Screen-printing specialist M&R has launched Polaris, an industrial high-speed direct-to-garment (DTG) printer that can achieve over 320 prints per hour.

Set to be introduced globally including the UK, the new machine is fitted with two high-speed digital print engines – one white, one CMYK – which are each equipped with 16 Ricoh Gen 5 print heads.

It has a large-format image area of up to 38.1cm by 48.3cm (15 by 19 inches), with different pallets for garments such as hoodies and fleeces (35.6cm by 30.5cm/14 by 12 inches), mid-size (30.5cm by 38.1cm/12 by 15 inches) and children’s apparel (25.4cm by 30.5cm/10 by 12 inches).

It works with a compact on-board pretreater, inline heat presses and quartz flashes. It can be operated clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Printed garments are fully cured at 150 degrees Celsius in three minutes or less. It can print on triblend in multiple colours and blended fabrics with polyester as well as 100% cotton. It cannot currently be used for 100% polyester but M&R is working on developing more applications.

The Polaris can print over 320 prints an hour for a 35.6cm by 40.6cm (14-inch by 16-inch) adult format at 600×600 resolution in four-pass mode on dark 100% cotton fabric.

In development for three years, the new machine merges the durability of M&R’s Stryker automatic oval screen printing press with the print engines of the DS 4000 Digital Squeegee hybrid printing system.

It has a list price of around £600,000 ($824,950), which includes a start-up kit, spare part kit, training and support, plus a crating charge, making it suitable for larger print shops, especially those servicing the growing print-on-demand market.

M&R has been working with garment decorators in the US to test the technology over the past six months. It installed 10 machines, which together have produced over a million garments and provided feedback from customers.

Durability testing included putting printed garments through Miele machines, with up to 50 washes and five tumble dries, without any loss of quality.

The Polaris comes with a suite of sophisticated workflow tools to make it easier to get artwork from customers to the printer. The two most common methods of automating workflow are through “queue” mode or a scan of a barcode or a QR code.

Danielle Hazen, Smart technologies product line manager at M&R, said: “The queue mode is really great for when you’re doing higher volumes for the same artwork so jobs that are 10, 25, 50 or even 300 pieces.

“The second most popular use, and one we see more frequently used in the field, is barcode mode. This allows you to use the integrated barcode reader, allowing you to change the artwork every single time you load a shirt.

“Barcode reader can scan both QR code and standard 2D code. In combination with user-generated job tickets written in a JSON or XML format, you can send specific instructions to every single station on the press to give you full customised workflow of the printer.”

M&R innovation director Michelle Moxley added: “With the scan-to-print feature, you’re able to print different materials on every print with different images on every print.”

It can use file formats such as PDF, PNG, TIF and EPS and comes installed with Caldera RIP software but support is available for other options and functionality.

The Polaris was developed in response to changes in the garment decoration industry, such as the growth of retail print-on-demand, e-commerce, personalisation and the need for shorter runs.

Peter Walsh, executive vice president of M&R, said: “The licensed brands and large retailers over the last four or five years have really taken steps to shorten their supply chains so they can be more responsive to market change.”

Patrick Lashford, Smart product sales manager at M&R, added: “We are seeing a lot of people, especially retailers, who want to reduce stock, they want to only order a specific design, they don’t want to have a huge minimum.

“Technology like Polaris will give them that retail quality and able to achieve those smaller quantities fast and get it to the retailers or the customers immediately without having to have this massive inventory.

“We set the bar extremely high to get that retail quality that we felt the current DTG market was lacking.”

Walsh described the Polaris as “the biggest game-changing technology that has entered the printed apparel industry in years. It is the most technically advanced apparel-decorating system ever developed by M&R.

“The machine utilises more than 12 different hardware and software systems operating in synchronised harmony to achieve industry-leading production speeds with exceptional print quality.

“For over 37 years we’ve led the apparel-decorating industry with the introduction of innovative printing solutions, and that tradition continues today with the launch of the M&R Polaris.”

He added that he believed that new technology like the Polaris would disrupt current trends in garment printing. A survey by Grandview Research in 2019/20 predicted that total global production of printed apparel would reach about 25 billion impressions by 2023, of which less than three per cent would be through digital printing, with the rest through “analogue” screen-printing.

Walsh said: “There have been thousands of DTG printers placed into service in the US and other world markets over the past five years, yet it doesn’t appear the equipment is leading a major conversion to apparel decorating away from analogue screen to digital.

“M&R believes this transition has been slow to occur based on production speed and image quality from existing DTG printing systems. There’s nothing out there on the market today that’s printing in excess of 300 pieces an hour at the quality levels that the Polaris is.”

He added that M&R believed that DTG printing technology had been used to develop a new vertical channel for extremely quick delivery, print-on-demand, unit-of-one production “at service levels that analogue screen print can’t achieve.

“The reality is the DTG people out there doing this print-on-demand work are not competing with screen. They’ve created other markets and other channels…. That is stuff that screen-printing can never do.”

The Polaris is now set up in a dedicated showroom area at M&R’s headquarters in Illinois for live 360-degree virtual demonstrations. M&R printers are distributed in the UK by Screen Print World.