The Role of a Pretreatment for Digitally Printed Textiles

Posted by Performance Coatings Team on 03/14/2019

With digital printing technologies continuing to improve, the ability to economically produce prototypes, customized products and short runs with shorter lead times through inkjet printing on textiles has quickly been gaining traction.


Digital pigment printing on textiles enables bespoke experiences at an attractive price, which is made possible by the right pretreatment technology for the end-use product. As more traditional textile printing companies consider the benefits of digital printing, this market segment has experienced significant growth over the last several years.


Research firm Smithers Pira forecasted 17.5-percent growth for the digital textile printing market in its “The Future of Digital Textile Printing to 2021” market report, reaching a total market value of $2.66 billion by 2021, which still represents a small piece of the overall volume of printed textiles.


Delivering Desired Performance

To achieve desired results, pretreatment is necessary to ensure fabric is truly prepared for digital printing. Why? Digital printing is about printing dots. If a pretreatment can be used that’s less expensive than ink, then more ink can be kept on the surface of the textile. Without a pretreatment, more ink dives into the fabric, leading to the need to use even more ink to increase color vibrancy and achieve the sought-after look. A pretreatment also improves dry and wet crock.


It’s understandable that some people question the use of a pretreatment because they think it’s an added expense, but it actually reduces the amount of ink needed to ultimately save money and deliver a superior product.


Fabric that is properly prepared has no oils or contaminants from previous processing and is perfectly wound on the appropriate core to avoid head strikes or waste. Through proper chemistry, it is pretreated to enable desired end-use performance in a variety of textiles, from apparel and quilting to signage and home décor.


Achieving this desired performance is all about balance: durability for UV stability and dry/wet crock; fabric integrity for softness and no change to fabric/weave appearance; print quality for optimal dot gain and density, and no metamorism; and the manufacturing process (more on that below).


Fabric Choices

While there are numerous benefits to digitally printed textiles, there are also some challenges—but challenges that can be overcome fairly easily. One of those challenges is a limited number of fabrics available for digital pigment printing. You can buy fabric already pretreated from a supplier, but the fabrics might not be available digital print ready. Currently, there are only 20 fabrics listed on that are “prepared for digital pigment printing.”


There are a couple options in this case:


  1. Work with suppliers to develop new materials that are print ready. You may have to agree to some minimum yardage and terms for them to justify the investment and time required to test with you and the printer OEM.
  2. Prepare fabric in-house using existing equipment or purchase equipment needed to apply pretreatment in your facility.


If you prepare fabric in-house, the responsibility is on you to ensure the fabric runs well on your machine, that it meets regulatory and end-use requirements, is compatible with your ink, and there’s consistency for every roll. There’s also the consideration of how pretreatment will affect your manufacturing process and workflow, as well as the inventory needed to support the process.


Lower Total Cost of Ownership

While we’ve made the case that pretreatment is necessary, there’s also the total cost of ownership (TCO) consideration, which can often be lower in digitally printed textiles. Cost impacts include:


  • Capital cost—there is significant savings from analog to digital.
  • Running cost— pre-treatment, ink cost, ink-usage efficiency, productivity/uptime, post-treatment costs, maintenance/spares, utilities, etc.
  • Chemistry cost—price per pound or kg, % solids, quantity required for performance, quantity applied based on application method, fabric preparation impact on other costs (waste, printheads), how pretreatment optimizes ink usage.


Digitally printed textiles save energy and eliminate many process steps compared to screen printing and, in the case of pigment based digital print systems, it can be a completely ‘dry’ print system, without the need for expensive steaming or washing.  With heightened concern for the pollution caused by the textile print industry, these factors are becoming increasingly important in driving the adoption of digital print processes. 



Contact your Lubrizol account manager or visit to learn more about textile pretreatment solutions to meet your specific digital printing needs.

Performance Coatings Team

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