Dockside Canvas Company of Harrison Township, MI began 30 years ago by serving the local marine community with canvas boat tops and interiors, upholstery, and embroidery. The business grew into a 20,000 square foot facility with several divisions, due to customer requests for various output.
“The business migrated into displays,” admits Joe Moriconi, GM, Dockside Canvas. “A lot of our clients who own boats are also in the display industry. They bring in other projects for different applications—everything from exhibit work for automotive shows, to fabric ceilings and wall and truss systems.”
Dockside Canvas does a fair amount of marine work, specifically custom boat tops. However, the shop now specializes in printing everything from exhibit banners and fabric wall displays to vinyl banners, flags, awnings, canopies, and vehicle wraps. Dockside Canvas also offers full design, fabrication, aluminum welding, fabric stretching, sewing, and installation. A licensed supplier of FabXFrame systems, the shop produces tension fabric and extrusion frame systems.
Growing with Dye-Sub
Fabric printing, particularly dye-sublimation (dye-sub), brings in a lot of business for Dockside Canvas. “For the past five years we have printed dye-sub onto fabrics,” shares Moriconi. Projects are produced for exhibits, POP, experiential marketing, and interior dˇcor for customers like Mr. Goodwrench, the New York Philharmonic, Tropicana Products, and a number of car companies and auto shows.
“We’ve printed on fabric using all methods—paper transfer, direct dye-sub, digital, as well as small screen textile printing,” notes Moriconi. Dye-sub transfer printers print graphics in reverse on transfer paper, and then the graphics are transferred to fabric using a heat press. There are also dye-sub printers that print directly onto coated polyester fabric, rather than to a transfer paper.
Direct dye-sub printers still require a heat press to sublimate the graphics to the fabric. Finally, direct digital printers print directly onto a pre-treated fabric, and require a finishing process that includes steaming, washing, and drying.
Dye-sub transfer typically produces output with sharper images and better line definition than direct dye-sub. “There are drawbacks to both, but it’s what works for us. I think it all comes down to preference,” states Moriconi.
Dockside Canvas’ employees write custom profiles to create the most accurate and desirable output. “We’ve invested a lot of time and money into profiling and training and keeping the software up to date,” explains Moriconi.
Cost is a factor as well. “I prefer transfer over direct because if there is a flaw in the material, or the machine does go down, you might have a jet out. The cost of fabric is a lot greater than paper and I’d rather have something happen on paper,” shares Moriconi.
“As far as cost to our clients goes, we try and be as competitive as possible. I don’t know if clients are up to speed on the differences between dye-sub direct and paper transfer. I think the savings on not using paper is significant, because it still comes down to the amount of labor,” he says.
Dockside Canvas prints using a three-meter and a five-meter Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex XL1500 printer with dye-sub and solvent inks and four dye-sub and two solvent printers from Roland DGA Corporation.
Moriconi says the HP printers were chosen a few years ago because of technical ability, ease of use, reliability, and HP’s level of service. “Since they were installed there’s been a total downtime of maybe two hours,” he admits.
Dockside Canvas prints on SpectraJet sublimation transfer paper using inks from Hilord Chemical, HP, and Roland. The company transfers the sublimation printed paper onto fabrics from Dazian Fabrics, Fisher Textiles Inc., Glen Raven, Inc., Neschen Americas, and Ultraflex Systems, Inc.
“Up until recently certain materials were dedicated to either dye-sub direct or print transfer. Now there are lines that work with all three—they can print direct, dye direct, or dye transfer,” says Moriconi.
The shop benefited from these advancements by conducting accurate testing and building different color profiles.
Dye-Sub in Action
Client EWI Worldwide of Livonia, MI, approached Dockside Canvas to produce a Fun to Drive display for Volkswagen, who participated in the 2008 Chicago Auto Show. For this project, Dockside Canvas used Hilord dye-sub ink and the HP Scitex XL1500 printer. SpectraJet paper was used in the transfer process.
Graphics were transferred onto Fisher Textiles Soft Knit fabric. The fabric panels were approximately ten meters wide by three meters high and attached to FabXFrame systems.
Another of Dockside Canvas’ dye-sub clients in the auto industry is George P. Johnson Company of Los Angeles, CA. The company asked Dockside Canvas to produce wall vignettes for a Toyota display at the 2008 North American International Auto Show.
The outdoor Winter vignettes were printed with the Roland dye-sub printer and inks from Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. onto Beaver Paper’s TexPrint or SpectraJet transfer paper. The graphics were heat transferred onto Fisher Textiles Repreve fabric.
The 96- by 240-inch fabric panels were also sewn and attached to FabXFrame systems. Then suspended from a ceiling against a wall, creating an exciting backdrop for the Toyota showcase.
Dockside Canvas also created displays for the Ford Flash Store in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Graphics commissioned by client MJM Creative included eye-catching window graphics, wall murals, and ceiling signs.
The retail store showcases vehicles and contains informational kiosks and display monitors. With a mix of vinyl window treatments and fabric wallcoverings, the Ford Flash Store draws customers in from the shopping mall and engages their interest.
The project featured dye-sub work printed on the HP Scitex XL1500 printer and Hilord ink on SpectraJet transfer paper. Wall graphics were transferred onto Fisher Textiles Soft Knit fabric, sewn, and adhered to FabXFrame systems.
The eco-friendly movement is changing business. “It definitely impacts our workflow. There is a fair amount of waste in this business, as everyone knows. We do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint,” shares Moriconi.
Dockside Canvas uses eco-solvent inks and a ventilation system. “Water-based inks with are used for higher resolution output on the Roland printers. Our clients look for eco-friendly materials,” he states.
Moriconi admits experiencing trouble when trying to recycle fabric. “I keep running into the same story—it takes more energy to recycle your fabrics than it does to throw them into a landfill,” he says. The company tries to use and reuse as much material as possible. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen after it leaves the shop. So, we make bags and other items,” he says.
According to Moriconi, the shop spends a bit more time on labor to ensure material is reusable and recyclable, but his employees don’t worry about the extra work.
Dockside Canvas’ investment in dye-sub fabric printing brings in business from retail stores, trade shows, corporations, interior designers, and more.
A keen eye to high-quality output, knowledge of the technology, superior customer support, competitive pricing, and a respect for the environment all help the company stand out. Broadening its offerings and responding to customer needs certainly worked in its favor.
Once a one-man custom boat top shop, it transformed into a full-service graphics provider with over 100 employees. “While our focus was on fabric over the last few years, we possess the ability to pretty much do everything,” says Moriconi.
The company would like to educate themselves on direct to board printing and Moriconi hopes to add a device of that nature to their shop in the near future.