Jointly developed by Epson and Italy's Robustelli, the Monna Lisa inkjet textile printer uses a type of staining technique to print designs onto fabrics. Decorated with complex, vivid patterns, strips of smooth silk approximately one metre in width emerge rapidly from the printer. These fabrics are then processed into items such as clothing, ties and scarfs by apparel makers, and are sold to customers.
The printer is capable of printing directly onto cotton, linen, wool, nylon and polyester. Epson's belief in the potential of textile printing is based around a shift in the industry from analog to digital techniques. While traditional analogue printing techniques require plates to be pressed against the fabric, digital techniques mean that fabric can be printed out without the need for expensive plates. This ensures that digital textile printing can be achieved at lower cost and in shorter times.
Epson first entered this market back in 2003 when it jointly developed with Robustelli, a leading Italian manufacturer of printing machines, a digital textile printer based on Epson's proprietary Micro Piezo inkjet technology
The Monna Lisa, which is sold under the Robustelli brand, is now driving the digital textile industry in Italy. According to Epson's research, more than 60% of the items printed on high-productivity textile printers in Italy in 2010 were printed on the Monna Lisa. With the delicate colour gradations and vivid reproduction of colours you'd expect from inkjet, the Monna Lisa answers the needs of luxury fashion brands and their strict quality standards. This, combined with exceptional productivity of approximately 100 m2 an hour, has ensured that the textile printer has earned high praise from fashion industry insiders.
The Italian textile printing industry has succeeded in reviving itself by concentrating on producing high quality items using digital textile printing. On the other hand, Japanese textile printers have suffered as business has gone overseas to China and other countries, with the volume of textiles printed in Japan declining from more than 300 million m2 printed in 2005 to 200 million m2 in 2010. The reluctance of the industry to adopt digital techniques and the lack of a suitable digital business model has meant that digital textile printing only accounts for a small percentage of the market.
As it did in Italy, Epson believes that digital textile printing can contribute to the revival of the textile industry in Japan. The company therefore in July 2011 established the Epson Kyoto Digital Textile Centre, which includes a showroom for the Monna Lisa, and sales and customer support functions. Kyoto was selected not simply because it is a traditional centre for the textile industry in Japan, but for its ready access to the many related companies in the surrounding regions. Epson has identified three purposes for the Epson Kyoto Digital Textile Centre, namely: 1. Sales and support for Monna Lisa, 2. Providing information about the culture and characteristics of digital printing to the industry, and 3. Establishing a new business model for digital textile printing.
Going forward, Epson aims to take advantage of the expertise it has gleaned in Italy, and will work with Japanese designers, apparel makers, and Kyoto municipal authorities to contribute to the Japanese textile industry.