A billion euro market – Inkjet fabric print comes of age

Deploying inkjet technology into the textile industry is presenting an increasingly compelling opportunity for the print industry according to the latest research from Smithers Pira.

Double digit growth across 2016-2021, is making digital textile printing one of the most exciting market opportunity in the print and textile supply. It is creating new value-adding business opportunities for fabric printers and material suppliers, as the capabilities of the latest generation of digital textile presses dovetails with evolving priorities for end users, like fashion designers.

Booming market

Exclusive data from the new Smithers Pira report The Future of Digital Textile Printing to 2021 shows that in 2016 only 2.9% of the overall market volume for printed textiles – 30 billion metres square – is produced on such equipment.

Digital print’s share has been increasing rapidly across this decade however, with total volume rising from 461 million metres square in 2012 to 870 million metres square in 2016. This will push through the 1 billion mark in 2017, and in 2021 will constitute 1.95 billion metres square of fabric – more than four times the volume in 2012.

This rapid expansion is translating into rising revenues – from €592 million in 2012 to €1.17 billion in 2016. Smithers Pira’s extensive research and analysis forecasts that this will grow at a year on year rate of 15.7% for the next five years, reaching €2.42 billion in 2021.

This is in contrast to the average growth for all printed textiles – which remains principally on screen presses – of around 3%.

The global digital textile printing market will more than double in value over five years, reaching €2.42 billion in 2021.

A focus for development

With double-digit annual growth across the board, major printhead developers, ink formulators and press builders are increasingly looking to capitalise on this market. This is especially true as some conventional analogue markets record static or even declining revenues through to the end of the decade.

This is simultaneously fuelling both business consolidation and technology evolution. As this occurs it is having an increasing impact on the global textile supply chain and ordering models.


With conventional markets under threat global print firms are seeing digital textile print as an attractive location to invest in. One strategic means to do this is through the acquisition of smaller specialist technology developers. These are typically based in the Como region of Italy, which has developed this expertise to meet the demands of the fashion industry centred on nearby Milan.

For example, Dover Group now encompasses Sawgrass Industrial – one of the most significant early innovators in digital textile technology; along with Italian press builder MS Printing Solutions, bought in 2014; and two other Italian developers of ink for fabric work, Kian Digital and J-Teck3.

Epson Italia completed its acquisition of Robustelli in June 2016. The agreement aims to expand collaboration in digital textile printing, and with Robustelli machines to be manufactured in Epson factories. Epson in turn, will use Robustelli’s expertise to speed the development of digital textile printers and offer a more complete portfolio of equipment.

US-based EFI made its own acquisition in July 2015, buying up Bergamo-based Reggiani. The first fruit of this – a joint-engineered printer – was shown in June at Drupa 2016. EFI-Reggiani is now also partnering with DuPont to develop a range of pigment-based textile inks.

The latest move, concluded in October 2016, saw Mimaki complete the purchase of La Meccanica.

Business models

Combining equipment sales and consumables supply in one company is a logical move because of how this industry is structured. The predominant business model in digital textile print is for equipment manufacturers to sell their equipment relatively cheap, and then realise value via the sales of ink, media and other consumables across the lifespan of the machine.

Another mark of the maturing of the digital textile segment is the evolution new components and technologies dedicated to it. UK printhead developer Xaar announced its entry into this sphere at Drupa 2016 with the new Si MEMS 5601 GS3po printhead. The printhead works with water-based and solvent-based textile inks.

A natural outcome of a more crowded marketplace for digital textile equipment will be extra pressure on consumables pricing, and innovation to differentiate platforms. The arrival of more companies with a global presence, and rising demand, will also help the evolution of more higher throughput roll-to-roll digital textile presses across the next five years.

Fashion industry trends

As in other print segments digital’s potential is founded on its ability to produce single, short and custom runs more economically and with a much faster turnaround than conventional screen printers.

These advantages are important in signage – where digital print penetration is deepest – and fashion. Haute couture and high street fashion demand for digital print is worth €190 million in 2016 and will exceed €420 million in 2021. 

This is being aided by the fashion industry’s shift towards multiple mini-seasons within one traditional season. This favours digital as it translates into more new designs, and multiple repeat runs of short orders. This customisation potential is now being seen in the home décor segment with bespoke interior furnishings.

Another means to produce unique designs for a customer, is to overprint details onto screen printed textile stock.

The need for quick turnaround on such orders also favours relocating textile print to areas like Europe, from lower labour cost regions like the Indian sub-continent. This so-called ‘reshoring’ trend is further helped by the current political instability in Turkey, which has developed its own regional hub feeding European demand.

Sportswear is another key segment that is growing strongly, helped by an increasing interest in high-grade athletic wear from amateur sportsmen and sportswomen, such as cyclists.

Inkjet dominance

The dominant inkjet process used in 2016 is piezoelectric inkjet (PIJ), where a crystal is stimulated by an electric current to deposit a drop as required onto fabric. The alternative – thermal inkjet – is declining in popularity, though it is still employed on some HP print engines. There is also a small, residual amount of low-resolution continuous inkjet (CIJ) printing on fabric with legacy installations.

The hegemony of inkjet is now being challenged by a new toner technology from Japanese technology company Oki. This is targeting the lower productivity direct-to-garment (DTG) segment, whose main output is T-shirts.

Selling via distributors, Oki believes this technology will be disruptive and become highly competitive in the coming years, due to innovations around the transfer paper and handling – leading to greater productivity and convenience, at a low capital cost. If this happens, it will further reduce entry-level machine costs at the bottom of the spectrum, and thus reduce barriers to market entry, which can be particularly significant in emerging markets.

Saving water 

A final motivator for brands using digital print is the process’s superior environmental profile. Inkjet jobs can consume as little as 20 litres of water per kilogram of printed substrate – for cotton this can be as much as 10,000 litres per kilogram, a factor of ten is the difference quoted most often. Furthermore the polyester and polyester blends used in many digital textile applications are recyclable.

Advocates in this area are now coalescing into organisations like the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), and the Textiles 3.0 consortium.

These trends are analysed, qualified and quantified in full in the Smithers Pira report The Future of Digital Textile Printing to 2021. This exclusive market and business strategy publication is available for purchase now.

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