Ron Smart

Combining Craft and Technology at RA Smart

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From its establishment as a textile screen printer over 40 years ago to its position today as possibly the country’s largest digital textile printer, R A Smart, of Macclesfield, UK, has invested continuously in technology.

The company also manufactures its own equipment for both screen and digital printing as well as operating as a reseller for machines, inks (including Kiian Digital inks) and related products. It also prints short-run, high-end fashion and home furnishing, and bespoke designs using both screen and digital technologies.

“Screen printing is an important part of our business but the textile market is rapidly changing, and there is huge potential for growth in digital production,” said Magnus Mighall, Partner, R A Smart. “With digital printing, there are virtually no colour limits. We work with our customers to establish the best options, including ink chemistry, to find the right solution for the design and application. How the ink works with the printheads and textiles is a critical part of this process, and Kiian Digital always takes this into account when developing new products.”

As well as working with established designers, the company has its own team of designers. It also works closely with almost all of the art and design colleges in the UK, helping students to better understand the craft and realise their designs.

Mighall explained, “Working with art and design colleges, we can promote designing for digital printing, which stimulates all aspects of the industry. We want to encourage today’s designers to utilise digital printing technology so that they can understand the benefits and the best way to achieve the desired results.

“We can also show them how working with suppliers like Kiian can benefit their designs,” Mighall said. “We work with them both as a reseller and as a customer, and in both capacities, it has been an excellent partnership.”

Colourful, versatile polyesters

Mighall continued, “As a Kiian Digital customer, we use the company’s Digistar Hi-Pro inks for printing home furnishing and apparel on polyester but the Kiian range of dye sublimation inks is used by our customer base for a wide range of applications, most notably the sportswear and soft signage sectors. The Kiian inks have highly concentrated dyes, which means less ink is needed to deliver the same gamut as other inks. That efficiency is particularly important considering the volumes of sportswear that are printed.”

One of R A Smart’s customers manufactures BMX sportswear garments and has been using Kiian inks for several years. When a recent job that required a particular shade of fluorescent yellow, Mighall proposed that this customer use the new Kiian Hi-Pro fluorescent inks. “The customer was so impressed with the results and the positive response he received from his customers, that he is now switching one of his printers to run the Hi-Pro fluorescent inks,” said Mighall.

Kiian Digital’s Hi-Pro inks have been formulated for industrial applications utilizing the very latest Epson printhead technology for use with light and/or low-coated papers and rigid substrates as well as polyester textiles.

“It’s an enormous market,” he said. “Polyester is no longer the nasty, clingy material that it was in the 1970s. New polyesters are ideal for sportswear because they are light, breathe, and dry quickly if wet. There is now also a wide range of different polyesters available and they are suitable for all sorts of garments, including fashion. The dye sublimation process doesn’t clog the material, so even the vibrant colours Kiian inks deliver don’t inhibit the polyester’s ability to breathe.”

Despite the selection available and its performance characteristics, polyester is not an expensive material and can have environmental advantages, too.

“Demonstrating concern for the environment is important to a lot of designers and brands,” Mighall commented. “There are varieties of polyester textiles that are made from recycled materials like plastic bottles. Not only does this re-use the old bottles, but the reprocessing saves raw materials and energy.”

RA Smart also involves Kiian Digital in helping its own customers find solutions.

“Recently, we were at Kiian’s facility in Como to help one of our customers who wanted to secure a big order that required printing with fluorescent inks,” he said. “Kiian showed them its digital dye sublimation inks and helped trial it for them. The result was that they won the order, and all this happened within a two-week period.

“Having the right printers, materials and inks that work together optimally is essential,” Mighall concluded. “For our polyester printing, Kiian Digital delivers print quality, service and support that enable us to deliver the best results for our customers.”

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