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Creating High-End Dye-Sublimation Graphics


By Melissa Donovan


Dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing presents print service providers (PSPs) with a high growth market. Fabric-based applications fit into every imaginable niche, from wallcoverings to home furnishings and trade show displays.


The soft hand of a textile provides a dual look of comfort and eloquence. This substrate’s light weight allows for decreased shipping costs and minimizes the risk of damages that may occur during transit, installation, or removal.


Understanding the dye-sub process means familiarizing yourself with two different techniques, transfer and direct. The direct method integrates the entire print process into one device and eliminated extra waste. While transfer requires additional materials—such as an external heat press and transfer paper, both are excellent options. It all depends on the PSP and the client’s needs.


The transfer process provides a wider range of fabric choices and a larger color gamut, which makes it a perfect fit for applications viewed up close. Direct is ideal for those looking to eliminate a few steps in the workflow and deliver high-quality images meant to be viewed at a further distance.


Adding a digital fabric printer does not mean additional devices need to occupy precious square footage—especially if space is at a premium. Flipping between say a solvent-based to a dye-sub process all-in-one printer is one way to minimize footprint. This is something Cameron Advertising Displays Limited of Toronto, ON, Canada employs with its EFI VUTEk 3360.


A Dye-Sub Switch

Celebrating 51 years in business, the 60-staffed shop operates in a 50,000 square foot space. Cameron offers full-service large format screen and digital printing for the retail, exhibit, museum, trade, interior design, outdoor, and movie industries. All of which are target segments for dye-sub printed fabric.


Besides the EFI VUTEk 3360; the shop also houses digital printers from Agfa Graphics, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Mimaki USA, Inc. The Mimaki printer is a 72-inch fabric device; from HP they boast a Scitex XL 1500, Designjet Z6100, and Designjet 5500; from Agfa the :M-Press Tiger; and also from EFI—a VUTEk QS3200.


According to Greg Donais, VP, digital operation, Cameron, the company has offered fabric printed applications for over ten years. Most of these include interior design, exhibit displays, fabric structure, and basic signage. About ten percent of its business is fabric based. “The method is so diverse and offers many solutions,” he explains about the aptitude of digital textile printing.


The PSP witnessed the potential of dye-sub early on. Originally, the team produced fabric graphics on small format machines, however the process was tedious and costly.


As demand grew, they recognized the dual capabilities of its EFI VUTEk 3360 and switched it from a solvent-based machine to a transfer dye-sub. It is a 3.2-meter device that flips from solvent to dye-sub ink in under five minutes.


The transformation is effortless, shares Donais, and the learning curve close to none because of the staff’s familiarity with the machine.


Dye-sub transfer is the ideal digital fabric printing process for Cameron. “We print and transfer for a number of reasons. Quality and versatility of media is one large factor. Stretch materials must be transferred and we produce a lot of those,” continues Donais.


Depending on the application, the shop works with everything from satin to stretch poplin, georgette, duct, and dankron fabrics. These are all run through its dye-sub transfer device with ease.


Products come from a number of vendors including Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., Fisher Textiles, Inc., Neschen Americas, and Verseidag seemee US Inc. The brand used is generally based on the project at hand.


High-End Impressions

Cameron’s high-profile clients include major car manufacturers such as Ford Motor Company, Nissan North America, Inc., Subaru of America, Inc., Mazda Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Sales; fast food chains McDonald’s and Tim Hortons; as well as TD Bank, N.A.


Regularly, they collaborate with design agencies to communicate the correct look and feel a client has requested. A common partner is Device222, a graphics and communications firm based in Toronto, ON, Canada.


Recent jobs through this agency include a trade show exhibit for Stone-Link, a landscaping manufacturer; backdrops for Ultra Supper Club in Toronto, ON, Canada; and a trade show exhibit for VISO Inc., which offers modern and contemporary lighting fixtures.


All three jobs tasked Cameron workers to create signage that offered both texture and dimension. According to Donais, both the look and feel of fabric implied a high-end appearance that was central to each of the designs.


Utilizing the EFI VUTEk 3360 allowed for quality, speed, and flexibility with width. Particularly as each job rivaled in size. Media square footage ranged from 1,500 to 5,000; with widths of four to ten feet depending on the project.


An innovative twist occurred for the VISO project, which was created for the New York Interior Design Show. Overhead lamp shades were digitally printed and converted into huge, oversized lights by VISO for its booth. The décor allowed the company to truly showcase its products. Coincidentally, the lamps found in Ultra Supper Club were also digitally printed by Cameron and then crafted by VISO.


This unique partnership is an example of how a PSP can be more than a print provider to its customer base. Sharing product development with VISO positions Cameron as innovative entrepreneur merging traditional graphic arts with new and exciting applications.


Donais shares that none of these projects were particularly taxing, if anything all in a day’s work for Cameron. After years of working through challenges—from which textile works best to the correct print process—the company is free to solely focus on providing high-end, unique print work.


Undivided Attention

The ability to place all of the attention on a project and less concern on the process is a place many PSPs hope to reach at some point in their careers. Cameron is lucky to have achieved such a plateau in its body of work, especially in fabric-based applications.


Utilizing the EFI VUTEk 3360 provides the quality needed on most jobs, with the assurance of a wide range of media compatibility. Donais and the rest of the Cameron family have a long working relationship with EFI and respect its high level of service. He sees them as a true partner.


With the advent of EFI’s newest fabric venture, the EFI VUTEk TX3250r, further possibilities are now on the table. Donais comments that discussions were held to consider bringing this newest printer in house. The addition would surely be an asset to the rest of Cameron’s digital portfolio. As the newest EFI printer and the EFI VUTEk 3360 allow any print shop to experiment with new applications and ideas. Technology enables Cameron to direct its undivided attention towards niche markets. 


Jul2011, Digital Output

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