Historically viewed as a rigid and brittle material, PLA has been finding its way mainly in packaging or as mulch films & textile fibres. PLA is now poised to expand its role thanks to groundbreaking research by Centexbel. Initiated over half a decade ago, this long-term project aimed to transform PLA into a flexible and washable ink, suitable for the fashion industry.

Centexbel’s extensive R&D efforts led to the identification of various techniques to morph PLA into processable inks. Among the tested methods, “dispersions” emerged as the most viable option. These dispersions comprise a specialized mix of PLA, plasticizer for added flexibility, water, and targeted processing additives. Once printed onto fabric and subjected to a controlled heating process, the water evaporates, enabling the PLA and plasticizer to fuse seamlessly. The result? A homogeneous, wash-resistant print.

Further bolstering its appeal, this revolutionary ink formulation maintains a solid content of 40%, offers a cost-effective pricing structure at 4-5 EUR per kilogram, and exhibits compatibility with a wide array of fillers and colorants. Additionally, depending on the choice of plasticizer, the bio-based content can vary between 70% and 100%, highlighting its environmental credentials.

PLA print on viscose fabric after washing 5 times at 30°C

Within the scope of the HEREWEAR project, Centexbel has achieved another milestone. By meticulously selecting the appropriate combination of PLA, plasticizer, and pigment, an ink formulation has been developed that withstands at least 15 domestic wash cycles when applied to viscose or PLA fabrics. This durability metric significantly advances the case for wider adoption of PLA-based inks in the textile industry.

While the majority of the work has been completed, ongoing refinements are currently underway to further enhance the ink’s consistency and color depth.

This breakthrough presents a compelling narrative for the sustainable fashion sector, proving that innovation and sustainability can indeed co-exist. With PLA now positioned as a viable ink for textiles, the future of sustainable fashion appears not just promising but also remarkably vibrant.

Contact person & email address:

  • Willem Uyttendaele – Centexbel (email)