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Digital and Textile Hybrids Debut at Wide Format European Print Show

New materials, fresh innovation and even novel ways to rapidly wrap an F1 race car were all on offer at this year's FESPA event, but it was the hybrid systems that united the best of competing technologies that dominated proceedings.

Photo: Printed textile accessories, courtesy of Epson’s SureColor sublimation system.
Printed textile accessories, courtesy of Epson's SureColor sublimation system.
Photo: Printed textile accessories, courtesy of Epson’s SureColor sublimation system.
Printed textile accessories, courtesy of Epson's SureColor sublimation system.

Despite its acronymically derived name clearly harking back to its origins as the in-house event for the Federation of European Screen Printers Associations, FESPA has long out-grown both its European and screen-printing boundaries. Today, iterations of the event take place as far afield as Bangkok, Istanbul, Johannesburg and Mexico City, while its remit extends across every aspect of screen-printing, textile printing and, of course, digital printing.

Amid its growing global network of region-specific events, however, its annual European expo has retained its mothership status, as well as its claim to be the world's largest showcase for wide format printing technologies. Traditionally itinerant, the 2016 event was held in Amsterdam, while Berlin is the 2018 destination. For 2017, though, the show headed back to Hamburg.

In total, the event attracted 39,000 visitors from 139 countries, with some 10% of them jetting in from across Asia – an impressive turn-out given that the region had its own dedicated event, in Bangkok, just three months earlier. FESPA covers all large format printing sectors, although textile printing continues to dominate, with soft-signage and interiors also making a significant contribution in recent years.

As well as having the opportunity to size up a significant number of new exhibitors, all keen to demonstrate their latest technological innovations, show attendees had the chance to acquaint themselves with a range of new materials and machines or even to build their industry knowledge courtesy of the event's seminar programme. They could even immerse themselves in the slight silliness that accompanied the Wrap Masters event, which saw a number of the world's leading wrapping specialists compete to completely cover a car.

Stretched across 10 halls, this year's event featured easily navigable areas dedicated to several of the print industry's key sectors, including digital, signage, textile and a crossover digital/industrial/screen zone. Inevitably, many of the larger brands found themselves spread across several halls, with HP, the California-headquartered computing and printing giant, proving to be one of the most ubiquitous.

One of its most well-attended stands offered walk-in seminars on the benefits of using HP's range of latex inks. This tied in, somewhat neatly, with the company's launch of its third generation of latex printers – the 3.2m-wide 3600 and 3200. While the new presses have the same price tag as their predecessors, they are said to deliver 30% more productivity.

It fell to Carlos Lahoz Buch, the company's Worldwide Sustainability and Environmental Manager, to lead the charge when it came to educating visitors as to the advantages offered by latex inks compared to the more traditional solvent-based option. Straight and to the point, he said: "When you use our latex inks, the prints are already dry when they come off the system and don't need laminating. They also have no off-putting smells, making them ideal for use in public areas. On top of that, our latex printers require very little maintenance and come with an automated cleaning option."

Photo: Leaders in latex: The ubiquitous HP.
Leaders in latex: The ubiquitous HP.
Photo: Leaders in latex: The ubiquitous HP.
Leaders in latex: The ubiquitous HP.
Photo: Wide format printing the Mimaki way.
Wide format printing the Mimaki way.
Photo: Wide format printing the Mimaki way.
Wide format printing the Mimaki way.

Similarly spreading its offerings widely was Mimaki, a Japan-based specialist in wide-format inkjet printers and cutting machines. This year, it made good on a promise made back in 2015 with the launch of its first 3D printer. While a welcome innovation, the unveiling of the 3DUJ-P full-colour 3D inkjet printer did seem a little incongruous given the wide format preferences of the show's attendees.

A safer bet for the FESPA crowd came in the form of the company's hybrid TX300-1800 range, which can simultaneously handle both textile pigment and dye-sub inks. Welcoming this particular innovation, Magnus Mighall, Owner of R A Smart, a Northern England-based textile printer and an authorised Mimaki reseller, said: "This is something of a breakthrough in the short-run textile market. The system's dual-ink capacity will give end users huge flexibility.

"Similarly impressive is the company's new Tiger 1800B model. This kind of high-speed, belt-driven direct-to-textile press is exactly what the market has been waiting for. It offers 600 DPI and a maximum output of 385 sq m per hour, a combination that will provide a wealth of new opportunities, while delivering savings at a truly industrial level."

At the show, Mighall was also representing another of his resale clients – Transmatic, a manufacturer of thermopress systems. Positively evangelistic when it came to championing this Italian company, he said: "In my opinion, Transmatic is the market leader with regard to dye sublimation thermal transfer technology.

"Although ink technology is currently seen as driving the market, recent improvements to print-heads allows for more colour and binder to be applied. In quality terms, this brings pigment-oriented direct digital textile printing much closer to traditional screen printing."

Lacking such a third-party champion, though nonetheless bullish, was Epson, the Japanese technology business said to be one of the world's largest printer manufacturer. This year, keen to demonstrate the quality delivered by its SureColor sublimation printer, the company had called upon the services of Richard Quinn, a renowned London-born textiles and fashion designer, to create a clothing line that would truly put its system to the test.

Confident that the system would do justice to Quinn's designs, Diana Thompson, Epson's Public Relations Manager, said: "Over on our stand, we have the SureColor F9200 printing in sublimation speed. Visitors can also view the overall product development story, from Richard's initial concept to the finished garment. They can even talk to Richard and then design and print their own shirt."

Equally keen to demonstrate its prowess on the innovation front was Durst, an 81-year-old Italian technology company. The business moved into manufacturing super-wide format inkjet printers when its previous line of photographic enlargers became pretty much obsolete some 10 years ago.

Addressing the company's current strategy, Henry Cheng, its Managing Director for the Greater China Region, said: "We see ourselves as technology innovators and aim to work closely with our customers. Our focus is on providing the appropriate guidance when they are looking to invest in quicker and higher-quality production systems."

Durst brought a number of new presses to FESPA, as well as field upgrades to its existing 512R and Rho P10 250 HS models. Its new 512R Plus models is also said to incorporate a fine-art option, capable of delivering 1200DPI and a production speed of more than 400 sq m per hour.

Over in Hall A4, Arioli – an Italian manufacturer of textile and digital printing systems – was creating a similar stir with the launch of iQ-Digital, part of its ArioliPrint range. A combined digital/silkscreen system, it was developed in conjunction with MHM, an Austrian silkscreen printing specialist.

Providing a passionate introduction to the company's new technology, Pasquale Cannone, Arioli's Chief Technical Officer, said: "The ArioliPrint range is the outcome of years of technical development. A scan printer, its uses an aramid belt system to deliver the textile accurately, while our use of optical fibres allow for high-speed data transfer between the on-board PC and the print-heads."

Expanding upon the applications of the system, Thomas Frohlich, MHM's General Manager, said: "The iQ-Digital is the first of its kind, a hybrid combination of silkscreen and digital technology. It has an output of 1,100 shirts an hour at around US$0.40 each, with the complete system costing $950,000."

In terms of the new materials available this year, one that seemed to catch the attention of a number of attendees was Banova, the latest offering from 3A Composites, a Swiss specialist in the development of core materials. Its newest innovation comprises an ultra-lightweight balsa wood veneer composite with three surface options – Plus and Digital (rigid with high-quality print surfaces) and Superlex (a highly flexible plywood).

Presenting the options currently on offer from her own company, Jutta Ingala, Public Relations Manager for the Pongs Group, a German manufacturer of digital textile printing materials, said: "We specialise in the development of new materials for the flexible graphics and soft-signage sectors and have the capacity to produce widths of up to 505cm."

Photo: FESPA 2017: The European print event that has spawned a host of international expos.
FESPA 2017: The European print event that has spawned a host of international expos.
Photo: FESPA 2017: The European print event that has spawned a host of international expos.
FESPA 2017: The European print event that has spawned a host of international expos.

At the end of the day, the light relief at the show came courtesy of the grand final of the World Wrap Masters, with several wrapping installation specialists from a variety of countries looking to impress the judges with their ability to cocoon a Renault racing car with true style and precision. After a series of hard-fought rounds, Jonas Sjöström, a Swedish freelance wrapper, was declared the overall winner.

FESPA 2017 took place from 8-12 May at the Hamburg Messe.

David Wilkinson Special Correspondent, Hamburg

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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