Historically, printing on elastic products was no easy task. Thankfully, technology has advanced to the point where label printing equipment can handle the unique challenges of elastic printing. Elastic printing requires machines that can not only transfer ink to the substrate, but also ensure accuracy by adequately stretching the elastic throughout the printing process.
Elastics Label Printing Equipment
There are several processes that can be used for printing onto elastic garment labels.
Dye sublimation printers are one means of printing images and text onto elastics that are made of polyester or coated with polymer. Dye sublimation is the process of transferring dye from a carrier substrate onto elastic fabric using heat, and the process prints one colour at a time. This is because each colour being applied must first be converted from its solid state to a gas, and then back to a solid state. The dye sublimation printer heats both the ink and the elastic, converting the ink to a gas, and opening the pores in the elastic fabric.
Once the pores have opened, the gaseous ink is released and then absorbed by the elastic fabric. The cool down process follows, causing the ink to return to its solid state and the pores in the elastic to close. The dye sublimation method is ideal for elastic printing because ink dries instantly.
Of course, dye sublimation has its own set of considerations. The process will not work on elastics made of cotton, as this fabric has no pores into which the ink can be absorbed. Dye sublimation printing is only possible on light-coloured elastics and does provide a professional finish that lasts for the life of the garment.
Flexographic printers print images and text onto elastics via a relief plate, typically made from light-sensitive polymer. The design is placed over the plate, which is then exposed to UV light. The ultraviolet rays transfer the design to the polymer plate. The relief image is revealed when the excess polymer is washed away.
This printing process works best for tags that need to be printed professionally, but where only a small number is required.
Direct Textile Printing
Direct textile printers employ anilox roll technology to transfer ink to the printing plate of the machine. Anilox rolls exist in several sizes and need to be selected according to image and substrate type as well as the type of ink.
The anilox roll consists of small indentations, referred to as dimples or cells. These indentations moderate the amount of ink delivered to the plate, as well as the intensity of the ink. Anilox rollers need to be cleaned in a specific manner in order to ensure continuous high quality.
Central Impression Drum
Central impression drum press printers, also called CI or common impression presses, consist of a single central drum that’s surrounded by different colour stations or units. The substrate being printed on is fed around the central drum, where it passes from colour unit to colour unit.
Thanks to advances in ink and printer technology, central impression drum press printers are now able to print on very small surfaces and travel quickly from station to station. This type of printer is ideal for printing on elastics that will be used for garments, as it only prints on one side of the substrate.
How to Choose the Best Machine
With so many advancing technologies and innovations in fabric printing, it can be difficult to choose the right machine for the job. Indeed, many companies have their own solutions for printing on many different kinds of fabrics. It may help to speak with printing professionals, as they can explain the differences between printing methods, and advise you on which elastics printing machines may provide you with the high quality and long-lasting results you are hoping for.