Printers involved in the garment, wide-format and dye sublimation sectors got the chance to explore the latest technologies and innovations when Printwear & Promotion returned to the NEC in January, writes Charlie Kortens.

The three day event was the 31stedition of Printwear & Promotion, the only exhibition dedicated to the UK garment industry. This might not be the event that is front and centre of most printers’ minds but there is so much going on, technologically, culturally and in terms of investment that many printers are starting to explore this area, and everyone should be aware of the possibilities.

Personalised garments, often featuring the wearer’s own designs, are replacing fashion trends and seasonal wardrobes. Younger generations, who will soon make up the majority of the consumer base, are increasingly buying their clothing online and environmental and sustainable concerns are changing the way clothing has traditionally been manufactured.

Printwear and Promotion - this time its personal

The event took place over three days at the NEC

Digital print’s ability to produce specialised, short run products, often more cost-effectively and in a ‘greener’ manner than traditional methods, mean that it is carving out an ever larger presence in this space. Dye sublimation printing onto polyester-based fabrics is already well established, but major players in digital printing are investing time and money into developing new technologies that can print onto other substrates as well.

But even now, printers familiar with wide-format and/or dye-sub printing might find the barriers to entering the garment sector relatively easy to overcome. For those who still had questions Printwear & Promotion organised the Decoration Advice Suite where industry experts provided tips and advice on every type of decoration technique from transfer printing to direct-to-garment options. There was also The Knowledge Suite, where speakers shared their knowledge with advice specific to the printwear sector. Finally there was the Fashion Show, always the most popular feature of the event, where visitors got to take a look at the latest creations.

Printwear and Promotion - this time its personal

The Decoration Advice Suite covered a range of topics from dye-sub to transfer printing

This year over 6000 visitors flocked to Birmingham for the show, and almost 150 different exhibitors welcomed them. RA Smart was one of them, and visitors to the Macclesfield-based company’s stand were the first people in the UK to lay their eyes on HP’s Stitch S300 dye sublimation printer. RA Smart is the exclusive distributor of the Stitch range in the UK and was keen to show off the S300’s built-in spectrophotometer, its ability to print both paper transfer and direct-to-textile and stress how its low running costs and purchase price made the printer suitable for anyone looking to get into the dye sublimation market or expand their current operation.

On display on Global Print Solutions’ stand was the Oki Pro9541WT five-colour digital toner transfer printer. Using a heat transfer process the printer can produce customised designs for print runs as short as one, at a resolution of 1200dpi and at print areas up to 329 x 483mm. The Pro9541WT can deliver CMYK plus white onto textiles that include cotton, canvas nylon, polyester, leather and felt. Its transfer media also makes it possible to reproduce designs on hard surfaces including ceramics, acrylic, glass, metal, enamel and wood.

Exhibiting in its own right, Roland showed off its BT-12 DTG printer, BN-20 printer/cutter and its LEF-12i UV printer, but the centrepiece of its stand was the TrueVIS SG2-300. An enhanced version of Roland’s SG range, at 30in wide, the SG2-300 is the most compact model in the TrueVIS range, but features the same technology as its larger siblings.

Wide-format was also represented well at the NEC, with Sabur showcasing the Poseidon high speed sublimation printer. This mid-range 1.6m sublimation transfer printer makes use of Kyocera printheads. Designed for unattended production, the printer is targeted at mid-level production environments looking to produce high volumes of print but retaining flexibility.

Printwear and Promotion - this time its personal

Over 6000 printers attended the 2020 event

Other familiar names at the show included The Magic Touch, Xpres, Resolute DTG and Grafityp. There were also plenty of companies involved in screen printing, embroidery and other areas which aren’t part of this publication’s remit but might be of interest.

It was clear, wandering through the stands at Printwear & Promotion, that digital printing has a long way to go before it can claim to be a big fish in this particular pond. Nevertheless the potential is clearly there, companies are investing in the garment sector and there were plenty of printers to be found exploring the NEC. Almost everyone expects there to be major growth, not just in the garment sector, but in décor, interiors and textile printing more generally.

If and when digital printing technology other than dye-sub develops to the point that those other methods can be as successful on a wide array of substrates this area really will explode and we could see work that disappeared generations ago return to these shores.

Printwear and Promotion 2021 will take place from 21 – 23 February 2021 at the NEC, Birmingham.