Machinate: The Mimaki Tx2-1600

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The Mimaki Tx2-1600 is just one of the many digital textile printers on the market, but the one I have had the most experience with. Before I get into how it works, here’s a very brief description and history of textile printing from The Colour Museum.
Basically, the image must be divided by color, and every part of the image that is a particular color will be burned into a screen. This must be done for each color to be printed. For those of you in the graphic design field, it can be compared to a separate screen created for each spot color. Thus for every color in a textile, the amount of labor and cost go up – which can be a big limitation for independent designers.

Inkjet printing brought the ability to put a color image on paper to the masses, and the same is happening with digital fabric printing. In the case of fabric, the printing is done with dyes not inks. And because the image is comprised of pixels, there is no limit to the amount of color. It is essentially CMYK, four color process with capabilities for four extra colors.

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Before printing the printer must be set up and tested. There are two different sides of dye cartridge slots. This is because fiber reactive dyes are best for cellulosic or plant based fibers such as cotton, rayon, linen or hemp. Acid dyes are best for protein based fibers like wool and silk and for synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester. Plastic gallon containers hold the excess dye from the printing process.
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Next, the fabric bolt is put onto the printer. Specially coated and paper-backed fabric that comes on a roll is first placed at the foot of the printer between two plastic ends that support the roll. In order to make sure that the fabric is aligned evenly, the edge of the paper lines up with a triangle on the printer. There is a laser that detects the edge of the fabric and keeps it aligned throughout the printing. This laser is adjusted by a switch on a box attached to the bottom of the printer. The fabric is then carefully pulled in an over-under fashion through 3 cylinders to maintain the tension and then fed through the top and clamped down.

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Once your fabric is ready, it is very important to test and make sure that all of the nozzles are clear. This can take several rounds of putting it through a cleaning setting, because a single lose fiber can clog a nozzle and ruin the print.
Here is an example of a test. There are boxes for each dye color made of several horizontal lines. A missing line indicates a clogged nozzle.

Now that your test is perfect, you need an image file to print. As with any desktop inkjet printer, a variety of file types can be sent to the fabric printer, but tiffs are ideal. Fabric printers will come with a software for managing the printing que, or you can print straight from Photoshop. The Mimaki can print approximately 10 square meters an hour at 720dpi.

But the work isn’t done yet. The fabric must be laid on a flat surface and peeled off of the paper backing. The dye is also only on the surface; it has not yet chemically bonded with the fibers. For this to occur, the fabric must be steamed between 120-140 degrees Celsius (250-280 degrees Farenheit) for 45 minutes to an hour depending on colors, fabric, temperature etc.

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Above is the Jacquard Steam Jet, a steel bullet steamer. The printed fabric is rolled onto a hollow cylinder and then slid into the bullet steamer. After the alloted time, it is removed, unrolled, and then must be rinsed to wash away any dye that did not bond to the fibers.

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A student washes out her printed yardage and then pins it up to dry.
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And here is an example of the photoreal precision that can be achieved with the textile printer.

I really think it would be amazing to add a digital textile printer to Ponoko’s services. The combinations of fabric with laser cut materials would offer a whole new range of product possibilities.

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13 Responses to “Machinate: The Mimaki Tx2-1600”

  1. Nadia Says:

    oh yes PLEASE add textile printing! I was able to do this on a (very) small scale at my fashion design school. We basically printed our textile designs onto 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of fabric with paper backing and then sewed the fabric into a small project. i would LOVE to be able to design my own fabric for my projects. PLEASE add this service!!!!

  2. Stephen Fraser Says:

    Hi, Ponoko folks. For what it’s worth, a couple of former Lulu colleagues and I are getting ready to launch a custom fabric design service called Spoonflower. I’d love to chat sometime about what you’re doing (which is amazing & terrific) and what you’ve learned.

  3. Matthew Says:

    I love the idea! do it!

  4. Peter Says:

    Hello,

    I checked the catalogue of Mimaki and found a device called NCU = Nozzle check unit (laser system). Do you know what it is?

  5. Ponoko Blog Says:

    [...] Awhile back, I wrote about digital fabric printing. The great thing about it being that you don’t have to engrave or burn screens for each color, and that means unlimited color, unlimited design, no minimum order. And no minimum order is essential to customization. [...]

  6. Karthik R Says:

    Hey Folks,

    Does any1 know how to solve the side curls that occur on knits when printing digitally? I figured out to fuse the fabric with paper but my cost turns out to be expensive…did any1 go through this kind of issue??
    Please HELP!!

  7. Kristen Says:

    Hi Karthik,

    I’ve never printed on a knit. The woven fabrics I’ve used are specially ordered- they come on paper backings that stabilize the fabric and absorb excess dye, and then peel off. I would recommend finding knits treated for digital printing, but I only know of woven fabrics.

    US: http://www.digifab.com/
    UK: http://www.whaleys-bradford.ltd.uk/fabric/coated-fabrics-for-digital-printing.cfm?catID=24

    p.s. I’ve never used either website. That’s from a quick Google search.

  8. Anish Says:

    Hi

    great to read a blog on digital textile printing. I think this technology is going to rock the printing world in th e next couple of years.

    Back in india, quite a few designers and exporters only use digital textile printing for all thier needs.

    Anyone wanting to get thier ink costs down, we have developed reactive inks in India which are price at EURO55 per ltr. Results same as CIBA (since i was using them on my 5 TX2).

    Karthik, for the curls, you will need to do a process which is called ‘GUMMING’ to the knit fabric. alternatively you can do a overlock stitch to the sides. i do it and its really effective.

    cheers…till next time.

  9. Karthik R Says:

    Hi! Kristen,

    Many thanks for your valuable input and appreciate your comment. Basically, I am handling sales of Trident-ITW FabricFact Ultra Pigment inks for digital textile printing in the Indian market. I have come across fabric manufactures who do fusing fabric with paper but it turns out to be too expensive in India after the duty n octroi taxes.

    I really want to approach and solve this issue on a cheaper level. If you do come across anyone who prints easily on knits..do let me know?

    Most of the exporters who supply to digital textile job workers have bought their knits from mills. So, it’s very hard to convince customers to buy stuff from digifab,etc..

    Thanks for running such a great blog on digitak textile printing.

  10. Karthik R Says:

    Hi! Anish,

    Any chance of having a telecon? my number is +91 9820484847 or you can mail me on tridentkr@gmail.com. Thanks a bunch for your advice, will surely try it out.

  11. Kristen Says:

    I’ll keep an eye out for digiprinters for knits. And just to let you all know, I’ll be writing mostly about textiles for the month of February. Everything from new companies in digital textile printing to laser-cut looms, interviews with recent graduates making 3D textiles to wallpaper on demand.

    Cheers.

  12. Ponoko Blog Says:

    [...] I’m personally very excited about Spoonflower. Between their fabric printing capabilities and Ponoko’s custom laser-cutting lots of great things could happen. p.s. If you liked this, you might like one of my very first post about the Mimaki printer. //OBSTART:do_NOT_remove_this_comment var OutbrainPermaLink=”http://blog.ponoko.com/2009/02/09/centerview-spoonflower/”; var OB_demoMode = false; if(typeof(OB_Script)!=’undefined’){ OutbrainStart(); }else{ var OB_Script = true; var OB_langJS =”http://widgets.outbrain.com/lang_en.js”; document.write (“”); } //OBEND:do_NOT_remove_this_comment [...]

  13. New York Design Week 2010: Digital Fabrication Trends at ICFF « Ponoko – Blog Says:

    [...] based textile designer Lorna Syson combined digital textile printing and traditional screen printing with laser-cutting for a sculptural take on florals. Although [...]