Five factors pushing dye sublimation print market towards €3 billion

The dye sublimation print market will more than double across the next five years according to the latest exclusive market data from Smithers Pira.

The increase in dye sublimation printing is part of the broader rise of digital inkjet systems in the textile trade.In its new report the Future of Dye Sublimation Printing to 2021, Smithers Pira tracks the increased use of this technology across key end-use segments – signage, technical, household, and garments. The data shows strong year-on-year growth in the amount of material printed – 18.4% – across the next five years.

This will serve to increase by over 100% the volume and value of material that is dye sublimation printed across the study period. Smithers Pira forecasts that in 2021 nearly 900,000m2 of textiles will be printed with the process, creating a global market worth nearly €3 billion ($3.4 billion).

As the dye sublimation market booms it will create numerous opportunities for ink and textile suppliers, press builders, and partners across the value chain. In its analysis Smithers identifies five factors that will shape how the dye sublimation print market grows through to 2021.

Garments – The dominant end-use

Using sublimation of dyes is a different process to printing with inks on either other digital or analogue presses. The process sublimates the dye at temperature into a gas that penetrates and permanently bonds inside the fibres of the textile. This gives a high-resolution, permanent coloration that will not peel or crack.

For this reason haute couture, and the top end of high street fashion were among the first to exploit this technology. Smithers Pira’s data shows garments – swimwear, sportswear, haute couture, fashion, ties and scarves, and other clothing – represent a clear majority of the market value and volume in 2016. This relative share will increase across the study period.

Garments are and will remain the dominant market for dye sublimation print systems. Source: Smithers Pira

Greater use of the technology will be aided by the fashion industry itself transforming with the arrival of internet shopping and fast-fashion.

Retailers and brands are increasingly running a greater number of collections in each calendar year; this is made much easier with digital textile printing as it allows quicker turnaround and response to orders, allowing a shift to repeated short runs that minimise stock holdings, and unsold leftovers. Dye sublimation and similar digital platforms allow the supply chain to be shortened and made more flexible, with some manufacturing moving close to the retailers. 

Italy – A key hub

The importance of apparel segment, accounts for an interesting variance in this market – while Asia is and will remain the biggest volume producer of dye sublimation materials, the highest per-unit prices are commanded in Western Europe. The cluster of fashion houses in North Italy has helped make the region world centre for development of dye sublimation textile printing.

Italian print service providers consequently represent over three quarters of the garment dye sublimation market in Western Europe today. Other countries have a lead in other segments like signage and household décor; and there are technology hubs across the region, including in Germany, and the UK.

Takeovers – The market consolidates

The maturing of the dye sublimation market is seeing a number of moves by mainstream print companies into this segment.

In October 2015 Konica Minolta opened a €5 million textile innovation centre at Bregnano, near Milan, in the heart of Europe’s textile printing operations. This site houses three Konica Minolta high-performance Nassenger line machines.

Electronics for Imaging (EFI) bought Italian technology provider Reggiani in July 2016, adding its expertise and extensive line up of water-based industrial inkjet printers to EFI’s existing Vutek line.

In June 2015, Epson completed the acquisition of Italian ink supplier Fortex and is continuing its partnership with dye sublimation equipment builder Robustelli. Elsewhere in the consumables area, Sensient bought UK firm Xennia in May 2015.

A major presence in dye sublimation remains the Dover Group set of companies – J-Teck3, Kiian Digital, Sawgrass Industrial and MS Italy.

New machines – Productivity demands

The increase demand for dye sublimation print is driving the development of larger presses, these will help transform the value proposition of dye sublimation prints from samples and short runs to let it challenge analogue processes, like screen and gravure, in longer bulk production runs of multiple thousands of linear metres.

This is stimulating the building of a new generation of industrial high-end machines capable of single-pass printing. Seven such presses were launched at ITMA 2015 last November. There is also much focus on innovation that minimise downtime on presses; for example, Kyocera and Ricoh have developed a recirculating head that reduces nozzle clogging, following Xaar’s innovation of some years ago.

For visual communications, the number of requested applications of dye sublimation products is growing, but the technology is not today developing fast enough to accommodate all client requirements.

Pigment inks – a threat

Despite the overall positive outlook for dye sublimation, as a process it is limited to use with synthetic or synthetic-coated materials – overwhelmingly polyester – by the need to bind the dyes into the internal fibres. 

In the future dye sublimation systems may face competition from pigment inks if their suppliers can resolve quality, reliability and other issues. Pigments have greater substrate flexibility, significantly this includes natural substrates, like cotton.

This combined with their simplicity of processing and the tactility of the printed textile will enable pigment inks to grow, if the print process can become reliable enough at production scale.

These and other important trends for the dye sublimation market are analysed and contextualised within the overall market growth in the Smithers Pira report – The Future of Dye Sublimation Printing to 2021.