Marshall Atkinson takes a look at the multiple new launches unveiled at the first trade show of the new decade, the rebranded Impressions Expo in the US

Marshall Atkinson

Historically called ISS Long Beach, the show was rebranded as Impressions Expo this January. Whatever you want to call it, I’d call it a success.

Why? More exhibitors than any year previously. Incredible attendance from apparel decorators from all over the world. Classes full of people with hungry minds and the desire to improve. I personally taught four classes during the event, and the interaction and involvement with the attendees were fantastic.

Everyone was upbeat and highly optimistic about this year. If this is the signal flare for this year’s business approach, I can’t wait to see how it ends in December. I’m betting record sales for a number of shops.

Mindset and focus

If there was one thing that I think the majority of shop owners were interested in, that would be the impact of digital printing on the industry. Many of the questions in my classes had a slant towards: “How do you get started, sell or remain profitable with digital printing?” The impact of online stores, faster production and limiting pre-printed inventory is pushing this idea. Is screen printing going away? Not on your life. I believe that the digital sector is expanding the offering much like a shop might add embroidery or using heat press applications. It’s a tool, and a profitable one, if the circumstances and business situations are correct.

Plenty of shops also were looking at improving their processes and operations. Any technique, gizmo, new material or consumable that could shave off a step or save them time was seriously considered. I met with, taught classes to, or had side interactions with probably between 300 and 400 shop owners during the Impressions Expo. During those conversations I consistently asked: “What are you most excited about seeing?” or “What did you see that thrilled you the most?” Below are the things that were mentioned in those chats with many people during the show.

There was a lot of interest from the attendees in digital platforms

Most talked about exhibits

Let’s face it, decorating headwear is a profitable part of many shops’ business. Beyond simply embroidering a cap or hat, many shops add a decorative element with a heat press. It’s a simple and effective way to handle this decoration task. However, there are challenges: the platens often leave a crease or mark on structured hats. It’s difficult to decorate all around the hat due to the limitations of the machine. Plus, it can be difficult sticking some thicker patches or emblems to the hat as the adhesive doesn’t properly melt during production because the elements are too thick.

Hotronix 360 IQ Hat Heat Press All of those problems are resolved with the new Hotronix 360 IQ Hat Heat Press. Both upper and lower platens apply the heat with pressure. This reduces the time on the press, but gets the thicker elements to work correctly with the adhesive fusion. The universal platens adjust with the style of the hat, so there’s no need to switch them out. Also, there is more room to turn and move the hat around on the heat press. This means you can get to any area on the hat to apply a decoration. On previous hat heat presses, you were limited to the front only.

Epson SureColor F3070 Another much talked about item was the new Epson SureColor F3070 industrial DTG printer. This new model won’t be available until this summer [in the US; UK dates are yet to be announced], but it has a lot of shops talking. The Equipment Zone booth that was displaying the unit told me that it is already taking orders from early adopters.

The SureColor F3070 is a single-platen direct-to-garment printer that is incredibly fast. A 14”x16” image is said to print in under one minute, and at a cost of about $1 [approximately 77p]. Dual 10-channel print heads operate with 16,000 nozzles to produce each image. The unit also has an automatic feature that adjusts for garment thickness. This is designed to ensure great-looking images and reduce potentially costly print head strikes. The ink reservoirs are large: 1.5 litres for the CMYK, and 3 litres for the white. This means less frequent ink cartridge changeovers during production. This printer is made for shops that have volume direct-to-garment work. It is engineered to work fast and help the production crew finish quickly.

The new Hotronix 360 IQ Hat Heat Press allows any area of a cap to be decorated
Pulse ID offers “game-changing software” to make your shop run better

Operational perspective

Walking around the Expo floor I discovered a few things that I really liked from an operational point of view. Were there more? Certainly. But these grabbed my attention.

Pulse ID For embroidery decorators, Pulse ID has some game-changing software available that could help to make your shop run better, especially in the realms of operator efficiency, metrics tracking and managing the production floor. The Pulse ID Enterprise Networking solution gives machine operators the ability to pull designs from your shop’s centralised database directly to their machines. It has reporting features that track when operators start and finish orders, and measures KPIs such as pieces produced per hour, number of re-sews, stitches produced, number of runs, speed, total production, and more. But the one thing that really stood out for me is the ability to show the percentage of completeness for the jobs staged today for the operator.

Imagine you have 10 jobs that machine number three has to work on today. At any given time, both the machine operator and management can see the progress percentage for completing today’s production goal. What a great way to keep employees on track! Managers and company leaders can access the data online from any PC, phone, or tablet. You can save reports as XLS files, and it has a great graphic interface and dashboards. It works best with Tajima and Barudan systems, but can be configured for others.

Corob Clevermix 700 Last year I saw this equipment at a private workshop at Matsui in Long Beach and was impressed. The Corob Clevermix 700 is a gyroscopic ink-mixing station that’s made for use with water-based ink systems. No surprise there, as Matsui is one of the leading water-based ink manufacturers in the world. Why is this important? Well, if you mix a lot of ink daily you’ll know the pain of having to constantly clean your ink-mixing blades and stations.

This is a gyroscopic mixer, so how it works is that the components of the colour are placed in the container, and a lid is tightly closed. Put the container in the mixer and it shakes it up until it is completely mixed and blended. No stirrers or blades to constantly clean! It can mix containers from quart to gallon-sized. The best use is for water-based ink as it has a lower viscosity than regular plastisol. If your shop offers mainly water-based printing and you mix a lot of ink colours, this is the system to use.

The new Epson SureColor F3070 industrial DTG printer
The Zeus V digital/screen hybrid printer turns existing automatic presses into digital hybrid ones

Digital debuts

There was a lot of interest from the attendees in digital platforms, and there were a few systems that people I spoke with were excited about.

Zeus V This was a very interesting piece of equipment from Malaysian manufacturer CSC Screen Process Supplies. The Zeus V is a digital/screen hybrid printer that rolls up to your automatic press like a portable flash unit, turning your existing automatic press into a digital hybrid one. It can run at production speeds of about 200 pieces per hour, and you have to use their ink that is designed for the system. This ink is the technology that makes the unit function and is called CSC REi.

Like any hybrid printer, the white underbase is printed with a normal screen printing frame on the press. For this system, the ink used is a white that after being printed is nearly dry to the touch. You don’t have to flash after it goes down on the garment. The CMYK is added by their machine to produce the final image. For shops that are interested in digital hybrid technology at about a quarter of the price of the more established manufacturers, this may be an entry- level piece of equipment to review.

Roq Print Now Imagine you are a facility that handles online web-to-print orders. Throughout the day, your production focuses on producing images onto multiple sizes and colours of garments, with hundreds of unique images. With a barcode scan on the garment, the Roq Print Now machine operator can pull up the design, load the shirt onto the press, and start printing.

Everything is inline with the press. It starts with the pretreating step, and this is instantly dried at the next station. Then, an inline heat press station dries and flattens the fabric for a perfect print foundation. The digital white underbase is then printed, and dried before the CMYK inks are added digitally. At the end of the process is another heat press step, where you can manipulate the image to have a matte, glossy or textured effect. The Roq Print Now produces finished digitally printed garments at about 300 pieces per hour, depending on the size of the image.

The Roq Print Now has a production speed of around 300 pieces per hour
M&R’s new two-platen DTG printer employs agitators in its white ink tanks

M&R Maverick M&R has a new two-platen digital printer on the market, and it looks really solid: here’s why… One of the biggest issues digital printing equipment has had is with how the white ink can settle and become unusable if not properly cared for by the user. The Maverick combats this by implementing agitators in the two white supply tanks. For the other colours, the recirculation system keeps the inks at peak performance by cycling the inks from the main tanks through the print heads and back. For any shop owner that has used and abandoned an older DTG press because of ink clogging issues, this system is the answer.

The Maverick takes a unique approach by utilising two on-board digitally controlled heat presses not only to flatten the fibres prior to printing, but also to introduce some residual heat into the garments to speed up the white flash time. The prints at the show on the Maverick looked great. This is a hexachrome printer, which means it prints CMYK plus red and green. This accounts for a larger colour gamut for the final print and better colour accuracy and control.

The Maverick runs at speeds of between 70-100 pieces an hour depending on the size of the image. The maximum image size is 15”x19”. Two platens on the Maverick can be used for separate images or to produce larger runs. The internal RIP software that comes with the equipment gives complete print parameters and job costing. If you want a rugged, industrial DTG printer in your line up, Maverick may just be the printer you are looking for this year!.

Marshall Atkinson is a production and efficiency expert for the decorated apparel industry, and the owner of Atkinson Consulting and co-founder of Shirt Lab, a sales and marketing education company, with Tom Rauen. He focuses on operational efficiency, continuous improvement, workflow strategy, business planning, employee motivation, management and sustainability.