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Give Fabrics a Hand

A Diverse and Voluminous Selection


By Gretchen A. Peck


There are those who suggest through pursed lips and hushed whispers that the craft of printing no longer exists. They think of the business as so technically adept that to produce a printed graphic requires little more than a click of a mouse to engage a print engine. Those who spend their days in the print trenches—especially in large format graphics—know all too well the short comings of their thinking. Despite the sophistication of the tools of the trade, rendering to print an artistic or photographic interpretation still requires great craft and artistry, including selecting the perfect media for the output intention. There’s no shortage of digital print-compatible fabrics from which to choose.


A textile and media supplier like DigiFab Systems, Inc. for example, lists dozens of fabrics for 24 inches and wider, categorized according to process and use—all purpose and dye, banner, reactive, acid, and pigment.


Michael Katz, president, Rupert Gibbon & Spider, the manufacturer behind Jacquard InkJet Fabric Systems (JIFS), reminds print service providers (PSPs) that consumables are co-dependent. Because the success of a digitally printed textile is largely related to its compatibility with an ink set, it’s important to have a good understanding of not only the fabrics available to the market, but how they’ll perform with various printing processes and ink chemistry.


“There are thousands of polyesters available,” marvels Katz. “For example, the difference between woven polyester and a knit loom polyester. There are different types of flag polyesters. And now nearly all classic weaves of natural fabrics have been copied to some degree, such as chiffon, sateens, charmeuses, scrims, georgettes, knits, and stretchy fabrics. There are thousands of fabrics out there, and the digital printer hasn’t even begun to embrace them.”


It can be a challenge to stay up-to-date just by the sheer volume of new products constantly arriving to market. What follows is a practical resource—an overview of some of the best-selling digital print-friendly fabrics on the market today, as well as few creative ideas on how to innovatively leverage fabrics and existing digital print equipment.


Best Sellers

To get a better feel for the types and brands of fabrics that are already selling well, Digital Output asked suppliers about their best sellers—what’s special about the fabric, why it’s so popular, the types of applications to which it’s well suited, and the printing processes with which they’re compatible.


General Formulations Inc.’s best-selling removable wall fabric for large format is GraphiTex, a woven, polyester solution that is often used for wrapping posts and columns or adherence to glass, according to Matt Edwards, concept product manager, General Formulations.


“What’s unique about our system is the face stock adhesive and liner,” asserts Edwards. “The face stock provides zero bleed when used with a solvent printer. You can print to the edge without curl. Contour cuts occur without fraying.”


Tiffany Guard, product manager, inkjet media, Neschen Americas, says that Pure Color Monet Canvas and Pure Color VersaFabric are part of the Neschen Pure Color line for wide format, and among the company’s best-selling fabrics.


Monet Canvas is best used for giclée art reproductions, due to its specialized coating, which produces photo-quality images. It stretches perfectly over a frame, without cracking on the edges, and can be used in museum and interior decorating.


“VersaFabric,” adds Guard, “is well suited to point of purchase (POP) and trade show graphics. It works well in roll-up banner stands, and is specially sized to minimize off cuts when trimming after printing. VersaFabric is also used for table drapes and pop-up walls, due to its wrinkle resistance.”


Neschen also supplies SolvoTex PES Banner 240. It’s used for trade show graphics, theatrical backdrops, and retail signage. “PES Banner 240 is commonly used by print shops as a house textile, due to its wrinkle resistance and broad range of uses,” according to Guard. Monet Canvas, VersaFabric, and PES Banner 240 are compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, latex, and UV-curable inks.


“Celtic Cloth is our best seller for a host of reasons,” notes Steve Weiss, director of sales, national accounts, Dazian LLC. It is a warp knit made of 100 percent polyester. “Because of the proprietary formulation, along with the knit, it has the ability to be used in a variety of applications. The slight stretch allows it to maneuver around frames for tension structures.”


Celtic Cloth is also available in an eco version made from 100 percent recycled Repreve-brand yarn and a heavyweight version for pop-up frame systems.


Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. boasts best sellers for both solvent print applications, as well as the dye-sublimation (dye-sub) process.


“For solvent printers, our best sellers are AC Canvas and AC Canvas Semi-Gloss,” reports Mike Richardson, director of sales and marketing, print media, Aurora Specialty. “AC Canvas is our original 65/35 poly-cotton blend canvas with a traditional acrylic gesso coating. AC Canvas Semi-Gloss offers an added semi-gloss finish. Both of these products are suitable for stretching and framing and can be used with latex, solvent, and UV-curable ink.”


AC Canvas is often used for fine art reproduction, retail graphics, and wall murals.


Fisher Textiles, Inc. offers fabrics designed for dye-sub, UV, and latex printing. Several are approved by Hewlett-Packard (HP) through the Registered Latex Media Developer program. Among them are the GF 4417 Soft Knit (FR), a six-ounce warp knit made of 100 percent polyester. It comes in 96- and 122-inch widths and is ideally suited to banners, photographic backdrops, and trade show exhibits.


Also HP latex-compatible are Fisher Textiles’ GF 4480 Heavy Knit (FR)—one of the supplier’s most popular fabrics for trade show graphics, and GF 8874 Tri Poplin (FR); a woven, texturized fabric made with 76 percent FR yarn.


“Because of GF 8874 Poplin (FR)’s tightly woven yarns, it is an excellent light box fabric and is wrinkle resistant,” explains James Gay, director of marketing, Fisher Textiles. “Other applications include blockout fabric and double-sided banners.” GF 8874 Tri Poplin (FR) is available in 60-, 72-, and 122-inch widths.


Gay highlights several other solutions—GF 4853 Sheer (FR), often used in banner and trade show exhibit applications for which an image can be seen from either side of the fabric; and 8799 Firesafe 3 (FR), a woven, texturized fabric, made with 41 percent FR yarn, and compatible with dye-sub and UV printing.


Verseidag seemee US Inc. supplies Sheen, a 100 percent polyester fabric with a soft, satin-like finish, designed for light box and backlit applications. It’s available in 61- and 122-inch widths for solvent, UV, and latex print applications. Aqua Sheen is the manufacturer’s dye-sub version.


“Our Nightdrop 2 Side, a ten-ounce, 100 percent polyester, opaque textile—with a unique flocked finish—offers identical print quality on both sides,” remarks Eric Tischer, director of textiles and specialty products, Verseidag seemee.


The company’s Tex Display PFR polyester fabric is made with “a special textured yarn, offering low craze and wrinkle, and crease resistant properties,” according to Tischer. Poly Light Knit FR T and Poly Heavy Knit FR T—5.5 and 8.5 ounces, respectively—are developed for transfer dye-sub print output.


“These 100 percent polyester products use a treated, wrinkle- and crease-resistant yarn that is pre-shrunk for optimum printer use. Perfect for interior POP and POS, exhibition, display, and theatrical applications, they offer eye-catching results due to their brilliant colors and clarity, as well as outstanding contour and definition,” concludes Tischer.


Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF) offers dozens of fabrics for digital print applications, but the company’s best-selling fabric is the Deko-Tex brand, according to Jeff Sanders, digital sales, western U.S., PCF.


“It possesses a range of application possibilities,” explains Sanders. “It’s used everywhere—from POP to flag, from banners to trade shows, indoors and outdoors. This is one fabric that a PSP could conceivably do 70 percent of textile jobs on.”


At 5.4 ounces per square yard, Deko-Tex features a flame repellant and is light enough to flutter outdoors and move with the wind. However, it is also durable enough to use in rigid-frame systems; as it stays taut and does not sag or pull.


Environmental Considerations

Print buyers are becoming educated about the environmental impact of the products they produce, and many expect their print service suppliers to be able to offer consumables and manufacturing processes that are in line with their own companies’ or clients’ promises of environmental stewardship. Fortunately, great strides in environmental responsibility are being made.


Neschen eco-friendly products are SolvoTex Cotton Premium Light S and SolvoTex Cotton Premium Heavy S, which are made of 100 percent cotton. “Our cotton print media is eco-friendly, because cotton is a completely renewable resource that is 100 percent degradable. The coating is degradable, yet still produces vivid colors and deep blacks,” explains Guard.


Dazian offers a range of eco-friendly fabrics, including the sheer Eco NuVoile and Eco Micron Mesh. But it’s Dazian’s Eco Celtic and Eco Trapeze products that are the flagships. They are made of 100 percent recycled Repreve-brand yarn—from recycled clear bottles.


“We use a specific set of resin because it is clear and—when woven or knitted—comes out whiter than most other recycled yarn,” remarks Weiss.


Fisher Textiles’ line of environmentally considerable fabrics is referred to as Enviro-Tex. “Enviro-Tex fabrics are eco-friendly and made with recycled Repreve yarn, which meets FTC guidelines for recycled products. The manufacturing process of the yarn reduces energy consumption while also conserving petroleum resources by offsetting the need to produce virgin polyester,” explains Gay.


Also among Verseidag seemee’s  best-selling fabrics are Insight Light and Insight Heavy, which feature an “eco-friendly top coating that provides a non-reflective surface, offering excellent scratch resistance and optimal color and image quality,” according to Tischer. They’re designed for a range of both interior and exterior applications, and are compatible with solvent, UV, and latex print processes.


“Aurora Specialty’s Act II is used in dye-sub printing and some UV-curable digital printing,” adds Richardson. “Act II is a plain weave, 100 percent recycled polyester, 7.5-ounce fabric with a canvas-like texture that has been scoured and heat set.” This fabric, he notes, is well suited to retail graphics, tapestries, POP, and other types of display graphics.


Ultraflex Systems, Inc.’s textiles are earth friendly. The polyester used in the manufacturing process is made of high-grade, recyclable yarn. Products, such as UltraPoplin and UltraCotton, contain no chlorine, bromine, iodine, fluorine, PVC, or heavy metals. The company also implements an environmentally friendly water-based coating technology.


Beyond the Norm

Not only does fabric provide a richer-than-vinyl aesthetic for commercial-type big print—signage, banners, and exhibits—but it can also be leveraged to enable PSPs to tap into new niche markets to explore the creative possibilities.


Weiss is quick to point out that Dazian’s core competency is manufacturing fabrics, but on occasion, its clients call upon them for unique and challenging print projects. For example, the company has made a name for itself providing printed fabrics to the fine arts and entertainment industries.


“We have created wonderful solutions for the Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis, using Crushed Duplex Charmeuse; and Zumanity, with Brilliance Plus. Dazian also made the backdrops and fabrics used for the new movie, Thor. We printed on a fabric called Taipei Silk Plus,” notes Weiss.


While many of the customers who buy from JIFS hail from the fine art reproduction space, Katz says that he’s beginning to see more traditional sign shop establishments—as well as niche print suppliers—leverage fabrics for its clients. JIFS’ customers produce everything from tabletops to architectural murals and motifs using inkjet-compatible fabrics. Increasing in frequency are the one-of-kind jobs inspired by particularly creative challenges.


“For example, theater,” suggests Katz. “We had a customer who printed a costume for Pinocchio. They scanned a piece of wood, printed it on a poly knit stretch fabric, and made tights and a body costume out of it. It looked like it was made of wood.”


Another growth market for businesses accustomed to printing large format is meeting graphics.


“There are scientists who travel from meeting to meeting, and often, they require some sort of large graphic that they roll up and ship or carry on an airplane,” explains Katz. “Now, they have these graphics printed on fabric, so they fold them up, and put them in their suitcases, and unfold them—without wrinkles—for the next presentation.”


Give Fabrics a Hand

Many of the vendors profiled here offer polyester-based fabric, which provides PSPs with multiple options when it comes to choosing textile ink. The versatility of this type of textile means that a print provider looking to add fabric printing to its portfolio may not have to run out and purchase a new printing device right away.


Fabric manufacturers recognize the popularity of polyester-based textiles and as aforementioned by Katz, there are many varieties available. It seems impossible that all PSPs aren’t offering some form of fabric printing in house.


Jul2011, Digital Output

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