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ApplicationsNovember 2, 2023

Digital Transfer or UV Bag Printing: Which is the Better Choice?

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XJET Switch UV Flatbed Printer for Bags and Hardgoods- side

Each year, Americans are responsible for using hundreds of billions of plastic bags. Recently, the implementation of single-use plastic bans and taxes on bags has led to a surge in demand for reusable bags. The types of reusable bags that stores are gravitating towards vary greatly. They can either be heavy-duty plastic intended to outlast single-use bags by hundreds of uses or made of materials like canvas, non-woven fabrics, or polyester. However, the options do not end there, as new types of reusable bags are springing up regularly. According to Fortune Business Insights, jute and hemp bags are expected to gain popularity. These materials are not only stronger but also sought after by high-end brands for luxury handbags. 

As we incorporate more reusable bags into our daily lives, people are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of different options, such as cotton totes. While studies to date have been inconclusive, no matter which bag you opt for, the longer you can use and reuse it, the better. 

Digital Transfer Process on Tote Bags 

One way to personalize a reusable tote bag is by using a heat press machine. This method allows you to achieve single or full-color prints on a wide variety of bags that can withstand heat. The process involves using two platens, which resemble a press with one on top of the other, along with transfer paper. The upper platen applies both pressure and heat when it encounters the lower platen, which holds the bag flat and firm. 

Heat presses themselves are relatively straightforward machines to operate. However, there are three main types of heat transfers to choose from: heat transfer vinyl, sublimation transfers, and screen-printed transfers. That is where the big decision lies.  

Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)  

One of the most popular choices for heat transfer is vinyl. This process requires an additional machine, a cutter, as vinyl can be purchased in rolls and differs from the other two types of transfers by not using inks. Instead, it lays down a fine layer of vinyl. 

HTV, or Heat Transfer Vinyl, is a specialty polyurethane with a polyester-based heat-activated adhesive that adheres to a variety of fabrics and materials. It is available in single colors, full-color patterns, and printable versions used in tandem with solvent ink and a solvent printer. Yet, if one does not have a solvent printer, HTV is limited in the number of colors it can produce. This process could also require an additional step called weeding, which involves removing excess materials with a hook or tweezers. 

Plastisol Transfer (Screen Printed Transfer)  

To use plastisol transfers, one must first prepare and create the transfer itself before proceeding with the heat/pressure transfer step. Plastisol transfers involve screen-printing designs onto transfer paper. This process shares similarities with traditional screen-printing and thus requires additional consumables such as emulsion, squeegee, plastisol ink, screen, frame, and plastisol transfer powder, among others. 

To begin, ensure that your artwork is printed in reverse. The ink squeegeed through the stencil should be half-cured, with the final curing happening once the image is transferred to the substrate. This process ensures the same durability and results as traditional screen-printed products. 

Sublimation Transfers  

For those seeking a soft touch property for their decorated reusable bag, sublimation is an ideal choice. This method involves converting inks into gas, allowing the ink to become a part of the substrate. Sublimation can achieve full-color artwork, but for the best results, it can only be used on 100% white polyester (as well as some pale pastel colors). However, achieving sublimation transfers on dark substrates has seen little to no success. 

Summary of Three Transfers Available  

The three options for transfers—heat transfer vinyl, sublimation transfers, and screen-printed transfers—all have different benefits and limitations. However, all of these transfers involve multiple steps, create excess waste, and in some cases (plastisol) contain harmful chemicals. Additionally, auxiliary machines, like cutters and dryers, are necessary, which increases the overall price tag of the process. 

Heat transfers are an ideal option for printing one-offs and low volume runs. For runs requiring high-quality output, this process would be both tedious and cumbersome. 

UV Printing on Bags 

An up-and-coming trend for decorating reusable bags involves the use of industrial UV printing machines. These machines allow you to print full-color graphics without the limitations of other comparative methods. With a UV printing machine, you can digitally decorate a wide variety of bag types, including polyester, nylon, vinyl, PVC, leather, canvas, cotton, and more. Among the different types of digital printers, UV flatbed printers are the best fit for decorating bags, as they are specifically designed for flat substrates. 

Digital UV printers utilize UV lamps and UV ink, with the lamps housed within the unit. The UV inks are tailored to suit specific substrates. For decorating reusable bags, the XFLEXX UV ink series is an excellent choice, as it specializes in printing flexible substrates and can withstand the motion and flexing of the bags. This ink series is available in Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, White, and Vivid White. 

The XJET Switch Direct-to-Bag Printer 

The XJET Switch is the first of its kind, offering both speed and flexibility. To get started, you’ll need the XJET Switch machine, UV ink, and some maintenance items. With two white heads, the XJET Switch can achieve the vibrancy of white on fabric that was previously only possible with screen printing. However, unlike screen printing or any digital transfer process, the XJET Switch doesn’t generate excess waste, as the UV ink is directly jetted onto the substrate and instantly cured with UV light. This eliminates the need for additional machines, such as a dryer. 

You can produce full-color CMYKWW (highly opaque white) images on reusable bags, totes, and even a variety of hard goods using the XJET Switch. The machine features four rotating platens, configured two-up, allowing you to simultaneously load and unload during the printing process. While the XJET Switch prints on the back two platens, the machine operator can load the next two bags. Safety features, like the light curtain, ensure that the operator is protected during the printing process. If the light curtain is broken while the platens are rotating, the machine will cease motion. 

Designed specifically for 3-shift production, the XJET Switch is equipped with cutting-edge functionalities, including automated purging, wiping, and capping, a recirculating system for white ink, servo control indexer, two 16-watt adjustable UV lamps, and numerous other features to ensure top-quality prints.  

Get Started Today 

To learn more about adding the XJET Switch to your production floor, contact us today. As a reminder, Inkcups customers gain access to a wealth of knowledge digitally stored on the Support Hub. This includes Site Prep Documentation, Manuals, Standard Operating Procedures, and other vital information, accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Additionally, based on customer requests, we have included how-to guides and technical solutions for your convenience. 

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