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The Hype about Hybrid

A look at how hybrid breaks the barrier between digital and screen to create its own category.

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THERE IS A LOT of commotion around the term “Hybrid” right now, enough that it can be confusing as to what it means. If you are driving you will see the emblem “Hybrid” on cars everywhere, and there are “Hybrid” motor drives, and even “Hybrid” business models. In the case of decorated apparel, there is now a rising demand for Hybrid printing.

WHAT IS HYBRID?

Hybrid printing on apparel is the merging of traditional screen printing and modern digital printing in an effort to maximize the advantages of both, while avoiding some of their challenges.

To successfully create Hybrid prints you will need a large automated screen printing press (typically 16 or more stations is recommended) and a Hybrid printer that will be attached to the press (see Figure 1). Different Hybrid printers have a variety of options, the most popular tend to be CMYK and are able to rapidly print the entire shirt area at high speed without having to index like smaller DTG printers. To accomplish a faster digital printing step, the larger industrial hybrid printers utilize many printing heads that operate all at the same time to cover the entire printing area.
The steps to execute a Hybrid print are as follows: the garment is loaded on the press and it is screen printed with an HSA (high solid acrylic) white or clear base that covers the full area to be printed. This underbase is then flashed and depending on the fabric and the process a pre-digital second white or clear is overprinted. The garment is then indexed under the digital printer and the CMYK ink is imaged on top of the screen printed area. A final tie coat can then be printed after flashing for durability and the garment is then unloaded and run through a gas dryer for approximately three to four minutes to be fully cured.

As Hybrid printing has gained in popularity, and more ink companies are now producing compatible products, there are many options that can modify the amount of screens, flashes, and steps in the process depending if additional spot colors or special effects will be used.

Figure 1

SO WHY ALL THE HYPE?

Now that Hybrid printing has become established in the decorated apparel industry there have been some recent trends that have accelerated it’s popularity to reach printers and market segments that were previously not considering it. These trends in particular have caused significant commotion in the traditional screen printing industry because printers have started to consider three points of Hybrid that weren’t apparent before: the savings in setups is greater than data suggests, the ability to print on different fabric types in digital quality with no pretreat is a niche advantage, and customers small and large are starting to specifically ask for Hybrid printed garments.

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HYBRID SAVINGS

Companies that run Hybrid prints every day are now saying they will never go back because the speed to which they can go to press with complicated prints is so much less that they can run multiple jobs in the time that it would normally take to set up a high end, simulated process screen print. “We just purchased our second Hybrid printer because the first one is completely booked,” says Pete Bolsoni, owner of Same Day Tees in Illinois. “In the past we would only get one or two jobs a day of simulated process screen printing, but we can now fit many more into the schedule so now our customers are requesting it.”

The savings in not having to set up 10-14 colors on traditional screen printing is hard to estimate because of all of the little steps. An example print for a fishing tournament would take at least 12-14 colors to screen print. Just handling all those screens and inks takes multiple steps, employees, and advanced skills in everything from separations, ink mixing, screen making, to press setup, and pressure-sensitive halftone printing at a high level. When this is compared to the typical setup of a hybrid printing job, the majority of these challenges are either minimized or eliminated altogether.

A busy Hybrid printer owner, Kennith Smith, from DFW Ink in Texas says, “After we installed and got rolling with our Hybrid, we were able to set up and finish fast enough we avoided an entire extra shift!”

HYBRID FLEXIBILITY

One of the more underrated capabilities of Hybrid printing systems is that it is completely normal to print all different types of fabrics and garments without concern. Unlike other digital printing systems that may have challenges with 100 percent polyester garments or tri-blends, the Hybrid print works well on the vast majority of screen printable items. Since the underbase is screen printed using HSA inks, there is no need for pre-treatment or additional components to aid in adhesion to polyester or blended fabrics, and the digital print is sealed with a top coat to the surface of the screen print for extra durability.

Sean Kirkpatrick, owner of Integritiees in Texas says, “Being able to print on polyester was critical to me for satisfying my detail-oriented customers, and with Hybrid I was able to avoid pre-treatment, and print at the higher volumes I needed.”

Being able to print different fabric types during the same print run, and avoiding pre-treatment can also be an advantage for printers who run smaller and smaller jobs for promotional companies, advertising specialties, or discerning boutique brands that want unique garments that can’t be easily printed with all digital printers. The added flexibility of Hybrid also makes the printing style appealing for screen printers who may focus on athletic or performance apparel and have difficulty printing on these items with a lot of colors, and higher detail images.

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Why Hybrid Printing on Decorated Apparel Is Gaining in Popularity

HYBRID REQUESTS

The word is spreading about Hybrid printing and more and more brands, organizations, and retailers are starting to have customers that are looking for the Hybrid combination of full color, digital quality printing, with screen printing durability. Although it isn’t clear exactly why some customers have started to insist that their orders be printed using a Hybrid printing process, others are easier to figure out. “We had a long time customer that compared our printed samples to what they were getting from another supplier and the details and color matching of the hybrid print were so much better they told us we have to always use hybrid on their orders,” says Bolsoni.

Larger brands that are sold nationwide are also starting to utilize and adopt Hybrid printing. There is an uptick in demand for printers that can assist these larger brands with outsourcing and support during busy seasons and being a Hybrid printer is rapidly becoming a sought after capability for hot market style opportunities and peak retail seasons. One of the largest reasons, of course, that Hybrid caught the attention of larger brands is that it can print at speeds of up to 400 pieces per hour with full-color, high resolution images.

JOINING THE HYBRID CROWD

It is easier than ever for a screen printer to become a Hybrid printer and the industry is actively looking for candidates to join the crowd of visionaries that will push this style of printing forward. The obvious advantages of Hybrid printing, things such as minimal ink cost, dramatically reduced setups, and printing on a wide variety of fabrics with high-value, digital quality images aren’t the only Hype that Hybrid printing offers. Many printers are now finding that the demand is pushing the customers to call them before they even want a quote and ask, “Do you offer Hybrid printing in your shop?”

Thomas Trimingham has been helping screen printers for more than 25 years as an industry consultant, artist, and high-end separator, and author of more than 175 articles. He currently is the director of marketing for M&R Printing Equipment. For more information or to comment on this article, email Thomas at [email protected]

SPONSORED VIDEO

Watch Jay Busselle, Adrienne Palmer, and Jeremy Picker dive deep into DTG printing data, popular styles, and opportunities.

Apparel Decoration Trends for 2021 Part Two

Jay Busselle, marketing director, Equipment Zone, interviews two experts in apparel decoration trends: Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief of Screen Printing magazine, and Jeremy Picker, creative director and CEO of AMB3R Creative and Screen Printing Editorial Advisory Board member. Both share their insights on decoration trends, apparel styles, and some powerful data for DTG printing. Plus, Picker gives an exclusive look at his 2021 trend report. This is a follow-up webinar to Equipment Zone’s DTG Training Academy virtual event.

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