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Grow Your Business Technology

HP Stitches Together a New Era of Fabric Printing

image for Image courtesy of HP Development Company LP
Image courtesy of HP Development Company LP

Printing items such as clothes, wallpapers, drapes, architectural drawings or advertising banners is a slow, labor-intensive process that can require lead times of up to three months to do it right. It also requires a wide-format printer that specializes in printing on specific materials, such as fabrics. HP and its new line of Stitch large-format printers are attempting to reduce that lead time to just two days while injecting a healthy dose of design and production flexibility into this market. 

Wide-format printers, or large-format printers, are computer-controlled machines that support bigger print rolls than your average 8.5 x 11-inch paper. Generally, the print sizes vary between 18 and 100 inches. 

Editor's note: Looking for a wide-format printer? We can help you choose the one that's right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free: 

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Based on HP's dye sublimation printing technology, the Stitch family could nudge the $300-billion printed textile industry away from traditional block, screen or roller printing to a new world of rapidly designed and created custom fabrics made by dye sublimation printing. 

HP Stitch printers place an emphasis on reducing waste and boosting efficiency, and they offer automatic controls for unattended operations. As the printer's built-in spectrophotometer monitors the printing process, the HP Smart Nozzle Compensation system makes color and ink density adjustments on the fly for fewer misprints. The four-color printers bring together enhanced color consistency with user-replaceable printheads and HP SmartColor Tools software. 

Look for two 64-inch Stitch models in the coming months that are aimed at speed and efficiency. A third member is coming later this year that can print on media more than 10 feet wide. 

To start, the Stich S300 is aimed at ease of use and simplicity, yet can handle delicate interior decor textiles, fashion fabrics and custom sports uniforms. Its 64-inch carriage and 1,200 dot-per-inch resolution combine for sharp imaging, gentle gradients and repeatable patterns. The S300's two-pass speed is 665 square feet per hour. 

While the Stitch S500 starts with the same chassis and basic design, it is a speedster with a double printhead design that's capable of 1,185 square feet per hour of single-pass printing. Once printed, HP's Drop & Dry ink dryer fuses the ink to the media. Unlike some piezoelectric printheads that can clog under intense heat, HPs thermal printheads work well with the dryer. The Stitch S500 adds a tension-sensing winder that continually monitors the media's feeding and adjusts its movement to prevent skewing, wrinkling and cockling that can ruin a long print run. [Interested in large-format printers? Check out our reviews and best picks on our sister site Business.com.] 

Controlled by an 8-inch touchscreen, both Stich printers can work with media between 23 and 64 inches wide. Media is loaded from the front, making for quick roll changes on the S300 and S500. Further, because media is loaded from the front, the printers have a slimmer design that, at 4.5 x 8.4 x 2.3 feet (H x W x D), take up one-third less floor space than the $26,000 rear-loading Mutoh ValueJet 1638WX. 

Both the S300 and S500 work with a variety of Stitch S media, and HP will start certifying papers and fabrics made by others. They can print on heat-activated paper transfers as well as directly onto an assortment of fabrics. While the S300 uses small 775ml ink cartridges, the S500 has been designed around larger 3-liter tanks for lower printing costs. 

The best is yet to come with the Stitch S1000 model on the way. Set to be formally announced in mid-May, its details are few and far between. A sneak peek shows it to be a monster of an industrial printer with 10-liter ink reservoirs and a 126-inch wide carriage. In other words, it will be able to economically print fabrics that are more than 10 feet wide, perfect for making ultra-size banners and bolts of material. 

This puts the Stitch S1000 in the same class as Mimaki's TS500P-3200 model, a dye sublimation printer that has a slightly wider 129.9-inch carriage. The TS500P-3200's dozen printheads translate into high-speed operations, but it uses much smaller 3-liter ink tanks. 

Look for the Stitch S300 and S500 to be available this June, although there's no word yet on pricing. For the Stitch S1000, buyers will have to wait until later in the summer, but for those who need to supersize their printing, it should be worth the wait. 

Generally speaking, the price range for a wide-format printer ranges from $2,000 to $100,000 for a top-of-the-line machine with tons of extra features. You can often lease or rent a wide-format printer from a variety of brokers or third parties. 

There are two types of lease agreements. The buck-out lease sets a time frame (generally 36 months) when you pay a monthly fee and after which time you agree to buy the machine for $1. In a fair-market value lease, you pay a monthly fee for a set amount of time, and, afterward, you can purchase the equipment for the remainder of what the machine is worth, or you can upgrade with a new lease. 

HP is already established in the large-format printing market. In addition to the new Stitch line, the company offers HP Latex printers for banners, canvas and wallpaper. The HP DesignJet line is designed for maps, technical drawings and high-resolution graphics. HP PageWide printers are for enterprise-level printing of technical documents. And HP Indigo digital presses use offset- and gravure-matching print quality for label printing.

Brian Nadel

Brian is a technology writer based north of New York City. He writes stories for Business.com, Tom's Guide, ComputerWorld and Scholastic Magazines. He is the former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.