Polyprint has been in the direct-to-garment printing market right from the beginning and brings all this experience to designing, developing and building its DTG printers at its headquarters in Greece. George Benglopoulos reveals to Images how the company continues to punch above its weight
The company Polyprint was created in 2003, but its roots go back more than four decades to 1976 when Nikos Benglopoulos set up a business selling screen printing machinery and consumables. In the 80s and the early 90s, Thessaloniki in northern Greece, where Polyprint is based, was one of the biggest textile printing areas in Europe. “There were thousands of companies here producing garments for famous brands like H&M, Adidas, Nike, etc, and many fashion brands as well,” reminisces George Benglopoulos, Nikos’s son and the company’s CEO. “It was exciting to visit customers and see how the clothes were being printed and manufactured.” George’s father helped many small businesses grow by not only selling them the equipment and inks they needed, but also by teaching them how to print. From a young age George learned the business as well, helping to fill ink bottles and visiting screen printing customers with his father during his school holidays – it was, he says, always his intention to work in his father’s business.
By the late 1990s, the screen printing market in Greece had collapsed by 90%, George reports, as jobs were sent instead to Eastern European and Asian countries. “Many of the printing houses and garment factory facilities closed here – digital technology was the only way to survive as it allowed them to produce small quantities and provide fast deliveries to European customers.” The company was quick to adapt and sold one of the first Manoukian (now Kiian) roll-to-roll dye sublimation printers, in 1998. George, now studying chemistry at the university in Thessaloniki, helped install it. “I was a student but I was still working part-time as a technician and helping with installations.” It was inevitable that out of the 15 topics available to him for his thesis in 2000, he would opt for digital textile printing at the Textile Institute in Belgium. “When I came back, I had all the knowledge needed to start this business [Polyprint] and to focus on digital printing.”
It was, however, still early days for digital printing and the industry. “We were showing a technology that the market wasn’t ready to adapt to yet,” explains George. “Also, the technology wasn’t ready, because the printers were too slow for production, even for sampling at that time, and all the parameters like inks and software and the know-how were being built year by year. In the early days, it was very difficult to achieve a good result with the existing technology so we also had to teach the market about this technology and how they could benefit from it.” The company started with dye sublimation as well as other digital processes, such as acid inks for printing on silk, with a focus on roll-to-roll machines. It became the Mimaki distributor for Greece, as well as a distributor for DuPont, which at that time was selling textile printing equipment. By this point, in 2003, the new company Polyprint had just four employees: George, his father and two others.
“I was doing sales support, installations, customer support – I had the chance to learn everything from being in contact with the customers daily and to really understand their needs and pain points. It was quite a busy period, but I learned a lot.” Increasingly, demand came for something other than roll-to-roll – the majority of their customers in north Greece who were still in the business wanted to be able to print on T-shirts. “Customers kept on asking for a solution for printing on T-shirts and cut pieces,” says George. “This is what led us to start looking to develop our first digital (DTG) printer.”
George Benglopoulos (far left) and his father Nikos (middle) with Polyprint’s first DTG machine, the TX4260, at Fespa 2006
Polyprint was selling large format printers from an Italian company called MS, and so George asked them to make a digital printer based on the Epson model. MS soon realised this was a sector with potential, and so Polyprint decided to go it alone and develop its own printers, again based on Epson technology. It took nearly two years to build the very first TexJet, the TX4260, which was unveiled at the 2005 SGIA show in the US. It was, says George, a very different printer to the one they sell now. “In 2005, there was only ourselves, Brother and Kornit, I think it was – there were only a few people in the industry. People were really sceptical about DTG, because at the time there wasn’t any white ink – the application could print on white pieces only. White ink came some years later, and took a few more years to become reliable.
“The quality today is much, much better. The inks have been improved, the software has been improved, we do a lot of work in colour profiling and also the overall quality of the system has been improved compared to the first systems.” It was difficult for the first couple of years, admits George, but interest in DTG was rapidly growing across the world as the technology improved. “For us as a company, every year was better and better, with customer growth every year, but it really picked up in 2012.” It was a combination of the systems, the software, the ink and the buyers’ knowledge improving as the market matured. It was also the year that Polyprint launched the TexJet Plus model – a “very, very good and reliable, stable machine”. By 2014, Polyprint’s dealer network had extended to more than 55 countries. In 2016, the TexJet Echo and the more compact TexJet Shortee were released, followed in 2019 by the new TexJet Echo2, which landed in January, and the Shortee2, which was introduced at Fespa in Munich in May.
The two new machines may sound like updates, but the reality is very different and reflects a big change that took place in the company last year – they brought everything in- house. “We were able to invest a lot in our R&D department so we built up a very good, talented team with experienced engineers,” states George. “Practically speaking, these two printers are brand new. The overall design is completely new from scratch because we managed to bring in-house a lot of the factors that previously we were outsourcing, and think about the design and assembly of the mechanical parts of the printer as well as the design of the electronic parts and software and firmware programming. “Two years ago we were outsourcing these parts to partners here in Greece; the last two years we developed everything ourselves. Now the whole thing is being designed, assembled and manufactured by us.”
There is a waiting list for the TexJet Echo2, which was launched in January 2019
The TexJet Shortee2 was launched at Fespa in May
This has given the company the ability to add more features that customers ask for as well as allowing them to customise each machine to each print shop’s specific needs. “For example, we have added a temperature and humidity sensor inside the machine, and added software that allows the customer to know if the conditions are okay for the machine. It makes it easier for the customer to handle the machine and avoid unnecessary damage.” Customers can choose between two different types of inks and two different inks configurations. “For example, many customers when they start they want to print darks and lights, then as their business grows, they see a lot of quantity increase in white T-shirts, so they prefer to buy a second printer. In that case, they can switch one of the printers to double CMYK and make the printer print in double speed. And they can switch back at any time; other manufacturers don’t offer that.
“Another significant option for customers, depending on their workflow, is that we offer either an open ink system with refillable ink cartridges, or sealed ones for one-time use. The sealed ones perform much better when you don’t use a printer every day, and require less cleaning since there is less mess, etc. If their business grows and they have to print every day and their product grows, we can switch to the refillable ink system and they save about 50% on the ink cost compared with the filled cartridges. “Our strategy as a company is to offer options, because not all customers have the same needs when they begin, or their needs may change as their business grows, so our printers can change according to their needs.”
The response so far to the TexJet Echo2 (which has a print area of 41cm by 60cm compared to 32cm by 45cm for the Shortee2) has been amazing, reports George. The company is in the unusual position of having a waiting list that they hope to clear by July – Polyprint’s usual strategy is to have stock available for next day delivery. It is, he says, a nice problem to have, and one that he puts down to the customisation options along with the three-year warranty for the system, and one-year warranty for the print heads. Also new this year is a pre-treatment machine – the prototype was shown at Fespa so that the team could let the dealers and customers feed back any remarks they have, both positive and negative. This “feedback from the real world” will then be used to further tweak the design of the product. “This, I think, is the basis of creating a successful product,” confides George. He’s already confident though that it will be a bestseller: “We have more than ten years’ experience in selling and supporting and servicing pre-treatment machines, so we have gathered all the pain points, all the problems that the customers reported for all those years, and we think that we have solved all of them.”
Polyprint designs, develops and manufactures its printers in-house
All ideas welcome
Polyprint changed its logo this year to include an infinity symbol to represent the big changes the company has undergone in the past couple of years. “We wanted to reflect that in our new logo, that something has changed in the company – we are more powerful in terms of technical abilities and in having the potential to develop and manufacture hi-tech products. We are much smaller compared to the big brands, but our small size allows us to be very flexible and very fast to respond to the needs of our customers, and we specialise in digital only. We still have the first people that started this digital project with us, they still work here. Our experience and knowledge is so big and deep and that defends us from the competition – I don’t think they will be able to reach our depth of knowledge and focus on digital.”
Another aspect that makes Polyprint stand out from the crowd is the vision of Nikos and the effect it has had on George. “The idea of getting into digital printers was my father’s idea. At the time, I was studying chemistry and when my father told me, ‘Look, there will be pigment inks with binder inside for digital printing”, I told him, ‘No, Father, I am studying chemistry, it’s just impossible that these things will be able to work in a print shop.’ “He was right. He has a lot of ideas, some of them really revolutionary, and I have learnt my lesson, so now I go after every idea until has been proved right or wrong. I don’t ignore any crazy ideas.”