Originally published at World Textile Information Network (WTiN) by Joseph Link on 15 October 2021. WTiN is an information provider, delivering unmatched intelligence and insight into the global textile manufacturing industry.
Joseph Link talks to Duraprints director Abid Omar about the growth of digital textile printing in Pakistan and how the technology has transformed his business.
Pakistan’s digital textile printing industry has experienced strong growth of late, spurred on by a growing domestic market. The country performed well in 2020 despite the pandemic and 2021 has continued in a similar fashion.
This heightened demand has captured the attention of print service providers such as Duraprints. The company specialises in digital printing for apparel fabrics including lightweight cottons and delicate silks and is focused on combining sustainability with quality.
Duraprints director, Abid Omar, says: “We started digital printing initially to expand our product range for upholstery fabric. We have been manufacturing woven fabrics (The Fabric Project) for commercial interiors such as offices, auditoriums, airports and hospital seating since 1990 and our conventional manufacturing process meant we carried a substantial inventory of each style and colour.”
Duraprints was established in 2012 to add prints to its fabric portfolio with a direct-to-fabric digital process. Abid adds: “Digital textile printers were chosen as we see them as a future-proof technology. They offer low to no inventory and are highly flexible and sustainable compared to analogue processes – the reduction in wastewater is particularly attractive to us.
“As a pioneering commercial print house in Pakistan, we were soon approached by the fashion sector to print onto cotton, silk and viscose fabrics. The immense demand encouraged us to expand into reactive printing.”
In its decade-long existence focusing predominantly on Pakistan’s domestic printing market, Duraprints has experimented with multiple printer brands and adopted machines of various sizes and speeds. The company is on its third generation of printers and is operating three direct reactive and two transfer sublimation solutions from Atexco – the OEM is increasingly expanding its influence beyond the borders of its native China.
But Omar is particularly excited about the rate of innovation among all digital textile printing OEMs. He says: “We look forward to seeing how machine stability, print sharpness and consistency are being improved year after year. We are especially interested in double-sided printing and the emergence of a new generation of print heads.”
One aspect of innovation within the digital textile printing market is the utilisation of software – an example of this is the growing significance of RIPs. Omar is well aware of the benefits the technology affords, not least around colour management which has long plagued the textile dyeing and finishing industry. He adds: “Software is often dismissed by print service providers, but since our first day printing digitally we have relied on Inedit’s neoStampa RIP which has provided us with consistency across different printer brands.”
Why is Pakistan of such interest to the market’s biggest names?
Pakistan has captured the attention of the world’s leading OEMs and consumables providers of late which has further accelerated the growth of the market. Duraprints alone can now print five million sqm of fabric each year. Consequently, competition is growing among OEMs and it is a race to the bottom on price, according to some analysts. Cheaper Asia-based equipment and consumable providers are eroding the market share of arguably more established European businesses. But why is Pakistan of such interest to the market’s biggest names?
To begin with, the country’s economy was traditionally built on its cotton trade which goes some way to explaining its above-average market share of direct-to-fabric printing output. Pakistan has also cemented itself among the top 10 digital textile printing producers in the world, according to WTiN Digital Textiles.
In addition to this, Omar explains that most brands and retailers in Pakistan are domestic businesses. They therefore sell a lot of traditional apparel which is well suited to digital textile printing.
Omar says: “The Pakistani fashion market is unique in that practically no foreign apparel retailers have found a foothold. Local brands sell Kurti – a loose, flowing, knee-length shirt made from a very lightweight cotton lawn fabric weighing around 60 gsm – which is appropriate for the hot weather in Pakistan.
“The big local brands choose rotary screen printing when production runs are large enough – digital is preferred for runs below 5000 meters per design,” Omar adds. “And of course, digital offers a faster time-to-market with quick sampling and possibilities of print-on-demand.”
In Omar’s view, digitalisation is transforming Pakistan’s entire textile supply chain.
He says: “Pakistan, as one of the world’s largest textile producers, has always been a large market for textile printing. Naturally, digital textile adoption has been tremendous here, with a rapidly growing footprint. Every textile mill is adding digital printers to complement conventional processes, and the market is witnessing a growing number of new entrants.
“The demand is primarily from the domestic fashion sector which seems to have an endless appetite for printed fabric,” continues Omar. “With a growing economy and an upwardly mobile middle class, Pakistan’s fashion industry has been growing at a rapid pace every year.
“Digital textile printing has revolutionised Pakistan’s fashion landscape. It has enabled a multitude of new brands and boutique designers to emerge, scale up and compete with established players.”
In the dyeing & finishing sector, digital textile printing has gained traction in Pakistan for a variety of reasons, not least its versatility during a period of global economic uncertainty. The ability to seamlessly shift production to new, in demand applications has never been more critical to businesses and this realisation has resulted in a global install base that is flourishing.
Omar says: “Inkjet printing has a much lower barrier to entry compared to conventional [rotary and flat-bed screen] printing, which not only require huge production runs to achieve economies of scale, but also similarly huge investments in auxiliary equipment for steaming, washing, drying and finishing.
“The flexibility, versatility, and short production runs associated with digital textile printing have enabled new companies – such as us [Duraprints] – to enter the space. Having designed-for-digital auxiliary equipment also enables better sharpness, colour depth and saturation over analogue textile processes, and proves more sustainable with reduced energy and water consumption.”
Duraprints, for whom fashion applications still account for 98% of annual output, epitomised this adaptability when it launched a new face mask during the pandemic.
Omar adds: “Covid-19 has put a focus on personal safety, with customisable and printed masks becoming a fashion accessory. We investigated printed textile masks but found that we could make a better mask that can meet 95% filtration efficiency standards, Duramask. Upon its launch this year (2021), Duramask became the world’s first digitally printed KN95 face mask.
Many argue it is the willingness of Pakistan’s print service providers to modernise that secured their success during the pandemic, but the country’s domestic market and government support packages played a key role, too.
Pakistan is also benefiting from new trends facilitated by inkjet textile technology which suggests the market looks set for a long and prosperous future.
“During the pandemic, with many areas in lockdown, bigger brands became conservative by shifting towards shorter production runs,” Omar adds. “Meanwhile, consumers have flocked online boosting ecommerce and providing new brands with the necessary space to succeed. We (Duraprints) had one brand that launched prints just before the pandemic with a planned inventory for six months – they sold out within the first month.”