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Print Supplier Becomes Creative Partner

Understanding Fabric Application Choices

by Gretchen A. Peck

Fulfilling your client’s creative vision for large print isn’t just about the mechanics of laying ink down on a substrate and getting the job done quickly. Helping that creative vision come to life requires the print supplier become the creative partner, guiding the customer through the creative journey with helpful suggestions on the optimal print technology to use—and type of substrate to choose. That’s particularly true when it comes to marrying digital print with fabrics.

The gamut of fabrics available for digital printing applications is wide. Natural-fiber and synthetics come in a rainbow that comprises everything from canvas to knits, from silks to satins. There are even specialty fabrics, such as Fisher Textiles’ Gaming Suede for gaming tables, and Crazy 8 Billiard Cloth, a polyester suede that has a stain-resistant and anti-friction coating.

Indeed, there is no shortage of fabric options for digital printers today. And the smart print supplier will become familiar with them all.

For print suppliers preparing to offer fabric work, knowing the ins and outs of the medium is critical—particularly when there are hundreds of fabric options from which to choose, suggests Bill Smith, sales and marketing manager for Framingham, MA-based ICL Imaging. Before the company ventured into the softer side of large format printing, it hired a consultant to teach its sales force and production team all they’d ever want to know—probably more—about fabric.

"She taught us the different properties of woven fabrics and knit fabrics, for example," Smith recalls. "And we learned important tricks of the trade—like, when you have a bias, the fabric will stretch more one way than the other, while knits tend to stretch in both directions. This was all new terminology for us."

Let the Application Choose the Media
Just like any print application drives the type of substrate used, the application itself should narrow the choices of appropriate fabrics that can be used.

Beyond the fabrics that may be best compatible with solvent-based printers versus dye-sub machines, for example, the printer and customer have to consider other variables. Where will the print be displayed? Does it need to adhere to any particular fire-safety regulations because of its ultimate destination? There are several suppliers that offer a range of fabrics that meet federal and local laws, including 3P Inkjet Textiles, Dazian Fabrics, Fisher Textiles, and Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies, to name a few.

Will the print be traveling, and thus need to be lightweight, durable and resilient? Such is the case for many soft tradeshow graphics. Fisher Textiles, for example, offers a 100-percent polyester knit with wrinkle-resistance that’s said to be particularly popular for tradeshow applications.

Obviously, indoor installations will have different environmental requirements than more-stringent outdoor installations that are subjected to sunlight and weather. And there are plenty of fabrics available for outdoor usage, such as Glen Raven Custom Fabrics’ Sunbrella Plus, which comes in a veritable rainbow of colors and offers, "extra water repellency," thanks to an acrylic/urethane undercoating.

Creative Considerations
Choosing the right fabric for the print job requires some fundamental understanding of both its molecular structure and its aesthetic value.

Think of the fabric substrate as not just a structural component of the print job; it’s a critical part of the design, as well. A cotton twill fabric will have a different aesthetic connotation than something printed on silk, for example. For more delicate, elegant indoor applications, the print supplier may recommend a solution like Fisher Textile’s Venice Satin, L&P Digital’s VirtuSatin, or a silk from DigiFab Systems.

Or perhaps the job calls for a more ethereal choice, in which case Drop Screen from Dazian Fabrics may be more appropriate; it’s said to have a rice-paper-like quality. Dazian has other exotic offerings as well, like Venetian Velvet, a medium-weight, rich velvet.

For a fine art reproduction or mural, one might consider a poly/cotton blend canvas from InteliCoat Technologies. The choices are endless, limited only to the creative imagine.

But it’s critical that the print customer and the print supplier collaborate early on in a project’s design. The choice of fabric must not be left to after-thought. In order to make a solid fabric recommendation to a customer, it’s important that the print supplier have an understanding of the job’s aesthetic qualities, as well as the environmental demands.

Part 4 of this Q Series on Fabric Signage will spotlight a successful shop that is producing and selling fabric prints. Also, look for a full feature article on Fabric Signage in the September issue of Digital Output.

Jul2006, Digital Output

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