Italy's Textile Solution Centre Gives Global Leadership, Vision and Inspiration for Digital Textile Print Production

With our announcement earlier this week about InPrint 2016 running in Milan Italy, 9-11 November, this blog underlines why Italy is so important as a leader in industrial digital textile printing. The report is based upon a visit to the impressive Textile Solution Centre in Como....

The mega-trend of globalisation is taking a different turn in relation to digital and inkjet production.

And a recent trip to northern Italy reminded me of how many traditional manufacturing industries in Europe have been transformed by digital technology. Textile printing is in transition due both to digital technology and to the fact that mass production has left the region for China many years ago. In fact, if digital did not exist, then it is likely textile printing would not exist at all in the region.

The migration of production has left a consumer market that still requires products, but not necessarily a dedicated local base of print supply that can compete with lower cost off shore production.

Enter digital. For those who embraced it they have survived a dramatic shift. But they have done so by creating products that are competitive and dynamic and able to beat cheap production centres.

Como in particular is renowned as a centre for excellence in textile. Dating back generations it has long been a place where silk production, linked to a leading fashion and design industry literally led the world. And to a large extent still does.

Why did the Como area become a leader in textile printing?

The silk industry originated in China and began in Europe at the outset of the 12th century and by 1510, the textile industry in the region grew to become the most important of Europe’s leading manufacturing centres.

The Como region is the ideal environment to develop sericulture, with an abundance of both mulberry trees and glacial water. Access to a considerable water supply is essential at several phases of the value chain of production, while the quality of the mulberry leaves is crucial for producing silk thread. Silkworms produce silk only when they are fed on a diet of mulberry leaves. With these natural conditions, a skill base quickly developed positioning Como as a leader, and then came the fashion industry meaning the Lombardy area becomes a world leader in textile production, design and fashion.

The centre features a state of the art production area
The centre features a state of the art production area

Textile printing is not easy

When you are wandering around a trade show, it is easy to not realise that the process of preparation and finishing is integral to the success of any textile printing output. With the history of expertise in the Como area for handling, manufacturing and treating textiles, this has continued to mean the area is extremely relevant even though large amounts of the mass manufacturing no longer takes place here.

Textiles must have pre and post treatment. Every textile will react differently to the ink and the process. This means pre and post treatment demands both specialist equipment and expertise to work with such a diverse and malleable substrate as textile.

Textile Solution Centre

According to For.Tex, digital textile printing has grown from 2% of total production of textile printing in Italy in 2003 to 58% in 2013 and is predicted to reach 81% in 2017 representing dramatic and exciting growth!

But with this growth comes a gap in knowledge in new technology and expertise in treatment, so for For.Tex and Epson it made perfect sense to establish the Textile Solution Centre with the aim of providing the print community with a centre of excellence for practical and theoretical learning of digital textile print production.

With an investment of €2 million, the Textile Solution Centre (TSC) is aiming to become the leading global centre of excellence in research, training, promotion and development to benefit those who already work in digital printing and those who want to digitally print on fabric.

“To compete on a global level”, said Pietro Roncoroni, President of For.Tex, “just having the best technological equipment available is not enough. We must continuously perform research and development, helping clients to tackle the challenges set by new fabrics or processes and, in parallel, train new recruits - from stylists to machine operators. This is why we decided to create the Textile Solution Centre, a first for Europe, to be followed by other countries around the world.” “Epson has a long-term vision,” said Daniela Guerci, CEO of Epson, Italia. “As leaders in digital printing on fabric, we have to create the right conditions until this technology consolidates itself and grows, not just in Como. This is why we decided to invest in the Textile Solution Centre as a cutting-edge hub for research and training on digital printing on fabric. Through innovation and skills we will create real growth.”

Learning is a mix of classroom theory and hands on practical learning
Learning is a mix of classroom theory and hands on practical learning

Key Facts from For.Tex:

  • 29.5 billion m² of fabrics printed worldwide every year
  • 32.5 billion m² predicted for 2017
  • Digitally printed fabric: around 420 million m² in 2013
  • By 2017 more than a billion m² is predicted
  • Roll-to-roll printing: around 168 million m² today & 360 million m² in 2017 (where?)
  • Como silk district: % of textile digital printing rises from 58% in 2013 to 81% in 2017
  • Worldwide only 2.5% digitally printed textile
  • In Italy on average more than 40%
  • Como 60% but Turkey still less than 10%
  • Textile Solution Centre, created with €2 million investment jointly with Epson and For.Tex

Importance of Pre and Post Treatment

One of the core objectives of the TSC is to provide access to insight and technologies focusing on the importance of textile treatment and handling.

Talking to Angelo Marelli of For.Tex, he explained, “Pre-treatment is important as this process allows the ink to settle properly and not disperse all over the place. Depending on the ink and fabric a different type of pre-treatment is required.  The liquid gets placed into the fabric then it is squeezed and then dried and then it is printed. After the printing then you take the fabric and you steam the fabric to fixate the ink to the fabric and again, the extent and time to which this process takes will depend on the kind of fabric that is being printed onto.”

It is normal to usually achieve around an 80% fixation then it is a matter of getting the remainder of the ink off of the fabric itself so it doesn't migrate elsewhere after the print has been completed. After this washing process you will likely need to undertake a drying process and maybe add a finishing product, like a softening agent or even a waterproof coating.

TSC is an inspiring centre for learning and discovering at first hand, from experts, how to digitally print textiles using some of the leading machines available, such as Monna Lisa, the system for direct-to-fabric printing by F.lli Robustelli based on Epson Micro Piezo technology. The vision of TSC is also to provide students across the region with the chance to learn about the digital textile printing process and market so that the next generation of print experts become inspired to join the industry, sustaining it well into the future. A very positive and ethical goal.

The investment for the centre itself may have been significant but with the expertise, enthusiasm and commitment on display from For.Tex and Epson, I am sure the investment has already been returned. If you every get a chance to go, anyone involved withindustrial textile printing should pay a visit.

Textile Solution Center, Como a joint initiative by For.Tex & Epson.
Textile Solution Center, Como a joint initiative by For.Tex & Epson.