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There are 4 subjects you will need to explore when choosing the right printer. We will take a look at the Brand, the Inks, the Project and the Fabric. In this order lets first take a good look at the brand. The Brand We will take a look at the 3 most popular printer companies for fabric printing, Canon, Hewlett Packard and Epson. It is important to note that I chose these printers based on the thousands of emails implicating the type of printers you most commonly use. In comparison, Hewlett Packard is the giant of the three and more than 70% of our customers are Hewlett Packard Customers. However, for this article, size is not important but performance is the major concern.
     The first criteria you should look at is paper jams or fabric jams. Most printer companies and customers look for the best fabric with the least amount of paper jams. You should pay close attention on how fabric is fed through the printer. The Epson and Canon printer share a feed process that we will call top load feeders. While Hewlett Packard use what we will call a bottom load feeder. In most cases the top load feeders are less likely to create a paper jam because fabric has a straight feed from beginning to end. This is not the case with the Hewlett Packard bottom load feeders. You must put your fabric in a tray at the base of the printer. Once printing begins, the fabric is wrapped around a series of rollers and pulled around to the front of the printer before printing begins. The problems occurs because the fabric begins to bend around the rollers and slightly move away from it's paper backing. As a result, you have just experienced your first paper jam. Now don't get discouraged because all top load feeders are not created equal. The Canon creates a much better top load feeder than Epson because some one took the time to create a roller system to pull the fabric gently without creating wrinkles or creases. One simple solution to prevent fabric jams is to make sure the edges of the fabric is pressed to the paper backing before printing. We took this thought in mind when we created the Miracle Fabric Sheets. If you accidentally pulled the paper backing away from the fabric simply take a house hold iron and re-adhere it to the fabric. You want to make sure the edges are sealed and regardless of what printer you are using, you should achieve good results. Therefore, on paper jams- Cannon gets top vote, Epson 2nd and Hewlett Packard rounds out 3rd.
     Now lets move on to print heads to determine who is our superior brand. Let's start with Canon printers. Ultrahigh Density Print Heads for Superb Resolution is the claim for Canon print heads The print head is the key component of Canon's Bubble Jet printers. To increase output resolution, it is necessary to raise the density of nozzles in the print head by reducing nozzle size. In the BJ F850, for example, they applied ultrahigh precision processing technologies derived from semiconductor production processes to lay two lines of 600 dpi nozzles, separated by a half pitch, resulting in a print head with 256 nozzles per color and an impressive 1200-dpi resolution. Moreover, by positioning the 256 nozzles of each of the print head's six colors in parallel rows, they were able to incorporate an incredible 1,536 nozzles, meaning that 1200-dpi resolution, or the output of more than 1.44 million dots per square inch, is possible with a single pass of the print head. Furthermore, the bi-directional printing action of our multiple nozzle head provides users with photo quality images at high speeds. A postcard size photograph, for example, prints in about a minute, while a letter size image takes around two minutes. Basically, it prints pretty good. Now lets see what Epson has to say about their print heads. Epson's newest mainstream ink jets have black print heads with 128 nozzles and color print heads with 192 nozzles (64 for each color), addressing a native resolution of 720 by 720 dpi. Because the Piezo process can deliver small and perfectly formed dots with extreme accuracy, Epson is able to offer an enhanced resolution of 1440 by 720 dpi (although this is achieved by the print head making two passes, with a consequent reduction in print speed). The inks that Epson has developed for use with its Piezo technology are solvent based and extremely quick drying. They penetrate the fabric and maintain their shape rather than spreading out on the surface and causing dots to interact with one another. Basically, it usually prints slightly better than Canon printers. Hewlett Packard Print heads uses a thermal technology. However, I am going to avoid getting very technical with HP print heads because they have done something so unique in the print head world details are not necessary. Someone in their company made the conscious decision to mount the print heads on the cartridges. I must admit this idea is nothing short of a miracle. Replacing a print head will cost hundreds of dollars and in most cases it is more expensive than the entire printer. However, every time you purchase a new HP ink cartridge you get a new print head made on each cartridge. This holds true for most of there small desk jet printers. If you have owned a Epson or Canon printer then you have wasted some portion of your ink trying to clean the print heads. For this small detail I must say HP print heads are superior for printing on fabric.
     Finally we must take a quick look at customer service and the ability to get answers on printing on fabric from each company. Basically Hewlett Packard is the only company of the three that has invested time and money on creating web sites, training agents and trade shows to explain the process of printing on fabric. As a result, the brand that stands out on these 3 criteria's is Hewlett Packard Hands down. Now don't put your pen and paper down yet because the next topic is The Ink Jet Inks! Will will not get to technical on types of inks each printer company use. However, we will focus on the fact that each company has patented their inks for the best performance in their printer. So lets keep this section short and simple and focus on how bright are the inks, how permanent will the inks become and clarity or sharpness of each printer ink. I am going to keep this simple because the gamut ratings and permanency percentages are not comparable for each company. So we will use the Quilter's simple rule of thumb. Which one looks the best?
     In most cases HP has the brightness ink with Canon and Epson rounding out with a equal second. However, when talking about permanency rates the Canon printers achieve a higher permanency rate, while Epson rounds out 2nd place and the HP ends up with 3rd. Finally, HP wins once again on clarity and sharpness and Epson nudges Canon for second place. So far I am sure Hewlett Packard seems to be the superior choice based on the topics we have chosen. However, this next topic will change your thoughts on what you think the best printer is. Lets look at the projects we are making. It seems as if this should not matter but this may be the most important topic. We will look at 3 different projects because they will determine how you print them and how you care for them. The Project We take a first look at Quilts. Most memory quilts are created with family photos with a average square somewhere around 6 X 6 square. Quilts are unique because they are used often and will be washed often. So which printer works best for making that lovely quilt. We know Hewlett Packard has the brightness inks, and Epson has the light fast archival Inks but Canon wins the war on permanency. Their inks respond very well to creating permanent images but I will say that Hewlett Packard Printers are very very close because of their bright colors. So in this category I would like to rate HP and Canon as tie. Basically these 2 printers score very well for making products that will go in the washing machine. It is also important to note that each washing will cause the images to fade such as any clothing item. We recommend using a mild detergent like a woolite or the Bubble Jet Rinse when washing your quilt. Some quilters prefer to dry clean their items but it is important to know that these images will not last forever.
     Next, lets look at Neckties and Hand Bags. We chose these 2 items because they are not usually washed but will experience a lot of abrasion. A necktie is pulled and rubbed against other fabrics with extensive stress. Also, the hand bag is treated in same way and is constantly outdoors and exposed to natural elements. There is no question about this topic that HP printers are the best for this type of environment. HP printers combine the use of pigment and dye base inks in most of their printers. This creates a unique durability when dealing with abrasion or crocking. You may have guess the EPSON printers would be better but their inks does not take the abrasion very well. As a result, ink will transfer onto your clothes if you pick the EPSON printer. Also, UV properties are not that important because these items will not be left out in the sun and it is not exposed to UV light long enough to fade out the image.
     Finally, we will look at Wall Hangings. This project represents items that will never be washed and most likely will not be handled that often. The EPSON archival inks win hands down with this type of project. Your common threat in this situation is the exposure to UV and florescent light. Their archival ink claims to give the life of 80 years on paper. With fabric having similar properties we hope or expect no less than 60 years. It is important to note that if you use any other printer for this project it is most likely to fade within the 1st year. The Media Last but not least we will speak on the type of fabric and chemical media that is best used for your project. Basically you have 2 choices of media to choose from. There are many different fabric sheets out there but there is only one Bubble Jet Set 2000 fabric treatment.. There are few fabric sheets that I feel does a pretty good all around job for Ink Jet printing. Color Textiles, Printed Treasures, June Taylor and our Miracle Fabric Sheets are my favorites. Generally, they will work on all types of inks and all have a high thread count. The Miracle Fabric Sheets are the only fabric in the world you can heat set with a iron. In addition, it is the only one that can make claim to 99% of ink permanency to the fabric. The Miracle Fabric Sheets are unique and is superior to other products including the Bubble Jet Set 2000. It will reduce the crocking problem on pigment ink and it will bond to dye base inks at almost 100% permanency. In addition, the fabric works like high resolution paper to give you a brighter look while maintaining its soft image. I would say that the Miracle Fabric Sheet is the best all around fabric for any project you choose. However, the group of fabric I chose is an excellent choice as well.. So make sure you look at the chart below to rate your product quality and performance. The Bubble Jet Set 2000 is the only chemical treatment in the world that allows you to treat your own fabric. This is a great advantage because the cost per sheet is reduced greatly and your not limited to one type of fabric. However, the Bubble Jet Set will not have much effect on pigment inks. In Conclusion it is hard to determine which printer company produces the best printer for fabric ink jet printing. Therefore, I will allow you to decide which printer is best for your project. So good luck and have fun on your next project. You may also email me suggestion for our next issue and I will be excepting invitations to different quilt guilds around the country Written by Jerome Jenkins, Senior Vice President for Jerome's Column email: