Technology has upended the whole printing industry, including the sector that specializes in printing on garments, and an Israeli company at the forefront of the new environment-friendly processes is spreading the word among newcomers to the industry.

Rosh Ha’ayin-based Kornit Digital Printing, a world leader in modern direct-to-garment printing, sponsored an event with New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where it presented four awards to FIT students who created original textile designs related to the theme of sustainability, using sustainable pigment inks made by Kornit.

Like photocopying, once the job of clunky, messy mimeograph machines, garment printing has undergone a revolution in recent years. Before, designs or texts on T-shirts and sweatshirts were created using a screen printing process. Now, more and more garment manufacturers are going for DTG – direct to garment – printing systems. Kornit, established in 2003, was the first company to apply the principles and methods of digital inkjet printing to garment production, and today it’s the biggest seller of DTG printing systems.

DTG has significant advantages over screen printing, say industry experts. DTG allows the use of multiple colors in a printing run, while screen printing – done by pushing ink through a woven mesh stencil onto fabric – allows for only one color per run. Screen designs are generally simple as well, because the geometrics of the mesh stencils don’t allow for advanced designs, unlike DTG. On the other hand, screen printing is generally cheaper than DTG.

That, too, is changing. Prices of DTG systems have come down steadily over the past decade. Commercial machines are now available for well under $10,000. For new companies that don’t already have screen printing systems, it’s now cheaper to set up shop using a DTG system than a screen printing apparatus, which is more expensive than a printer.

Kornit is also a pioneer in producing non-toxic, water-based inks that can be used for printing. Leftover ink is generally just dumped by many manufacturers using screen printing, and the oil-based ink, along with other chemicals, ends up polluting local water supplies, a number of university studies in the US have shown. In contrast, Kornit says its NeoPigment inks “are safe enough for infants and babies” who often put the colorful designs on bibs and shirts in their mouths.

In order to stress the company’s commitment to “sustainability,” Kornit partnered with FIT, the prestigious New York design school, to run the Sustainable Digital Textile Printing Challenge. For the competition, senior students of the FIT Bachelor of Fine Arts in Textile / Surface Design program created original textile designs related to the theme of sustainability, and printed them out on Kornit equipment. The winning prints were selected Sunday and will be on display at the prestigious Premier Vision printing tech show in New York later this month. The projects included unique purses, carry bags, dresses – and, of course, T-shirts.

“Kornit Digital is always looking for opportunities to cooperate with the future generation of textile designers, and to offer a solution to the challenges faced by the industry today,” said Omer Kulka, director of Kornit’s Wide Format division. “At Kornit, we are committed to developing technology for sustainable textile printing. We believe that young designers will play a key role in sustaining the textile industry and the environment, as they have the ability to challenge the status quo and the way we print on textiles,” he added.