that end, there is some excitement about some of the advances made on the finishing side with laser cutting systems and automated sewing solutions. The addition of these tools could help regain some of the required infrastructures that would enable growth on the garment side as well.
Tim Greene is a Research Director within IDC's Hardcopy Solutions group. Greene is responsible for coverage of the large format printing, 3D printing, and digital signage markets.