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

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

Exclusive research from Smithers Pira in its report The Future of Dye-Sublimation Printing to 2023 tracks how the dye sub market worldwide will rise from a value of €6.99bn last year to €7.63bn this year. With a strong compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.2 per cent for the five-year period to 2023, this will evolve the total market value to €12.4bn, virtually double what it was last year.

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. Companies in this space are adjusting to a more competitive business environment.

Smithers Pira’s analysis identifies the current critical trends for dye-sublimation print across 2018-2023 as below.

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 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 over the last two years 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.

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 makeready times. The increasing prevalence of the internet as a sales channel is having 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 new stock.

Designers and supply chains – including printers – that can turn around 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 nextday 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 over stock and quality, meet the new expectations on delivery, and minimise the dollar and environmental cost of transport.

Low-end and single-print

Despite the wider trend towards higher productivity on larger presses, of the newly released machines Smithers Pira 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 customer-personalised pieces – principally clothing – is far from sated. 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 would optimise automation, efficiency and customer interfacing, as the customer places an order via a touch screen in store or a similar location and transmits an image file from a smart device, which 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 sub 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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