The vibrant world of textile printing is undergoing a transformative shift with the emergence of digital printing techniques. As one examines the industry’s future, crucial advancements, applications, and sustainability initiatives come to the forefront, shaping a technology-driven landscape.

Textile printing, as we know in non-technical terms, is the method of fixing colours to fabric to make decorative patterns evenly, using a variety of techniques and types of machines. The process involves the superficial use of colour in a specific pattern, design or motif through directed mechanical or manual discharge. In other words, it is the stamping on textile products. Over the years, various textile printing methods and techniques have evolved (see Table 1), with each printing technique having its own advantages and limitations. Screen printing, for example, is a popular technique for creating designs with vibrant and long-lasting colours. Digital printing is a newer technique that allows for high-quality printing of images with precise details and vibrant colours, while block printing is a more traditional technique that involves carving a design into a block of wood, linoleum, or other material and using it to print the design onto the fabric.

Digital Textile Printing

The digital printing of textiles and garments has gained the maximum traction in recent years. The digital textile printing process typically starts from a design made on a computer and then be transferred to sublimation paper, and later to fabric using heat. It can also be printed directly on the fabric using a textile printer and then steam heated to organise design. In this modern age of technology, almost always the fabric has to be thickened with a special chemical which allows it to be washed, and then allows it to pass through the printer. In case of digital printing on the textiles, the most used technology is inkjet in which the ink is sprayed through the nozzles onto the substrate, which can be further segmented as:

Continuous inkjet (CIJ) – In this, a small portion of the continuous flow of ink drop is directed onto the fabric in line with the image signal, and the balance unprinted droplets are returned for reuse.

Drop-On-Demand (DOD) – In this, the drops of ink are generated only if the image signal information demands. This is further classified into thermal, piezo and electrostatic inkjet.

Table 1 - Types of textile printing

Screen printing

This technique requires a screen – a frame with a fine mesh fabric stretched well over it, for each colour to be printed. A pattern is in the form of a stencil or is blocking the screen, and the dye is pushed through the mesh fabric with a tool called a squeegee to evenly spread the dye on the fabric below in the areas that have not been blocked.

Rotary printing

A type of screen printing, it is a continuous method of printing in which a perforated cylindrical screen applies a colourant made from either pigment or dye. The colourant is forced from the interior of the cylindrical screen and onto the fabric.

Roller printing

Also known as intaglio or machine printing, roller printing is the most economical and fastest printing for large stamping runs as it can print hundreds of metres per minute, but too expensive for short runs of fabric. Engraved printing rollers are used one for each colour, press against the fabric and the central cylinder. The printed fabric passes from the main cylinder and through a drying and steaming chamber to fix the colour.

Transfer printing

In this technique, a design printed on a piece of paper is transferred to the fabric using a simple heat process. The dyes used are capable of vapourising under the heat hence have high affinity for the fibres of the fabric. The chemical transfer inks are better suited to synthetic fabrics such as polyester and polyamide, where they give better colour depth.


This technique uses insoles made of acetate; the pattern is cut out and the ink is subsequently applied with a sponge or brush to the cut-out areas. Each template can be used multiple times. Today, many templates are made with computerised cutting machines for greater precision than hand-cut templates.

Direct printing

This technique uses a large cylindrical roller that collects the fabric and the smaller rollers that contain the colour and are engraved with the design, are put in contact with the fabric (the number of rollers corresponds to the number of colours). The scraper blades scrape excess colour from the roller so that only the etched parts bring the colour to the fabric. The fabric is supported on a rubber blanket in the printing process, which provides a solid surface for printing, and a layer of grey cloth is used in the middle of the fabric and the rubber blanket to absorb excess ink.

Download printing

Most download printing is done on dark backgrounds since patterns are created by removing colour. Dyed fabric is printed with discharge pastes, which remove background colour from the substrate when exposed to steam. Colours can be added to the discharge paste to create different colour discharge areas.

Inkjet printing

Inkjet printing is a non-contact printing technique in which dye droplets are propelled onto a substrate and driven to the desired point. Being a new technology in the textile industry, Inkjet has not yet been adopted for widespread commercial use. The most suitable dye types for inkjet printing on textiles are fibre, vat, sulphur, and naphthol reactive dyes.

Handmade textile printing

A traditional printing technique in which a block constructed of wood, rubber, sponge, or metal is formed into an embossed pattern that is dyed and printed or hand-stamped onto fabric. The stamping can be repeated several times to obtain a pattern

Block printing

The oldest method of printing that still exists whose use is limited to the decoration of scarves and handkerchiefs. Colour is applied evenly to the wooden block with different designs & the pattern is stamped on the fabric akin to handmade textile printing


Almost same as transfer printing but in sublimation the inks permeate and become part of the print media

Discharge printing

Also known as extract printing, it is based on the chemical destruction of the original dye in the printed area. The discharging agents used can be oxidising or reducing agents, acids, alkalis and various salts. For discharge printing, the ground of the substrate should be dischargeable. It is recommended that dyed discharge fabric should be pre-padded with 2-3 GPL Resist salt.

Resist printing

In the resist style of printing style, Ready-for-Dyeing (RFD) fabric is first printed with resist paste which prohibits the penetration of the dye into the fabric. The fabric is then dyed and subsequently, the resist paste is removed & leaving the desired pattern.

Digital Printing Market

The global digital textile printing market in 2022 was estimated to be around $3 billion, which is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 14 per cent from 2023 to 2030. This growth will be driven by the success of web-based on-demand business models, the urgency of sustainable agenda and the complete economic efficiency of digital textile printing. Worldwide, web-based on-demand businesses such as Printful, Cottonbee, Spoonflower and Merch by Amazon are clocking up huge growth rates, servicing demand with minimal inventories, speedy deliveries and high-quality products. The growth in digital printing will be further triggered by rapidly changing fashion trends and the need for manufacturers to quickly adopt those trends to stay relevant.

The industry growth is expected to have ripple effect on allied industries such as digital inks sector, which is expected to see around 200 per cent growth in digital ink consumption volume. Similarly, the global digital printing machine market is likely to double in size by 2027, reflecting the fundamental shift of the textile industry away from rotary screen printing to digital printing.

Digital textile printing today accounts for less than five per cent of all textiles printed, and hence there is a vast opportunity ahead. Additionally, as the machinery in existing mills has to be replaced, web to print business models needs to develop, and as the capital becomes available, the proportion of digital print machines will continue to grow, so will be the proportion of printed textiles that are digitally printed. Under such scenario, current growth rates are likely to be maintained and by 2035, digital print machines annual sales may exceed $1 billion, digital ink annual sales beat $6 billion and digital textile printing exceed $35 billion annually.

Advantage Digital Printing

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies tried to shorten their inventory owing to the shipping and supply constraints. As a result, manufacturers relocated their production sites from overseas and implemented regional production, giving birth to a more efficient and less wasteful production models that are also compatible with e-commerce platforms. It is, therefore, widely believed that digital textile printing is the next step to a more sustainable production model of textiles and will become the standard for producers, designers and consumers.

Apart from reducing waste, the agility and flexibility of digital production and textile printing in combination can take on small boutique orders as well as large retail orders with the same equipment, appealing to manufacturers. At a lower cost per print and with just one button push, print-on-demand and its fast production can allow profit from orders of any quantity. Even designers can feel liberated with nearly unlimited graphic and colour capability that digital printing offers. The net outcome will involve manufacturers efficiently meeting production and shipping deadlines, reducing overstocking, designers adapting to ever-changing fashion trends by creating new collections, and customers being satisfied with customized apparel, decor, and gift items that cater to their specific demands.


The application of digitally printed textiles has expanded to various segments ranging from direct-to-garment (DTG) apparel to home decor and signage. We see in sign and display markets, the banners, flags and exhibition displays are dominated by digital printing only. It is consistently growing in fashion sector too, as fast fashion brands adapt to inkjet technology. Take another instance, as the bed size is becoming larger, the manufacturers can seek the opportunity within digital textile printing to evolve and enter the large format DTG customisation markets. Industry experts predict that the demand for digital textile printed products will grow over the next 10 years’ time, also impacting other areas in the process. The evolution of inkjet textile printing will increase automation, improve flexibility and add diversification.

Key Developments

The interest in digital printing has grown especially during and after the pandemic, with markets witnessing its increased application. Being an energy and resource efficient process, digital printing is applicable to both the fashion and interior markets. Amidst growing demand, EFI Reggiani launched the TERRA pigment solution – ecoTERRA, at FESPA last year. It is an all-in-one solution for pigment printing that requires no ancillary equipment for pre- and post-treatment. It gives customers competitive advantages by dramatically cutting energy and water consumption of the overall process for a more sustainable direct-to-fabric printing experience. In simple words, it brings the entire printing process directly into the printer itself while delivering excellent wet and dry fastness properties, remarkable sharpness in detail and extraordinarily high durability and soft hand feel. In the current energy crisis scenario, the product has drawn attention of even more traditional textile customers who are looking for ways to save some energy along the printing process. There are many other new developments and exciting product launches that happened in 2022 (Table 2).

Table 2 – Key launches in 2022

 Product / Technology

Launched by


Aquinox print head


Print head delivers exceptional reliability, creativity and sustainability for printing aqueous fluids; print speed potential of over 100 m/min; high native resolution of 720 dpi; firing frequency of up to 48 kHz

TS330-1600 dye-sublimation textile printers with neon colours


Large format sublimation transfer inkjet printer, designed and developed from the ground up, enables high production with high image quality suitable for a flagship model; equipped with new functions to improve stable operation, it pursues work and labour saving for customers

Weaving Dot Technology


A printing technology that changes the order of ink droplet placement depending on printing conditions; suppresses unexpected occurrence of streaks or unevenness of printing caused by slight differences in the print head or subtle deviations in adjustment to produce both the solid and print quality

Acuity Ultra Hybrid LED


Part of the Acuity Ultra product family, it offers all the benefits of ease-of-use, ultra-high quality and a competitive ROI, combined with the ability to print to both rigid and flexible substrates; prints at speeds of up to 218 m2/hr (RT) and delivers a print resolution of up to 1200 x 1200 dpi; engineered for operators, it is designed with specialist inks to support the printing of exceptional near-photographic interior graphics and the high-speed printing of banners and PVC signage

-SureColor SC-F6400 4-colour

-SureColor SC-F6400H 6-colour (both 44 inch)


Based on Epson’s Micro TFP PrecisionCore technology, both dye sublimation products are ideal for textile production, personalised products and high-end photo reproduction; SC-F6400 increases productivity by 20 per cent compared to its predecessor SC-F6300; SC-F6400H provides an extended colour gamut by offering the use of CMYK plus a choice of either fluorescent pink and yellow, light cyan and light magenta or orange and violet; perfect for production of fashion, homeware, sportswear, soft signage and promotional items

-RICOH MH-5422


-RICOH MH5422 Type A


Industrial-grade inkjet print heads (6th generation technology) which can be used as key components in digital printing systems; high-precision technology provides high image quality and productivity with wide range of ink compatibility and improved durability; improved system compatibility by applying separate cables and high-precision surface alignment features

Value Jet 1628MH


Hybrid printer that combines upgraded features and new technologies designed to produce vibrant output with smoother gradations and a wide colour gamut using MUTOH’s VerteLith RIP software; offers flexibility of printing on roll or rigid media using MP31 multipurpose inks in up to 8 colours; a new built-in circulation system for white and magenta inks




SPG Prints

Three new machines for textile manufacturers; Rose is a roll-to-roll paper sublimation system with a peak productivity of up to 720 m2/h and maximum resolution of 1200 dpi; Jasmine maximises productivity at the most optimal print resolution; Magnolia offers 1200 dpi and Archer technology

Source: FESPA

Sustainable Digital Printing Source

For the textile industry, sustainability is one of the pertinent essentials today, wherein the printing methods have also evolved over the years. The dyes, toxic chemicals and energy traditionally used in the industry has been detrimental to the environment’s well-being. In addition to the environmental risk these activities pose, the large runs that result in unsold prints also emerge as a massive waste of money, time and material. The conventional printing methods involve designs to be painstakingly separated and engraved onto cumbersome rotary screens, vast tracts of the factory floors have to be given up to rotary screen storage, colour kitchens have to accurately mix litres of orienting inks and rotary screens have to be meticulously washed after printing. This is where digital textile printing comes as an alternative, using a fraction of the water, a minimal amount of energy and a greatly reduced operational footprint. It is demonstrably an eco-friendly solution to textile printing than traditional screen printing. In addition, it cuts out many of the time and energy-consuming tasks that go alongside analogue production. The digital workflow removes laborious manual process and progresses smoothly through all actions generating economic efficiency as it goes.

Thus, digital textile printing offers improved print processes and technologies. In addition to creating brilliant colour-rich prints, the eco-friendly technology also uses recyclable materials and leaves less waste. Digital printing finds an increased usage as it can print digital-based images directly onto various media without using printing plates. The eco-friendliness of digital printing technology can be seen in dye sublimation which not only uses recycled paper, less dye than screen printing but also provides the additional ability to produce small and large runs for each print. Other benefits include quick drying times and reduced wrinkling, which makes it one of the best and eco-friendliest print options. The electronic proofs eliminate the waste created by physical samples generated through the printing process, saving material and energy. As digital dye sublimation inks use less than ten litres of water per metre, the industry is estimated to have saved more than 40 billion litres of water in 2020. Likewise, digital printing uses just 10 per cent of the ink used for screen printing. Heat fixation also eliminates extra water used for steaming and washing garments in the post-processing stage. On the energy-saving front, the technology contributes by producing on-demand small and custom job runs. The exact item quantity needed can be created, thereby eliminating waste that often goes straight to landfills.

While talking about sustainable technologies, one must not forget the revolution brought about by the CAD/CAM (Computer-aided Design/Computer-aided Manufacturing) software. The software reduces waste by using sampling, automated print, placement and grading. These methods cut down on material waste by determining the most effective ways to place patterns, making the most of available fabric real estate.

Way Ahead

The digital printing market is growing fast, driven by increasing demand for digital textiles and fabrics across several industries. Today, the technology is being used in clothing, commerce, textiles and manufacturing various products and packaging. However, in today’s digital textile industry there are still challenges like different types of inks are required for different types of fabrics. Each fabric type is printed with specific ink technology which requires dedicated printing machinery as per application. Therefore, developments in addressing many such issues in digital printing technology will determine the future of textile printing, involving print speed, drop size configuration, colour control and matching.