The Evolution of Jet Printing in Carpet Manufacturing
The evolution of jet printing carpet began back in the mid 1980’s. Zimmer, an Austrian company, pioneered the development and built the world’s first carpet jet printer, the Chromojet. New technology in the paper industry led to its development as it operated similar to a paper printer. But instead of printing a piece of paper, this machine could print across a 12 to 13 foot wide carpet roll.
This technology replaced flat screen and rotary printers. These forbearers worked well for their time, but proved inefficient for growth. With flat screen printers, manufacturers made 12 foot wide screens to cover the broad width of the carpet. For color, it only allowed for eight colors per screen. Hospitality carpet manufacturers, like Durkan Industries, would stock up to 10,000 screens to sell custom designs. It was a huge imposition of money and warehouse space.
Once realizing the efficiencies of the Chromojet printer, US manufacturing facilities jumped on board. Bentley Carpets of California bought the first Chromojet printer back in 1994. Soon after, Durkan Industries purchased one in 1996, followed by Queen Carpets in 1998. The machines improved cost efficiency and productivity. The first machines had 128 jets per color with 10 color options and each one was about the size of a pop can. Today, modern machines have 1,280 jets per color, with 12 colors options. Each jet is about the size of a cigarette filter.
Other efficiencies appeared as well. Screen printers used natural based guar gum as a thickener, but the new Chromojet uses a synthetic thickener developed by Dutch company Sybron Tanatex. This decreased particle size which, in turn, prevented plugging of the delicate spray tips. Since the original thickener used kerosene as the primary solvent, its flammability increased insurance regulations. It later changed to a non-flammable, neutral oil-based solvent still used today.
Upon introduction of the Chromojet, they ran at 3 – 4 feet per minute. The flat screen printers took at least 5x longer, making for quite an improvement. Modern machines today run up to 30 feet per minute, making printing on carpet and rugs extremely efficient. With increased line speed, the new machines increased dpi from 16 on the first Chromojet to 25 dpi on new ones. This allows greater definition and broader color ranges.
The Evolution Continues
Innovation isn’t done just yet. Traditionally, nylon is the only substrate for carpet and rug jet printing. Now, according to industry insiders, they’re experimenting with polyester. If it’s successful, it could be a more inexpensive solution. Up until recently, Zimmer manufactured and serviced all jet printers in production. But, now we are beginning to see strong competition from Chinese manufacturers.
There is a strong future for carpet and rug jet printing due to high demand for these customized products only this method provides. From the three original machines in the US, to now 13 jet printers in North America, we’ll continue to see the growth and evolution of this unique process. With competition rising and alternative substrates in R&D, I predict it’s only a matter of time before we see another massive influence to the industry.
Looking for the perfect colors to enhance your jet printed carpets and rugs? Look no further.