Sustainable Textile Printing Technology


Nanjiba Nur

image001Sustainability is no longer an optional extra; the consumer and the planet demand change. To future-proof the manufacturing workflow, adopting technologies that will reduce climate change and preserve the world’s precious resources is inevitable. This article looks into the methods and areas to consider when sustainability and textile printing is considered together.

Lesser the Water Usage, Better the Process

image003Water is the very essence of life, a precious resource that must be conserved. That’s why technologies that produce zero water waste and provide a sustainable print pathway to serve the world’s textile printing industry at any scale is to be chosen. The number one environmental risk factor in textiles is water pollution; the amount of water currently used, wasted, and polluted is staggering. Traditional textile processing pollutes 20% of the earth’s precious water sources, much of which is harnessed from vital freshwater tables causing social and environmental harm. The industry shift towards digital printing goes a long way towards reducing its environmental impact. Preserving the world’s resources is a responsibility that must be taken very seriously.
Digital textile printing conserves water using inkjet technology. How? Ink is jetted directly onto the surface of the fabric – a hugely disruptive process that will revolutionize the traditional textile printing industry. Digital printing offers a new philosophy for textile printing – a simple one-step print solution that coats, prints, and finishes the fabric in-line using patented technology and zero water waste. The benefits offer a sustainable footprint. Minimum water is required for fabric pre-coating, printing, or finishing – a seamless process saving precious resources.

Reducing Fabric Waste

image005Being digital not only means to use digital technologies rather proper organizational changes and changes in the business model is required. One should not make more than what is needed i.e. to keep the fabric wastes at the minimum. Controlling the inventory, speeding up production, and delivering design diversity at any scale is important. Taking control of the supply chain, shortening lead times, and bringing production closer to the consumer is crucial. All of this will reduce the carbon footprint, save precious resources, and deliver increased profits.
For this need to witch to a sustainable printing alternative? Printing on demand reduces inventory, creates zero waste, offers design diversity, and is risk-averse. Intelligent manufacturing offers a high profit yield for all stakeholders. Need to adopt software solutions to customize the workflow with retail data to control inventory, reducing lead times and out-of-stocks, further reducing risk. On- demand production located closer to the consumer facilitates speed of production and accurate stock replenishment. All of this increases profitability for the manufacturer and the retailer, ending the cycle of overproduction by reducing landfill and environmental pollution in compliance with UN sustainable development goals (SDG).

Reducing the Textile Carbon Footprint

untitledDigital technologies use a fraction of the energy of traditional textile print routines. The earth is saturated with toxic carbon, 10% of which can be attributed to fashion industry production alone. Sustainable manufacturing processes deliver a reduced carbon footprint – in some cases, zero. Why? Harnessing green energy to manufacture in-line and on-demand using a simple process saves energy, and in doing so reduces carbon emissions. Companies need to adopt future-safe solution to the pollution of the past. Sustainable manufacturing should be stitched in the organization DNA. Switching to clean, efficient textile production will definitely contribute towards climate change mitigation. With a reduced carbon footprint, the benefits of digital textile production are many. Using a simple one-step process, it simplifies the textile workflow. As green technology, digital manufacturing produces no pollutants, toxic fumes, or waste effluent, reducing any manufacturing location restrictions. Smart manufacturing in digital production hubs offers new opportunities for digital production while also dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of the product itself when located close to the consumer.

Cleaner Chemicals and Safer Products

image008A printing technology must be free of hazardous substances. All the products must be certified and go beyond regulatory certification for the textile industry. Like, the inks, should be for environmentally-friendly printing and are safe to the skin and children. Without ensuring green chemistry and a future safe pathway for an equally green planet textile printing can’t be sustainable. Certification delivers trust – a vital component for upstream product validation. As the consumer increasingly demands sustainable verification, printing solutions must respect this environmental mandate.
Again, conserving the environment should be a global strategy since day one of the company. Technology must be following new research and public campaigns focused on the environmental impact of textile dyeing and printing facilities. Through constant innovation, adjustments and dedication, must meet the ever-changing industry standards. All chemicals are subjected to stringent certification.

Inclusivity, People and Community

image010Investing in people and the planet is essential to a sustainable future. People must be in the fore front of social responsibility commitment. Sustainability is front-of-mind and forms the core pillar of corporate objectives. Community and collaboration throughout the textile supply chain empowers responsible manufacturing to deliver environmental compliance. Technology must be at the forefront of environmental change, and employees and suppliers form the essence of strategy – protecting nature, people, and the planet’s precious resources to deliver a global commitment to environmental stability.
Sustainability should be at the heart of the ongoing development. Companies must value the power of community and work hard to disrupt the practices of the past to offer a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) that focuses corporation and partners to drive change. Investing in the employees to instill a culture of compliance across all stakeholders ensures to build responsible global partnerships and strategic alliances that go beyond regulatory obligation.

The Future is Digital Printing

image012The evolution of digital printing has carved its own space with minor share of 6% in textile printing, estimated to grow at CAGR of 15%, while screen printing growth will hover at CAGR 2-3% during this decade.

One of the key advantages of digital textile printing is its endless design capabilities with greater image quality and colour control. It involves pre- and post- fabric treatment depending on type of substrate and inks used. Like in rotary screen printing, reactive inks always require both pre- and post-treatment to ensure that the dye chemically bonds with the fibre, and to remove excess dyes from the printed fabric during washing. For pigments, washing is generally not required.

The major challenge for the adoption of digital textile printing in a competitive textile market is the high ink cost, and the large number of printing heads used in high speed single-pass machine whose maintenance and replacement cost is prohibitive and makes it uncompetitive against rotary printing. The prices of reactive inks have recently come down considerably, while pigment ink is still under evolution and supplied by few ink manufacturers. Digital pigment printing has good scope in European market catering to niche environment conscious premium segment but when it comes to large volume in Asia, it faces stiff competition from rotary prints. The future definitely lies with newer technologies but conventional prints are going to create a balance with cost advantages and sustainable solutions, to coexist in coming times.

Sustainability at the Core

Digital printing technologies are by nature more sustainable than conventional alternatives and offer a way forward towards clean, efficient and profitable manufacturing. As an industry, all sectors of the textile community are embracing sustainable manufacturing practice from the fibers that we choose to spin the fabric preparation chemistry that we use to coat and finish through the printing machinery and inks formulations which we print. Massive investment has and continues to be made within every sector many of which now collaborate to further develop innovative new stream-line processes and technologies.

Sustainability can only exist alongside supply chain transparency and collaboration is the key to success. Textile manufacturing across multiple industries using conventional technology previously consumed massive resources and generated (now valuable) waste as a byproduct. Prior to digital disruption the textile industry consumed massive amounts of water and energy by contaminating the environment with dyestuff and numerous toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of textile fabrics, inks, printing and finishing of products.

Digital textile printing saved over 40 billion litres of water worldwide in 2018. Offering an efficient solution when compared to traditional water usage for rotary screen printing which is in the region of 50-60 litres of water per metre. Digital textile printing also uses smaller quantities of colour typically 10% of the volume used when compared to screen printing. Using pigment inks as an example and its requirement for fixation only finishing (no washing) uses less than 10 litres of water per metre.

Digitally printed cotton eliminates the consumption of water and the discharge of noxious effluents. Using low volumes of liquid dispersions of pigment colours, therefore offering a positive environmental impact. Digital textile printing using pigments also removes the need for water and energy greedy post processing since colour fastness is achieved by heat fixation alone as opposed to lengthy steam fixation and washing off procedures.


This article illustrates the methods of sustainability in the textile printing industry and how the industry can contribute towards climate change mitigation, driving SDG goal achievement and ensuring customer social responsibility. Digital printing is still economically not feasible compared to rotary printing especially for bulk productions in South Asia. However, the way forward is to adopt digital technologies as this has lesser impact on the environment and offer more sustainable solutions in the long run.