CMYUK’s Michael Crook talks latest trends in digital textiles

PONGS® material - retail
PONGS® material - retail

CMYUK’s Commercial Director Michael Crook on the latest trends in digital textiles, Reshoring, and what’s coming next…

Michael Crook sits in the quiet eye of the storm. Commercial Director at CMYUK for the last six years, he is responsible for the consumables side of the business. As such, he is both a witness to the growth in proliferation of digital wide-format textile applications, and an active enabler in the adoption of these by print service providers and non-traditional businesses beyond.

CMYUK is the UK’s largest independent supplier of large format digital printers, cutting equipment and materials. It has been quick to recognise the opportunities in digital textile printing, forecasted by the recent Smithers Pira report The Future of Digital Textile Printing to 2023 to grow at a CAGR of 11.6% between 2019 and 2023, with an estimated global value of €4.9bn by 2023.  

CMYUK is the exclusive distributor for market leading materials manufacturers PONGS® (UK and Ireland) and Berger in the UK. Its materials business, which concentrates in the main on digital textiles, décor and design materials, has grown between 30-50% year on year

Says Crook: “There’s nothing telling us that we should do anything different other than continue to offer the support and customer service that we do now, and continue to present new developments and materials with our key partners, the growth is still there especially with textiles, decor products and new markets – whether that's display design, manufacturing, sportswear, fashion, home furnishings or furniture.”

Grand-format getting grander

Crook is seeing an increase in the installation of grand-format printers – particularly in dye-sublimation – to meet demand for 3m+ printing to facilitate large graphics for exhibitions and retail, for example.  Tension frame systems have become a popular choice here, which are helping to push digital textile printing into the main. It is fair to say that both aesthetics and logistics have played an equal part in the uptake of tension frame graphics

“It’s very easy to transform a retail environment whether it's for a season or a promotion,” says Crook.  “You can take out a silicone-edged graphic on textile and push another one in.  It’s a quick transformation of the look and feel of a store. These textile prints are lightweight to deliver in a tube, or folded if they are dye-sublimation. When textile graphics are hung in tension frames they become creaseless. They are easy to handle, lightweight, and because they are polyester are more eco-friendly. They look good, they look different, and creates a more contemporary aesthetic.

Standout display graphics materials

According to Crook, one of the standout textiles that has been a big success for CMYUK in the last eighteen months, is the PONGS® best selling DIRECT-TEX SOFTIMAGE CONTRAST (Black Back Textile). 

Available in 1550, 2520, 3200, 5050mm widths, it provides the market with a bright white print face, with excellent ink adhesion and a black opaque reverse, which comes off a printer without any stretch or sticking.  

In addition, backlit textiles (for UV or dye-sublimation output) is a hugely popular application, whether a client requires a soft or coated feel, bright white or off white look.

Says Crook: Every client seems to require something different on backlit, which is why we have a range of products which are all selling very well in high volumes.”

 Against the wall

Another area demonstrating tremendous growth is single piece wall-coverings. CMYUK offers white, black and grey-backed versions for retail, exhibitions, stadiums and events, any place where a single piece, joint-free wall graphic is required. This type of material is more permanent, and is simply removed in the same way a wallpaper would be, except because, it's a textile doesn’t leave any paper layer residue.

The more temporary wall coverings with repositionable adhesive are also hugely popular –– perfect for shell schemes, store dressing and events. They can be installed and removed easily, ensuring that walls – particularly those in hotels don’t need coats of paint after the event. 

Environmental materials

CMYUK is introducing a range of environmental materials under its new Eco range, these include backlit, display and wall cover textiles, all of which, are manufactured from yarn developed by using recycled pet plastic bottles, that would otherwise have entered the waste stream. 

This new range of accredited materials has recently passed the ‘safe for incineration’ process. In concert with this, CMYUK will soon be launching a closed loop process with a leading environmental company providing full circle services to remove its accredited materials and produce local energy sources within the UK.

Textiles are already more environmentally-friendly as they are PVC free,” says Crook. “But what people forget is that part of the make-up of the textile is the coating, and in order for that to be environmentally-friendly, the coatings and the process of manufacturing need to be environmentally-friendly too. In order for these textiles to be recycled and reused again or incinerated to produce energy, everything within has to be green and clean. This consideration forms part of our new eco offering.”

Customarily cost has been a factor in the lack of take-up by clients when it comes to green products. However, CMYUK is putting together a new range of materials, suitable for the most popular applications that provide viable green options with a closed loop eco-cycle. Where possible, it will be offering alternative green solutions closer to the price of historically used materials.

“Textiles are the main part of our materials business,“ says Crook. “We’ll be offering all these environmental solutions in our new materials sample binder, which will be released shortly.  We know there is growing appetite to offer materials that match our clients’ aspirations and strategies for corporate sustainability.”

Reshore viability for Décor and fashion

Sports clothing, fast fashion, décor and web-to-print personalisation are niche trends that are starting to appear on the dial.  This is because digital textile printing enables short-runs, one-offs and JIT (just-in-time) output, printing only what is needed, when it is needed. This avoids stockpiling of goods, or the production of unpopular lines, saving time, space and unnecessary waste.

Through its combined ability of equipment, software, materials and consultative expertise, CMYUK has become a hub for the contemporary practice of Reshoring, where digital processes are used to design, manufacture and print locally, with all the previously mentioned benefits, and the added deal-sealer of rapid delivery times. Shaping this are changes within certain industries. Fashion for example, now presents several collections per season, and additions to ranges are a constant. Getting new designs out quickly is the order of the day. 

Just 20 years or so ago, UK textiles were printed in bulk using screen-printing processes. However, with countries such as China, Pakistan, Spain and Turkey producing equal volumes far cheaper due to the low cost of labour, textile printing all but left the UK. The geographical distance also ensured that delivery times ran into multiples of weeks. 

Digital has bought it back home and its moment is now. Ten years ago, digital printers were slow, inks were costly and materials on which to print were limited. Now digital textile printing is high quality, fast with lower ink costs. Producers can now print onto cottons, linens, velvets and a range of polyester fabrics.  

CMYUK is helping not just PSPs but other businesses such as designers (sports, fashion and interiors) architects, in-store fitters and the like, step into this area of opportunity.  

Advances in Décor and fashion fabrics

Polyesters have seen the biggest growth in market share. This is down to developments in the fabrics. Polyesters are now available that accurately mimic natural fabrics i.e. cotton, linen, silk, wool and velvet. Some are inherently flame retardant, and recycled threads are starting to break through. 

 “CMYUK is close to finalising a range of textiles to service all these new emerging market sectors. Currently, it offers a full range of polyester-based textiles with a variety of differing finishes and textures. However, the latest digital printer and ink technology now enable the ability to print onto natural textiles – cotton, linen, and silks – without the need for traditional steaming and washing processes. This is an area CMYUK is focussing on,” says Crook.

“It is incredible how polyester textile materials have advanced and offer a broad range of textures and finishes that truly emulate the look and feel of natural fabrics. However, some clients and some applications will demand the actual natural material and we can now handle these with ease,” he adds.

CMYUK has pretty much everything that customers require to move into these new market areas. Its future mandates supporting and advising traditional PSPS, and developing the wider market with these new innovative materials and corresponding production equipment.  

Says Crook: Digital printing is opening totally new markets and these are within reach for both our traditional customers and new clients. We can offer the technology, provide the materials, specialist knowledge and unrivalled technical support.”

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