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Inkjet printing of e-textiles shows promise

What's New? | November 22, 2021 | By:

The number of print passes and drop spacing impacts the nature of the coverage when using an inkjet printing process to create e-textiles. Photo: NC State University. 

E-textiles were a prominent topic at IFAI Expo’s Advanced Textiles Conference in Nashville, and as they slowly but surely move into a more mainstream position in the world of advanced textiles, different methods for creating an e-textile have been developed and are currently being researched. 

The two main processing strategies to make e-textiles are using conductive fibers or putting a conductive coating on a fabric. Prof. Jesse S. Jur, N.C. State University and director of ecosystem technology with AFFOA, explained his research in a newer approach: using inkjet printing to apply a conductive coating on a textile. 

This process has one big advantage, and that is the ability to do patterning in order to coat a fabric exactly right, Jur says. But with multiple variables, it’s a complex process. For example, print heads can clog, and replacing them is expensive. The ink behaves differently on different substrates, so finding the right ink for a substrate, and fine-tuning the method is a meticulous process. “The big thing is droplet spacing,” he says. 

His research team has been working specifically on strategies to control ink penetration and improve ink utilization to optimize conductivity patterns on textiles, specifically knits and wovens. Although process control (such as the number of print passes), conformity of the ink deposition and adhesion have been challenges, it has been worth the effort as promising outcomes are emerging. 

The team is working on layering, learning from conductive film successes. The multi-layer structures they’re doing are the most impactful in their current research, Jur says. “And to access all this work in the flexible film world and convert it into the textile world.” 

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