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Soft Spot

Dye-Sublimation Textile Printing

By Kim Crowley

Signs, banners, flags, fine art reproductions, and other items achieve a soft, dramatic look when constructed with textiles. Lightweight and reusable, this type of media rolls up easily and inexpensively ships to various sites. Digital printing offers advantages over traditional textile screenprinting. It eliminates the need for screens, reduces cost and production time, and allows for smaller runs.

 

FABRIX, Inc. of Charlotte, NC produces printed textiles with a focus on the environment and saving customers money. Scott Donovan, owner/president, FABRIX, spent his career in the graphic communications, printing, and textile industries. When he founded the company in 2002, he chose to capitalize on printing textiles. “We specialize in printing fabric for commercial applications. 99 percent of our work is fabric. The other one percent is on rigid substrates,” he explains.

 

FABRIX produces banners, golf tournament flags, trade show displays, event graphics, point of sale signage, performance apparel, custom pattern yardage, pet products, and table covers.

 

“We create projects ranging from single flags and banners for mom and pop businesses all the way up to large runs for Fortune 500 companies,” says Donovan.

 

Fabric Printing

One method for producing projects on textiles is dye-sublimation (dye-sub). Graphics are reverse printed onto transfer paper using solvent-, oil-, or water-based ink. Then a heat press sublimates the image onto 100 percent polyester fabric.

 

FABRIX prefers dye-sub transfer. “It yields the best results on textiles and allows us to image on metal and fiberglass reinforced panels if clients request it,” states Donovan.

 

Printing on textiles requires attention to detail. “It is a slow and laborious process—if done correctly,” he notes. “We make sure our layouts, color matches, and finished construction are all planned properly before starting production.”

 

The company relies on Mimaki USA, Inc. digital printers, including a JV3-250, JV4, and JV33. Coldenhove Papier’s Jetcol is its transfer paper of choice. Textiles are used from two suppliers, Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. and Fisher Textiles Inc.

 

Retail Goes Green

Williams Lea approached FABRIX to produce in-store signage for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to promote Hanesbrands Inc.’s Hanes sweats made from ten percent post-consumer waste. To complement the eco-friendly product, the store requested recycled substrate for the signage.

 

Sustainability is a major mission of FABRIX. It offers material return programs where they take in used projects and return them to a mill for recycling.

 

In total, the Wal-Mart Hanes project included 31,000 fabric banners using 8,000 yards of Aurora’s Weaves of Green Act II fabric, which is made from 100 percent post-consumer waste generated from PET drink bottles. The 7.5 ounce Act II fabric features a canvas-like texture.

 

The biggest challenge was the sheer scale of the application. When the banners were slit and processed, the 8,000 yards of fabric became 56,000 yards. “That is 33 miles of banners, and don’t forget all of the transfer paper to print it,” points out Donovan.

 

Another challenge was the delivery schedule, but proper production techniques allowed FABRIX to deliver on time. The project took five weeks to produce from receipt of final art from Hanes, and was on display in 3,900 Wal-Mart stores for three months. “Due to the volume, we ran all of our printers simultaneously, which was possible because they are color calibrated to each other,” he adds.

 

For installation, small holes were drilled into the top hem of the banners and plastic clips attached. Store employees inserted the clips into existing holes on shelves. Installation of each store’s seven banners was completed in under ten minutes.

 

The banners had to be durable, as they hung in direct contact with the customer and were moved to access the product. “Textiles are perfect for retail signage. The image is dyed in the fiber, and doesn’t sit on top, so banners can be handled without damage,” explains Donovan.

 

The banners met Wal-Mart’s sustainability requirements at the end of their use cycle as well. When the promotion was over, the banners were recycled through each store’s plastic recycling collection or returned to FABRIX.

 

Soft, Light, Dramatic

FABRIX has carved out a niche in short-run, on demand fabric printing. They hone their skills with a fleet of printers from one of the leading textile printing equipment manufacturers and materials from two well-established textile providers.

 

Mar2011, Digital Output

 
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