Glasgow School of Art is helping revolutionise the textile industry with a radical fabric-printing method.
The school has just taken charge of state-of-the-art equipment that will expand the horizons of designers and manufacturers as well as research staff and students.
Lindsay Taylor, head of the GSA's department of textiles, said: "Any image you can get on to a computer screen, you can print. You can print images from digital cameras. It's as simple to have 32 million colours as it is to have one, which gives incredibly subtle effects you could never get by other means."
There are just four Stork Amethyst Digital Production Printers in the world, and only one in the United Kingdom. It comes to the college courtesy of a £661,000 research development grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. Shefc has given the GSA the three-year funding for a research centre for digital imaging and prototyping in printed textiles, but once that funding runs out, the centre must raise £500,000 annually to keep it running.
Until now, digital printing has been very expensive and slow in comparison with traditional mass-production printing. But the Stork machine can print 350m of fabric a day.
The machine prints on natural fabrics: cotton, silk, wool, linen, viscose (made of cellulose pulp), and velvet. At present, companies spend huge sums of money on sampling small swatches of fabric, each of which has to be screened separately. There is the additional downside of noxious chemicals to coat and strip the screens, but the GSA technology is green. There is virtually no effluent from the textile inks, which are sprayed at pressure through very fine nozzles.
Creating the high-resolution fabric images will cost between £35 and £50 a metre.
The centre's priorities include exploring the implications of new technology for design, and developing innovative, cost-effective product prototypes for industry.
The GSA academics are likely to provide the innovative thrust, although inspiration is also expected to come from the students.
"The manufacturers from Holland are very interested in seeing what the students do. Students' instincts are to subvert technology and use it for things for which it was not originally designed," Ms Taylor said.
The college anticipates being inundated with applications for its MPhil in design, to be launched in September 2002. This could lead to a boost for entrepreneurship, with graduates setting up their their own manufacturing businesses rather than going into existing companies.
"The Scottish textile industry is so beleaguered, and we can do our bit to start the turnaround," Ms Taylor said.
Because there is no minimum print run, there is likely to be interest from smaller companies, interior designers and even individuals.
"There is a possibility of customising fabric, since it only requires some basic skills in [Adobe]Photoshop. There is a lot of potential for people designing their own fabric, perhaps even putting their summer holiday snaps on it."