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ejet fusion - esp technologies ltd

Sophie Matthews-Paul visits this forward-thinking Maidstone-based company to find out why it's taking the digital textile route

Branding specialist esp Technologies Group has made a further addition to its armoury of digital and screen-printing solutions with the installation of a direct-to-textile machine. According to Stephen Hood, managing director of the Kent-based company, this latest printer completes his product portfolio and now gives his company the opportunity to work with a broad range of textile options which complement its existing capabilities.

An existing customer of Flex-Europa, esp 's strong relationship with the company led to Hood opting to purchase the e-Jet Fusion which has a maximum print width of 1.6 m, a four-colour dispersed pigment ink set and is able to output direct to a variety of textiles. A compact machine, it features a maximum resolution of 1440 dpi and incorporates an integrated heating and drying module with automatic feeding and a fully adjustable head height to cater for different thicknesses of fabric.

"We've been working with Flex-Europa's materials for many years and opted for the e-Jet Fusion as we know we can rely on the company to support the product fully," Hood explains. "Based on our existing experiences with new technologies, it made sense to purchase the machine and the media from the same supplier."

Already an established user of aqueous-, solvent-based and UV-curable printing technologies, esp Technologies Group attributes much of its success to the fact that it has always taken a bold approach to working with different materials and processes. An early adopter of superwide-format production, the company has invested steadily and sensibly during the past 15 years, with its original screen-printing facilities being augmented during the past decade with digital equipment to enable versatile and flexible output for its comprehensive customer base.

Hood has a reputation for thinking out of the box and new opportunities for digital production always present him with interesting challenges. But his shrewd attitude has often led him to be one of the first to work successfully with processes and materials which bring something different to the market.

esp Technologies Group concentrates on providing a broad range of branding projects for customers of all sizes. The addition of textile printing to the company's portfolio will extend the services already offered which include output up to 5 m wide on standard and specialist materials. Typical applications are general displays, floor and window graphics, banners, hoardings, vehicle liveries, wall coverings, banners, and event and exhibition displays. However, Hood is always looking for new production ideas and realised that the potential for printing direct-to-textiles would suit his business model of using new technologies and techniques for the benefit of his clients.

Having recently upgraded his UV-curable options with the installation of an EFI VUTEk QS3200 flat-bed and roll-fed printer, Hood recognised that he would follow this purchase with the addition of a textile machine. "We wanted to augment our digital print portfolio and, whilst we have produced a fair amount of output onto fabrics using our existing capabilities, denser colours and finer text were lacking. In particular, we needed a solution which would produce strong blacks.

"We tested our existing machines on a variety of fabrics in response to requests from customers who always want something new and different," Hood continues. "For applications such as exhibition graphics, the retail environment and advertising, fabrics are proving to be an excellent alternative to conventional display materials. To meet the growing demand for textiles, we realised that the time was right to invest in a dedicated machine for this work."

There are other advantages, too, and Hood is a strong proponent for becoming more environmentally aware by meeting as many of the challenges possible when it comes to greener policies and recycling. "Although the dye sublimation process limits us slightly because we have to use polyester-based fabrics, these have the advantage of being PVC-free and, thus, the ability to recycle is a huge advantage. Within the retail sector, in particular, there is increasing awareness relating to reducing waste and a growing number of ESP's clients are eager to tap into the potential of using fabrics in many of their display jobs. Another important aspect is the fact that this process is odour-free."

Printing direct to textiles also carries with advantages relating to reduced weight. Many applications which formerly were printed onto films and other PVC-based products are well suited to display fabrics, and these include exhibition graphics, pop-ups and pull-down banner stands, ceiling fixings and other point-of-purchase graphics. Their light-weight constructions are more convenient for transportation and installation, but they also benefit from being safer once in place.

"There's another benefit, too," states Hood. "Fabrics give a different dimension because of their touchy-feely quality. Print buyers like textiles as they enhance the value proposition of what is basic piece of print carrying a message.

"We're really looking forward to applying our out-of-the-box philosophy to direct-to-textile technology," concludes Hood. "There are certainly going to be some very interesting applications, including back-lits and wall coverings, which we can develop using our new machine. With our mix of printers and ink types, it gives esp an even greater edge when coming up with innovative ideas, strengthening our position as one of the UK's leading branding specialists."

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