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The Soft Advantage

PSPs Succeed with Fabrics

By Kim Crowley

Digital textile printing creates a demand for soft signage in a multitude of industries. It expands its reach further than promotional purposes and extends to interior design in homes, offices, retail spaces, and more. True, printing equipment is responsible for generating the final output, but the appropriate media plays an important role.

In the final installment of our series on digital textile printing we focus on fabric. Textiles are an eco-friendly, conformable, lightweight option available to print service providers (PSPs) looking to expand their capabilities. The vendors mentioned here discuss the benefits of fabric and technologies compatible with their products.

The Wealth of Fabric
PSPs looking to gain a competitive edge in a tough economic climate should look no further than textiles. “If you aren’t currently printing with textiles, then you should consider them. A higher margin is achievable versus the competitive vinyl banner market,” comments Mike Richardson, director of marketing, print media, Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc.

Aurora’s Northern Lights Printable Textiles include fabrics for digital inkjet solvent, UV-curable, dye-sublimation (dye-sub) transfer, dye-sub direct, screenprinting, and offset litho printing, with 27 different weave styles in various combinations from cotton and blends to polyester.

Stan Szpilka, director of East Coast sales, Dazian Fabrics, believes printing on textiles becomes easier as technologies advance. He notes new and expanding markets such as theater backdrops, ceilings, backlit displays, and custom semi-permanent murals. “It’s more cost-effective to change the look of a hotel lobby or atrium by changing out printed fabric panels than to change a hard wall or other permanent fixtures,” shares Szpilka.

Dazian offers solvent and dye-sub printable fabrics. New versions of Dazian’s Trapeze line of stretchable fabrics—Trapeze ES and Trapeze5—are designed for dye-sub printing and contain balanced and controllable stretch and recovery characteristics.

Fabrics offer many advantages over traditional media. For example, they stretch and conform to different shapes, allowing for innovative, customized solutions. “They are lightweight, environmentally friendly, simple to mount, and suitable for outdoor and indoor use,” states Jarry Jin, manager of new product development, Soyang Technologies Co., Ltd. The company manufactures coated polyester textiles compatible with dye-sub transfer, direct dye-sub, UV printing, and solvent printing. Textiles include DY-STRETCH, which features elasticity; DY-FALG19 satin; and the light DY-FALG350.

Portability is another advantage of printing on textiles. Textiles are lighter in weight than vinyl, which keeps shipping costs down. “Fabric is easily packed and folded into bags or boxes for shipment,” says Szpilka. The lighter weight makes the material a “green” choice, since less energy is used in transportation.

Textiles bring a rich, high-quality look to applications such as signs and trade show graphics. “Fabrics feature a better touch, feel, and look, which many customers prefer over PVC,” comments Ulrich Tombuelt, executive VP, IBENA Inc. IBENA manufactures cotton and polyester fabrics up to 197 inches in width for dye-sub transfer, direct dye-sub, and digital printing. The company recently introduced suede for direct dye-sub, available in 60 and 98 inches.

“This type of media connects with the viewer on an emotional level. The texture helps create a deeper psychological connection and this helps advertisers with their goal of gaining and holding the attention of the viewer,” explains Andreas DeGroot, senior product manager, inkjet media, Neschen Americas.

Neschen offers a wide variety of textiles for solvent, UV-curable printing, as well as direct to print and standard transfer dye-sub. The company recently introduced the Pure Color textile line. “The key attributes of these substrates are superior color and ease of printing without a heavy ink-receptive coating that takes away from the natural feel of a textile,” says DeGroot. Products include Golden Gate Fabric, VersaFabric, Monet Canvas, Mambo Fabric, and Calypso Breeze Satin.

Pabric Inkjet Printable Fabric offers coated polyester textiles, which are compatible with dye or pigment inks. Pabric Soft is a light and pliable option for sewing and fabric art, Pabric Art is a cardstock-like fabric for art and design, and Pabric Sticker is adhesive-backed fabric for medium tack binding purposes.

“We use nanotechnology in the manufacturing process. A three-layered fabric construction creates three-dimensional printed images with high saturation and vibrant colors. We also offer fabric in different weights. The lighter and pliable products are mainly for tablecloth and fabric designs. Slightly heavier fabrics are widely used in advertising banners, art reproduction, wallpaper, and lamp shade designs,” shares Ting Hsiao, sales and marketing manager, Pabric.

Fisher Textiles Inc.’s GF 600 Poly Duck for sublimation and UV printing has a rugged canvas look with a tremendous amount of outdoor durability, according to Jeff Cheatham, director of sales, Fisher Textiles. “It is a great fabric for roll up banner stands,” he adds.

The company also offers polyester fabrics for dye-sub and UV printing which feature optical brighteners and are prepared for extremely high temperatures. Many of Fisher Textiles’ fabrics are equipped with specialty coatings for direct digital printing—depending on the ink technology. The company ultrasonically slits fabric edges to eliminate fraying and head strikes.

Demand Based on Technology
It is important to note that not every type of fabric is compatible with every textile printing technology. All fabrics are not the same, nor are their coatings, cautions Michael Sanders, VP, Pacific Coast Fabrics. “When dealing with digital fabrics, if you put more into the front end—fabric quality and coating—you save more on the back end. It all comes down to what you start with. All dyes are not the same. All machinery is different,” he explains.

As far as technology goes, Cheatham notes an increase in demand for digitally printed fabrics. “More small- and mid-sized shops are getting into this type of printing because of the lower cost of entry into the market. The printers are less expensive and take up less space,” he says.

Meanwhile, Szpilka sees more demand for dye-sub. “With dye-sub, quality of print is better and the cost per square foot is less expensive,” he says. Plus, novelty products like gauzes, meshes, and sheers can easily be printed with transfer paper in the dye-sub process.

The transfer process requires a sublimation transfer paper. SpectraJet is one supplier whose transfer papers are fully manufactured in the U.S. SpectraJet’s five-meter SilverBack transfer operates efficiently with solvent-, oil-, and water-based dye-sub dyes. This product eliminates the need for a large transfer paper inventory; reducing the various papers required for each dye. It is available in widths of up to 198 inches.

Green Weave
Environmental benefits are a large reason for digital textile printing’s growth. “Textiles themselves are a very green solution. They’re lightweight and durable. They reduce the amount of materials and labor required in sign making. In and of themselves they stand alone as a green solution,” says RJ Sullivan, product manager, EFI VUTEk.

Media manufacturers are taking note of the growing concern surrounding the environment. Many address the issue with wider selections of eco-friendly materials, recycled content, and recyclability.

“Green has many different meanings to date,” notes Sanders. “For instance, is the manufacturing plant processing the fabric using the correct, environmentally friendly labor practices? How is the waste being deposed of?”

Sanders says that all products from Pacific Coast are 100 percent recyclable and manufactured in such a way to provide the least environmental impact. New FLBS coatings are available from Pacific Coast and create a fabric that requires no post washing for dye-sub direct printing. This saves time, washing equipment expense, and space for equipment, and reduces waste as well as water and electricity usage.

Dazian Fabrics offers eco-friendly fabrics constructed of recycled polyester—Eco Celtic, Eco Janus, Eco Trapeze, Eco Micron Mesh, and Eco Grid Mesh to name a few.

All of Aurora’s fabric coatings are water-based, thus gentler on the environment. The company’s Weaves of Green line of recycled fabrics is made from 100 percent post-consumer polyester taken from clear plastic drink bottles. The recently expanded line includes Act II—a 7.5-ounce plain weave fabric, and RePlay2—a 4.6-ounce poplin weave. Both options are offered in a flame retardant (FR) and non-FR version in 60- and 120-inch widths and compatible with digital UV-curable, dye-sub transfer, and dye-sub direct printers.

“We have a program that allows the PSP or consumer to return scrap or printed graphics to us, which are then made into other products such as carpet padding and filler insulation,” explains Richardson.

Fisher Textiles also supplies green fabrics under its Enviro-Tex fabric line. The company’s Enviro-Tex ET 9496 Heavy Knit is made with recycled yarns. The fabric is an eco-friendly version of GF 4480 Heavy Knit, one of the company’s most popular fabrics. ET 9496 Heavy Knit is 44 percent Repreve polyester and 55 percent polyester.

Waste is a concern for print shops, especially as they strive to be more environmentally conscious. “We are as green as they come,” says Guy Spinelli, president, SpectraJet. SpectraJet’s sublimation transfer paper, among others, is recyclable after fabric transfer.

A Textile Evolution
As both hardware and media vendors continue to supply a demanding customer base with eco-friendly, versatile solutions, digital textile printing will continue to flourish. The ability to create customized fabric prints on demand is equally appealing to PSPs and creative professionals. Both can morph their innovative ideas into reality thanks in part to the advancements of digital printing.

Whether you are looking for a dye-sub direct, dye-sub transfer, or direct digitally printed fabric solution, know that there are fabrics suited for any device. All provide the opportunity to expand into a growing market that is quickly becoming a phenomenon.

If you missed the two previous installments of our series on digital textile printing, visit www.digitaloutput.net and search keyword "textiles."

Sep2009, Digital Output

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