Images discovers how the new Coloreel technology has the potential to be the most disruptive innovation in the embroidery world since the advent of the EMB file

At Avantex in Paris this February, a crowd gathered round the Coloreel stand to watch the first ever public demonstration of the Embroline. A standalone, thread-colouring unit that can be retro-fitted to most major embroidery machines, the Embroline uses Coloreel technology to instantly colour thread during production.

It’s not yet available commercially, and the price along with cost-comparisons between the new technology and the traditional, multi-thread approach won’t be unveiled until later this year, but the Embroline already looks like it has the potential to be the most exciting development to happen in the embroidery world for a number of years. It uses a type of inkjet application where Embroline ink instantly dyes the thread – for the demonstration in Paris, a white Embroline thread based on polyester was used, although Alicia Vara, marketing manager at Coloreel, says machines can be built for colouring any type of textile thread. The promise is that, armed with just one reel of thread and the Embroline, embroiderers will soon be able to create designs in any number of shades that they want.

Swedish company Coloreel began in 2003, when Joakim Staberg founded parent company Inventech Europe with the intention of helping companies, including those in the textile industry, improve their products and businesses through technical solutions. Joakim noted the large numbers of different coloured thread reels needed in various types of textile production, and in 2009 all the company’s resources were dedicated to developing thread dyeing solutions. The result is Coloreel technology.

According to the company, many of the functions that enable the dyeing of the textile thread on demand are similar to those found in a textile printer. “Each and every part of the thread length can be dyed into any chosen solid colour or smooth transitions between colours,” says Alicia. “These unique possibilities open up a quite amazing potential.

“The first product, Embroline, will be accompanied by our unique embroidery colouring software. With this software you can make sure that each and every part of the thread has a suitable colour to match the embroidery design. You can create your own thread colouring effects and save them in libraries. If you would like to embroider grass, you can make an effect where the thread colour quickly changes between any number of green shades, to make your embroidered grass look more natural.”

Smooth colour transitions and “practically unlimited solid colours” are promised by the company, along with more consistent stitch quality as only one needle position is needed, and no redundant lock stitches. Coloreel says the Embroline offers reduced set-up time and improved production thanks to fewer cuts for colour changes – it says production time can be reduced by up to 80% for complex designs. Digitised designs can easily be transferred to the Embroline software, says Alicia, with supported formats being disclosed later this year.

Once the thread has been coloured and the embroidery finished, it can be used and washed without any further post-treatment.

The real test will be when embroiderers get to try out the system and see if the technology lives up to all its promises. If it does, and the sums add up, then the days of pre-coloured threads could be numbered.

Solid colours matching a client’s requirements will be instantly available

The thread supplier’s view

Jas Purba, managing director of ETC Supplies, a trade supplier of embroidery and consumables, gives his viewpoint.

“So far all the marketing material uses a single-head machine. As most embroidery companies operate a multi-head embroidery machine, this new system would involve significant investment to deploy one unit on each head.

“The single biggest problem with any change for an embroiderer is the thread tensions. Once an embroidery machine is set up to use a brand of thread, the operators have significant reluctance to use anything else. This is because each thread, even the same type as already used on a machine but a different brand, will have its own optimum tensions and will make its own path in the machine. When you change over to different threads this involves thread breaks and tension adjustments until the new thread beds down. Hence embroiderers do not change thread brands.

“Embroiderers nowadays like to run the machines at high speeds. We do not know the maximum speed that Embroline will run at. Embroline states its thread is washable, but has not stated to what standard, temperature or whether it is suitable for dry cleaning.

“What are the cost implications of the Embroline system compared to cheaper embroidery threads available in the market at around £5 per 5,000 meter cone, such as our Premium embroidery thread?
“We had the same excitement about DTG when it first came out. In those early days the machines suffered problems from clogged heads and expensive constant head cleaning. What will be the extra costs associated with the maintenance of the Embroline system?

“I do not see this technology having an immediate effect on the embroidery thread market as it stands, but you never know what will happen in the future as the machine is developed.”

Shading made simple

The Embroline can be attached to most embroidery machines

The embroiderer’s view

Images columnist and embroidery expert Erich Campbell shares his thoughts on Embroline.

“Frankly, the technology seems amazing. If it’s robust, I can see the immense benefit of never undergoing a needle change, rethreading machines, nor needing a lock-stitch in a continuous design.

“Moreover, if the colour transitions are reliably smooth, it means that the difficulty of digitising smooth blends would be entirely removed. It would revolutionise blending in satin stitches, which has never looked perfect; no matter what one does in digitising there’s always one solid line of a colour cutting across the next in the blend.

“The questions I have are those most production people likely do: What are the costs involved in relation to the savings in production? How precisely are the colours placed and/or what must be done in the design phase to accommodate the new process? What sort of threads can the system handle; would one system be able to treat thin threads (like the ever popular 60wt thread that is now commonplace for small lettering) as well as standard threads? What new design treatments does it make possible and what sort of draw can we create with our customers that justifies the cost of investment if the production saving isn’t enough of a driver?

“If the equipment is reliable and the prices are competitive to traditional multi-colour embroidery, I can’t imagine companies in certain segments not wanting to get a system like this, but I am always keen to see functional models on the shop floor and in full production with the early releases of such technologies.

“If the equipment is as amazing as it seems, it could really revolutionise standard machine embroidery. At this point, it’s all about price and performance for me. Though I could point out possible exceptions like metallic threads, speciality fibres and thicknesses etcetera, for the large majority of standard logos and even decorative fashion pieces, a dyed polyester 40wt thread is all one needs. Besides, with this tool on-board, digitisers would innovate based both on the new abilities and on any restrictions that came with the package. If the value is there for the company, the artistry will follow suit.

“Will this replace every standard pre-coloured thread option? No – legacy hardware and home/hobbyist markets will be strong for a long time and digitisers will have to accommodate for years to come.

“That said, could this make a massive difference in embroidery production? Yes – particularly with contract shops that look for efficiencies at scale, should the costs and production prove to be sensible and relatively trouble-free. Besides, the ability to create a true gradient; one with a wide colour gamut, would enable designs in our embroidery that we have up to this point been unable to reproduce.

“Show me medium to small satin-stitch text with a chrome effect or accurately positioned per-letter gradients, and I’ll be more than impressed.”