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Textile inks offer new alternatives for giclee, decor, and fine art photography Print E-mail

In the beginning most giclee was produced with water-based inks on an Iris printer. Then artists used Roland water-based printers (2000-2002), a few Mimaki and during 2000-2004 many ColorSpan 12-color printers (yes, there were 12-color printers years and years before Canon and HP; we had an 11-color ColorSpan and a separate 12-color ColorSpan DisplayMaker ages ago. FLAAR had an Iris too, as would be expected of a giclee research institute).

When giclee began (1990’s) there were no HP printers except for CAD; Encad was the major wide-format printer manufacturer, and Canon had not yet begun to manufacturer printers under its own brand name). Epson had only dye ink in those years.

Epson printers have been used increasingly in giclee since early 2000-2003 and were dominent until 2007 (when Canon and HP returned with a increasing competitiveness); HP has tried hard to break in and Canon has tried hard too: but all with traditional water-based inks. And of all these printers, only HP offered serious access to printability on diverse fabrics, most notably through 3P Inkjet Textiles.

In other words, if you want to seriously print on fabics in those years, you were probably experimenting with a Mimaki, and not with an Epson, HP or Canon. Some would have experimented with an Encad (via DigiFab), though its Lexmark printheads and ink delivery system were so primitive that using this Novajet system required the patience of Job of the Old Testiment Bible. Presently DigiFab uses a more sophisticated system as would be expected for the year 2009: their StampaJet.

Mimaki textileJet print examples
Mimaki TextileJet Tx-11600S
Mimaki TextileJet Tx-11600S at SGIE, 2001.

Today, and actually for the last two or three years, so many new options are available for printing on fabrics that I felt it was time to bring this information to the 150,000 artists, photographers, and printshop owners and managers who read this fine art giclee web site ever year.

Textile inks to print on fabrics for giclee, decor, and fine art photography include.

  • Acid dye textile ink,
  • Reactive dye textile ink,
  • Pigmented textile inks
  • Ddye sublimation textile inks,
  • Disperse dye textile inks.
  • Dye-UV multi-phase (“hybrid”) UV-cured inks

Plus you can print on fabrics with all solvent inks (full, lite-solvent, mild-, eco-, and bio-solvent inks). You can print on coated textiles with most water-based inks though HP has done more for this with its Designjet 5000 and 5500; Epson and Canon have never emphasized printing on textiles.

But it is mainly printers such as those of Yuhan-Kimberly or DigiFab which offer options today. Based on industry trends, by 2010 there will be double the number of textile printer manufacturers and printer models available. So now is the time to start learning the jargon and reality of each flavor of textile ink chemistry.

Who are the ink companies making textile inks that are suitable for giclee?

Yuhan Kimberly textile printersA dozen companies make textile inks around the world. The ones I know the best are Yuhan-Kimberly in Korea (DTP Link). This is the Korean office of Kimberly-Clark (yes, the Fortune 500 company).

I have visited a Chinese ink company that is expanding to produce textile inks. The owner has a PhD in UV-cured inks. The wife has a PhD from the University of Kyoto in inks and works at a textile institute in a major university. FLAAR is a consultant for this company so can put you in touch with them if you wish.

Sensient is another of the major companies making textile inks. I will be in their textile ink world headquarters in late February 2009.

Printing giclee on silk.

If you can paint on silk why not print giclee of these images on silk too? Artist Violeta of Guatemala paints all her originals on silk. FLAAR has suggested that she should consider printing them as limited editions on silk. But living on the beach in a remote part of Central America it’s not easy to obtain high tech information. I reached this village by putting my 4-wheel drive vehicle on a raft and floating down a jungle river through crocodile-infested mangrove swamps. I met this artist entirely by accident; I was doing Mayan ethnobotanical research on sacred Maya flowers in nearby swamps.

Nicholas on the raft
Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth on the raft, preparing to cross the river.

Realize that acid textile ink and reactive textile ink are both dyes. So they will eventually fade. Pigmented textile ink exists but the color gamut as of 2008 was a bit limited and for 2009 is not expected to be dramatically better. But hey, I can remember in 1996 when there was no pigmented ink for HP printers at all ! Today pigmented water-based ink for HP and Epson and Canon printers is so good that most people don’t even consider dye-based inks any more.
The same will happen with textile inks (the only difference is that billions of dollars were available for ink improvement via Epson, HP, and Canon; for textile printing, only millions, not billions, is available).

If you wish to learn more about textile printers, FLAAR now has about three or more reports that you can download free.


First posted February 9, 2009.

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