Times Square tourists were treated to more than neon signs and costumed characters on Thursday, as members of the U.S. National Synchronized Swimming team helped Epson announce the arrival of its new EcoTank printers by performing in a massive tank of “ink.”
Wearing swimsuits specially designed for the occasion by triathlon apparel brand—and official team sponsor—Triflare, and printed using Epson’s SureColor F-Series dye-sublimation technology, the Olympic hopefuls staged four different routines every hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. as part of the one-day event, called “Swimming in Ink.”
“Traditionally, synchronized swimming suits were made with multiple pieces of fabric,” explained Andrea Robertson, founder and CEO of Triflare. “What we do is we take one fabric and we print on top of it, so the girls essentially perform in what is a one-piece bathing suit. Less seams, less weight. And with dye-sublimation printing, you can get vivid colors that still look vivid when they hit the water; the fabric doesn’t lose the color when it gets wet.”
Tim Check, product manager at Professional Imaging at Epson, agreed. “You don’t have to worry about the chlorine that’s in the pool. The fabric itself is what’s going to deal with that. The ink isn’t going to be bleached out and fade away; it’s part of the polyester,” he said.
That’s because during the printing process, the ink heats up and sublimates straight from a solid into a gas, becoming part of the fabric. “So it’s not like an iron-on transfer; it is part of the material,” he stressed.
The most impressive part: The swimsuits took only 35 seconds each to complete and used roughly $0.20 worth of ink per suit.
First, the Triflare designs were printed on dye-sublimation transfer paper and then heat-pressed onto a four-way stretch fabric. “Once you transfer the print, it’s there for the life of the product,” he said, noting, “We’ve printed dresses the same way and tested them through hundreds of wash cycles, different perspiration testing and types of detergents and alkaline testing, and it’s very resilient, very durable, and the print is good for the life of the garment.”
It’s a huge win for the apparel industry, he said. “Brands don’t want to stockpile a massive amount and then at the end of the season have to put everything off to a clearance sale or some discount store. They want to sell what they have but have just enough. Digital provides a way for people to do that,” he said, adding that it presents American manufacturers with an opportunity to compete with overseas players on everything from cost to turnaround time.
Robertson echoed those sentiments. “It’s making it possible for companies like us to survive.”
Not to mention, it can be more sustainable than regular screen-printing. “If you print on demand, you’re not producing a massive pile of goods that people may not want. You’re producing just enough, just in time, and that can really cut down on a lot of waste,” Check said.