In our new Disruptive Solutions article, we present you Intech, a company pioneering textile digital printing with their Nature's Dye™
Intech is a textile digital printing company whose innovative nano-pigment inks -- Nature's Dye™, as the company calls it -- are a fashion revolution in terms of what is available in the dyeing and digital printing markets. With a photographic level of detail, Intech allows fashion designers and brands to print absolutely anything they want in a wide range of fabric types without compromising hand-feel or texture. "The idea of Nature's Dye™ is to say that it can replace reactive dyes", says Dalton Cheng, Head of Technology of Intech.
Dyeing textiles has been part of human history for a long time. In fact, the earliest dyed fabric (from flax fibres) dates from 34,000 BC! Back then, however, humans were only using dyes extracted from animals or plants. With the rise of the industrial revolution, by the mid-19th century, we had already developed artificial dyes: the first one was mauveine in 1856, developed by William Perkin and deriving from coal tar. Since then, a lot has occurred in dyeing industry -- including Intech, whose innovative Nature's Dye™ digital printing technology results in soft fabrics without any discharge in the process. But before discussing it, let's understand a bit of what pigments and dyes are.
The Difficulties About Dyes
Different yarns have many types of fibres that react in contrasting ways to several dyeing agents, which makes dyeing fabrics an incredibly complex process. Cotton, for example, is a fabric that must be washed over and over again in high-temperature water to ensure colour stability and avoid further discolouring once purchased. That can waste a lot of natural resources like water and energy, not to mention the water discharge can contaminate rivers and oceans with toxic chemicals if not treated correctly.
How to tackle water pollution that derives from dyeing textiles? Look for sustainable alternatives that use a dry process instead, with zero water and zero discharge, like Intech's digital printing. Credit: design by Digifair team
Heavy metals like cadmium, lead, mercury, and chromium are a few of the chemicals used in different dyeing processes, highly toxic for both workers and nature. Fixing agents and oxidisers are also used in the dyeing industry as part of washing and bleaching processes. Denim, for example, can release potassium permanganate depending on the types of chemicals used -- though, of course, there are companies like Garmon Chemicals providing solutions for that, as we've seen at Kingpins Show in Amsterdam. Intech Digital, based in Hong Kong, is another disruptor in the area, using nano-pigment inks to digitally print fabrics without any water in the process.
ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) Program
A very important step in sustainability when it comes to the dyeing industry is ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) Foundation and its Road to Zero program. It started in 2011 as a response to Greenpeace's "Detox Your Fashion" campaign, that traced chemicals in rivers up to the supply chain, reaching different textile, leather and footwear related factories. Approximately 20 companies (including Kering, G-Star Raw, and Levi's, for instance) around the world are now signed up to the program, according to the Foundation's website. They aim for zero discharge of chemicals by 2020.
The impact of ZDHC is extremely valuable. As a result, we can already see the positive change: in China, for example, one of the largest hubs in the textile industry, stricter environmental inspections have penalised 30,000 companies as part of the government's anti-pollution plan.
Intech: Nature's Dye™ and Digital Printing
So how can we have colourful textiles if not by dyeing? There are several sustainable answers for that question. We can use the fabric's natural colour -- like in some types of silk --, or we can use printing processes such as screen printing, woodblock printing or digital printing.
"Well, let's see if we can do something using pigments instead of dyes", Cheng tells us about the company that started in 2000. "That was a lot easier said than done. Pigments tend to be a little bit hard, you know, people could still associate pigments with DTG [direct-to-garment] printing or having that harsh, rubbery hand-feel. (...) It took us two and a half years [to create the nano-pigment ink]", he continues. Once anyone sees and touches an Intech printed fabric, exclamations of surprise and wonder certainly follow, as the final result is incredibly soft. That's where Intech's technology is disrupting the industry: a zero-waste, zero discharge printing process with their Nature's Dye™ pigments that don't interfere with any fabric's hand-feel or texture.
Intech's printers: creating the incredible Nature's Dye™ starts with knowledge of the printers. "The inks, the printheads, and the printer have to be tuned perfectly with each other, or you will end up with a dead printer", says Dalton Cheng. Credit: courtesy of Intech
Pigments: Nature's Dye™ With Zero Water
Digifair met with Dalton Cheng, Head of Technology of Intech Digital, during the spring-summer 2020 edition of Première Vision in Paris. Intech was within Cotton Council International / COTTON USA™ booth during the trade show: they are Innovation Partners with the organisation which promotes and preserves sustainable cotton made in the US, bringing more transparency to the industry. Dalton is based in the US but has been pushing for sustainability in China since 2012.
In the following interview, he explained Intech's breakthrough fashion technology further, noting that "You can actually, you know, do things without using any water. I try to use Nature's Dye™ because that's how you really differentiate yourself. [When] talking about reactive dyes, you're not talking about waterless or zero water", he explains. Intech's printing technology doesn't use any natural or synthetic dyes, but nano-pigment ink instead: their Nature's Dye™. Since pigments, in general, can also be used for dyeing (in a totally different process) and other digital printing processes associated with a harsh, rubbery feel, the company wants to be associated exclusively with the special inks they've developed, which keep the fabric soft with a high level of detail.
In the printing industry for 18 years, it was only in 2012 that the company started developing its Nature's Dye™ for the fashion and textile industry. It took them more than two years to get to a high-quality result. Now they take part in important trade shows like Premiere Vision. Credit: Lilian Marino
"They're going crazy over this technology because sustainability is finally here with this process we call ZERO-D®", he says, mentioning Intech's nickname for their technology since it involves zero discharges and zero dyeing. "The process is dry: there's no water, right? There are no solvents, no heavy metals, there's no salt, there's no alcohol. 100% of what goes into the process sticks on the fabric. Nothing is more sustainable than ZERO-D®. I mean, there's literally zero waste". Big global brands have verified Intech’s technology and are using it across their many brands and collections -- and is great to know that such quality is available for independent designers and small to medium brands as well.
Soft Fabric Feel & Details
"You're at zero pollution, but you're achieving the level of detail that dyes cannot achieve", Dalton Cheng explains, mentioning a silk "jeans" showcased at Première Vision to demonstrate how detailed and soft their printing process is. Pigment inks are widely available for textile digital printing, and many of its competitors can deliver a zero discharge process, but it seems that Intech is the only one to keep a soft fabric feel, a very important detail that, most of the time, is suppressed in magazines about the subject. "You saw it [a pair of silk trousers printed to look like denim]. It's soft, right? Amazing. Very cool. Very comfortable. You felt as if you'd wear silk jeans, I know you'd wear that. You'd want to, you'd be curious to try that". And who wouldn't? "You still have the softness of the fabric, you have the colour strength, the detail, no crocking; everything is all there".
A "jeans" made of silk: print anything on fabrics. Here, both the denim fabric and the finishing processes (the washed denim look and the embroidery) are printed. You have to touch it to believe it! Credit: Lilian Marino
From Idea to Sewing: Intech's Advantages for Fashion Designers
Intech's Nature's Dye™ technology help fashion designers or fashion brands in many ways -- from optimising sustainability to offering a database of ready-to-cut patterns. Which one would be best for you?
- print any design in a wide range of fabrics: Intech is the ultimate digital printing solution -- illustrations and photos (anything: personal photos, stock photos) are printed with a high level of detail in many types of fabrics: natural, such as cotton, linen, and silk, and man-made cellulosic, like modal, Tencel, rayon, viscose, etc. They also print on some types of polyester fabrics, although they recommend avoiding this fabric, as it's part of microfibre pollution. It´s possible to print on white PDF (prepared for dyeing), woven, knit and stretch fabrics.
Details and colours: nothing is compromised! You can choose to print illustrations or photos. High-quality print is maintained in many types of fabrics like cotton, Tencel, silk, and much more. Credit: courtesy of Intech
- digital patterns: basic T-shirts, shirts, trousers… With Intech, you don't have to create anything from scratch -- basic garment designs are also available online, just add your own print design. So, beyond the print designs, you can print garment patterns as a cut and sew process, eliminating the process of pattern creation.
- print the pattern panels: with the possibility of printing the pattern panels as well, the whole process is even more sustainable, as the panels are digitally optimised to lessen the waste of off-cuts.
Make zero discharge printing even more sustainable by printing pattern panels for cut and sew, reducing fabric waste and eliminating some of the processes in garment production. There are no limitations to explore your creativity: add illustrations or photos, or even reproduce specific fabric textures, like washed denim. Credit: courtesy of Intech
- customers can submit their design online, and the process of print on-demand takes between 24h and 48h with no minimum order quantity (MOQ).
- the fabric is your choice (or be creative with the prints): Intech is not a fabric mill, they have textile partners to suggest or the fashion designer or fashion brand can provide their own chosen textiles. This is an amazing opportunity to be creative, following the example of Intech's denim printed silk "jeans". If a specific fabric cannot be purchased, either by price or limited resources in the production, designers and even people who don’t work in this field can reproduce fabric textures, the fabric looks, embroideries and so on by printing them. If you need to finish a garment, but have some limitations -- if you don’t have specific sewing machines, or either can’t handle or don’t have expertise in the washing/finishing process, etc. -- Intech's technology will make sure your vision is fulfilled.
Have a closer look: textures of different types of materials are reproduced with high-quality thanks to the nano-pigment ink technology. Credit: courtesy of Intech
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