Four key trends pushing double digit growth in dye sub printing to 2023

Dye sublimation printing will continue to present exciting new business opportunities for ink suppliers, equipment builders and print service providers in the textile segment across the next five years according to the latest from report Smithers Pira.

Exclusive research from The Future of Dye-Sublimation Printing to 2023 tracks how this market worldwide will rise from a value of €6.99 billion in 2017 to €7.63 billion in 2018. A strong compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.2% for the five-year period to 2023, will evolve this total market value to €12.4 billion at its end.

The global network for dye sublimation print continues to be fragmented. To understand this landscape it is important to realise that there are several key concentrations of expertise and production. For example, Italy will continue to form a hub for dye-sublimation work in Europe due to demand from the fashion and clothing industries; and for technical evolution as its long-standing expertise in this field is increasingly twinned with the reach of global equipment selling networks. The value of the Italian market in 2018 will be €1.19 billion – over 40% of the total Western European market. This dominance is reflected in a very large market share for garment printing.

Global output area of digital dye sublimation printing by product type, 2014-2023.

Globally the rate of expansion in demand for dye sublimation inkjet printed textiles and rigid media is reduced from that witnessed for this process in the first half of the decade; but this is simply evidence of a disruptive technology slowly maturing. Globally companies in this space are adjusting to a more competitive business environment. Smithers’ analysis identifies the current critical trends for dye-sublimation print across 2018-2023:

Graduating to higher productivity presses

Dye sub equipment vendors have historically obtained new clients by selling them entry-level presses, and then providing a pathway to upgrade progressively to high-end machines via mid-market solutions. This may involve changes to modules, additional printheads, or it may mean buying a new machine at each stage.

Demand for lower-cost solutions and higher volumes is driving single-pass printing, which is a more industrial process generally associated with high-end printers with more printheads.

Smithers Pira’s survey of new machines introduced to the market in 2016–2017 identifies the introduction of more machines priced in the upper end of the mid-productivity segment of the press market. Significantly these are designed for optimum flexibility so as to behave as far as possible like the highest productivity machines. This can postpone the need for major capital investment for the print service provider to buy a full high productivity press.

The flexibility and mid-market productivity boosts is being delivered via higher possible print widths and a capacity to scale down simply by making smoothly variable changes to settings on the physical machine.

The drive for greater automation

Printing, and industry generally in the developed economies, is navigating a market pull for increased automation, often advanced under the term Industry 4.0. This is serving to incorporate existing disruptive technologies, like artificial intelligence and enhanced machine vision.

In practical terms, digital print does help enable faster turnarounds for short to medium run lengths, compared with conventional printing via reduced make-ready times. Beyond this further productivity gains in dye sublimation are imminent and realisable via greater automation of:

  • Ink and fabric loading
  • Head-cleaning and alignment,
  • Fabric handling
  • Software for web-to-print ordering and press management.

The evolution of multi-season fashion and online retailing

The increasing prevalence of the Internet as a sales channel is have a profound impact on the supply chain for printed fabrics used in the fashion and related clothing segments. One key trend pioneered by the likes of Spanish fashion retailer Zara has been the emergence of fast fashion, and the launch of multiple collections within a traditional quarterly season. The principle is to increase the number of mini-seasons in a given length of time with a steady stream of unique new stock entering stores and websites.

Designers and supply chains – including printers – that can turnaround new products have a significant commercial advantage. Digital print platforms, such as dye sublimation, are a key enabling technology for this. This impact will be multiplied when print service providers twin this with new software tools to collaborate with retailers and brands on designs in real time to create actionable clothing more rapidly. The same online world enables more use of big data stores to determine how designs should change over short spaces of time to maximise sales and profits.

There is a limit to the time savings that moving design work phases online can have. One parallel trend is to reshore printing work to national markets where the end-consumers are, allowing the same-day printing and next-day delivery that modern consumers demand.

Automation across the value chain can lower the labour costs associated with making such a switch. It also allows retailers and brands to maintain more control can be kept over stock and quality, meeting the new expectations on delivery, and minimising the dollar and environmental cost of transport.

Diversification for low-end and single-print garments

Despite the wider trend towards higher productivity on larger presses, of the newly released machines Smithers surveyed since the beginning of 2016 around a third are designed primarily for direct-to-fabric (DTF) or direct-to-garment (DTG) work via transfer printing.

This indicates that the consumer market demand for unique customer-personalised pieces – principally clothing – is far from satiated. An extension of this revealed through analysis of recent patents filed by US-headquartered Hillman is the dye sublimation printing vending machine. If commercialised this solution that would optimise automation, efficiency and customer interfacing, as the customer places an order via a touch screen in store or a similar location, transmits an image file from a smart device that is printed immediately.

This type of experience and its physical form factor is entirely different from that of a long supply network for an industrial textiles run, which produces garment designs for stores internationally after many thousands of miles of shipping.

These and other key trends fostering ongoing growth in dye sublimation printing are profiled and quantified for the next five years in the new Smithers Pira report The Future of Dye-Sublimation Printing to 2023.

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