Best Textile Options for Digital Applications
By Cassandra Carnes
Part 1 of 2
Textile media solutions are now main stream. Soft substrates enable lightweight applications, which are easy to ship, often recyclable, and provide unique characteristics. With such a variety, it is important to choose the best fabric for a job.
Polyester is the most popular fabric used for wide format digital printing. Its many forms afford many options for print service providers (PSPs). Additionally, cotton-based textiles are trending as new applications for digital printing emerge. Alternative fabrics, such as canvas and bamboo are also available.
The advantages and disadvantages of fabric depend on the application. “When you select the wrong type of fabric, for the intended use it becomes a disadvantage even when printed well. The fact of the matter is that the printer has to use the equipment it has on hand, and unless you have several printers devoted to different ink sets, the printer will be limited,” states Michael Katz, president, Jacquard Inkjet Fabric Systems.
Many types and variations of digitally printable fabrics are available. PSPs are restricted to the specific requirements of a job as well as printer compatibility. However, the vast availability of choices presents adequate options for a range of applications suited for fabric production. Key differentiating features and characteristics of a substrate help narrow down the best choice for a job.
Lorna D’Alessio, director of print media sales, Top Value Fabrics, suggests popular fabrics for digital printing include upscale wallcoverings, blockout, multiple canvas alternatives for fine art reproduction, and environmentally friendly textiles. “The benefit of these various fabrics is a presentation that is more luxurious than standard banner applications,” she notes. However, it is also important to point out that one of the disadvantages in differentiating between these fabrics is that customers have far too many options and are not always aware of the requirements for end use. “Fabrics that someone likes or that print well may not have the properties required for long-term outdoor usage, or the flame retardant qualifications for indoor applications on a light box,” warns D’Alessio.
Katz notes that polyester is the most used fabric for digital printing at least up to 72 inches in width in North America and Europe due to its use in commercial applications such as signage, flags, and banners. “This began as a natural progression, because of polyester’s utility and because the printing industry has decades of experience sublimating disperse dyes onto polyester long before digital printing was born,” he explains. However, digital printing on textiles as an industry is so huge that it can be divided into sectors. “The all-important fabric used in one sector may be different in another sector. For example, the gaming industry uses nylon. Garment prototyping and home décor utilizes natural fabrics, as does the accessory market. Photographers print on silk fabric and primed canvas,” adds Katz.
Polyesters are still the most versatile fabrics for most print applications. According to Jeff Sanders, digital fabrics sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics, this is because they offer a diversity of weaves and finishes that create any desired look and feel. Additionally, they are durable, long lasting, and—when printed—offer a vibrancy of color that is unmatched.
Scott Fisher, president, Fisher Textiles, Inc., notes that knit polyester fabrics have more wrinkle resistance and offer an advantage of not fraying when cut as opposed to woven polyester fabrics, which wrinkle more easily and have to be sonic slit for a clean edge. “Of the two, wovens are generally more dimensionally stable,” he admits.
Matt Myers, business development manager, media, Neschen Americas, suggests polyester with slightly open or loose weaves for lightweight, wrinkle-resistant banner and trade show graphics; polyester with a very open weave for flag applications; tightly woven polyester for high-resolution banners and displays as well as backlit applications; and canvas—polyester or cotton poly blends—for art reproduction.
Additionally, the systems for printing on polyester are mature and well developed, and the substrate is relatively inexpensive, points out Katz. One downfall to polyester is that transfer equipment is expensive and there is a lot of competition. “Another disadvantage, not talked about much, but still an important factor, is that polyester to a large extent becomes unappealing atheistically the closer the viewer,” he adds.
Alternatively, cotton, canvas, and bamboo with different weaves, thread sizes, and surface textures provide a range of textures that suit many popular point of sale and wallcovering application requirements.
“The market for cottons is expanding as more digital printers move into apparel and fashion printing,” says Sanders.
Aqueous-coated fabrics tend to cater to indoor applications as well as fine art. For outdoor products, eco-solvent fabrics are ideal.
It is important to understand the differentiating characteristics of any media to ensure the best end result. Heavy textured canvas is popular for art reproduction, while smooth media brings out the best for high-resolution photographs or backlit applications.
When it comes to opacity, Myers says to consider the blockout required for two-sided hanging signs or signs where light may wash out an image from behind. Consider bleed through from flag applications where the image is visible from the front and back. For translucency/sheerness, voile is used to almost project an image without creating a barrier. Self-adhesive properties are ideal for application to walls and other surfaces.
Mike Richardson, director of sales/marketing – print media, Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., adds that knit fabrics tend to stretch and hide wrinkles better than a woven fabric so its use in exhibit displays is ideal. Poplin has a nice drape and is an economical choice. “The disadvantage to the PSP is that there is no one-size-fits-all fabric,” he says.
Fabric weight is also a factor. “Lightweight fabrics work well for short-term applications, while heavy fabrics help with the longevity of a display,” suggests E. Tyler Reich, director of marketing, Qué Media Inc. “Whether someone chooses gloss or matte is completely subjective. Some graphics are designed to look good as matte and others for gloss.”
Blaise Humphries, product development, sales and marketing of ink jet media, DHJ International/Decoprint, stresses the importance of fire retardancy for indoor applications.
Environmental responsibility is also a growing concern. “Many signs are produced using the most cost-effective materials. In increasing numbers companies and organizations are looking to source sustainable and environmentally responsible materials,” points out Matt Devlin, VP business development, North America, NatureWoven, Natural AdCampaign. “The benefits and disadvantages quickly become nullified or amplified. Initiatives become mandates, for instance, and only eco-friendly materials are requested to be used. When this occurs many of what was once considered a viable print substrate is stricken from the list,” he notes.
Aurora Specialty’s Northern Lights Printable Textiles line offers a range of fabrics for latex, solvent, UV cure, dye sublimation (dye-sub) transfer, and dye-sub direct. The company provides sizes up to 126 inches wide by 50 or 100 yards. They also custom cut or sheet almost every style offered.
DHJ products are distributed in the U.S. through Aurora Specialty and Verseidag seemee U.S. Inc. Its DHJ and Decoprint products have no PVC resins in its coatings, are volatile organic compound free, and available as printable fabrics at up to 122 inches in width. They meet global fire retardant requirements M1 and B1. The fabrics are available from translucent to black out, smooth or surface release, and with an additional topcoat to hold print detail and color density. Fabrics are compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, UV curable, latex, and direct disperse inks.
Fisher Textiles offers uncoated knits and wovens for dye-sub, UV, and latex printing, ranging in weight from 1.2 ounces per square yard to 13 ounces per square yard and widths up to 192 inches wide. Coated versions of these fabrics are available for printers using solvent and/or dispersed ink systems for direct digital printing. Custom roll lengths start at 25 yards.
Jacquard offers 63 fabrics in stock, plus the company prepares customers’ fabrics for printing. The fabrics work with common inks, including disperse, acid, reactive dyes, and permanent textile pigment. All of the fabric coatings are unique, depending on the type of ink that is to be used as well as the composition of the fabric. Jacquard prepares fabric up to 60 inches wide.
NatureWoven creates Chorus and Gossyp. Chorus is made from jute and Gossyp is made from cotton. The company says these are two of the most widely available natural materials on the planet. They work with latex, UV, screen, and solvent printing technologies. Chorus is available in 1.2 by 30 meter rolls and Gossyp is available in 1.27 by 30 meter rolls.
Neschen offers fabrics printable with latex, UV cure, heavy solvent, eco-solvent, and aqueous inks. Fabrics are made from polyester, cotton, and blends. Its media present characteristics from blockout/opaque to sheer, wrinkle resistant, and artistic canvas. The Neschen Pure Color Media line is available in widths of up to 98 inches for solvent, eco-solvent, UV cure, and latex. Neschen InDisplay media is available in widths of up to 60 inches for aqueous, latex, and UV cure. Neschen SolvoTex XXL textiles are available at up to 198 inches wide for latex, UV cure, and solvent inks. The Neschen DirectText polyester fabrics are designed for grand format direct dye-sub printing in a 122-inch width.
Pacific Coast Fabrics stocks over 80 digital printer textiles, including polyesters, poly spandex, and cottons. Its fabrics can be used in flag and banner, apparel, home furnishings, architectural, trade show, point of purchase, and fine art applications. The company’s fabrics are suitable for dye sublimation, UV, latex, direct to print, and pigment applications. Fabrics are available in 60-, 72-, and 122-inch formats.
Qué Media manufactures a variety of coated textile products. They offer coatings for aqueous, latex, eco-solvent, and UV printers. The coatings are applied to most textile products, including canvas, light fabric—up to 150 denier, heavy fabric—up to 300 denier, super heavy fabric—from 450 to 600 denier, flag mesh, and non-woven fabric. Sizes vary depending upon each textile, but usual sizes are 36, 42, 50, and 60 inches.
Top Value Fabrics offers a variety of top-of-the-line polyester woven fabrics, all of which have a proprietary coating to ensure high image quality. The weights of these textiles vary from four to 11 ounces in widths from 39 to 98 inches, and lengths from 75 to 150 feet. The line includes environmentally friendly PVC-free fabrics as well as options that include repositionable self-adhesive wallcovering and a blockout sliver back textile for a high-end blockout look.
Visual Magnetics Ltd. MagnaMedia Digital Fabric Collection is designed to bring warmth and luxury to the in-store experience by adding unique, textured surfaces to graphic content. It is developed to produce woven fabric-textured photo reproductions, wall murals, and fabric-based point of purchase signage. The first product in the line is the VM-Canvas 22, which is available in 60 inches by 100- and 300-foot rolls. It is a 22-mil, 100 percent cotton magnetic-receptive canvas with a soft matte, washable, textured print surface. Another product is the VM-Bamboo 17, which is available in a 50-inch by 100-foot roll. The 17-mil, 100 percent bamboo magnetic-receptive fabric offers a versatile, smooth textured matte print surface for a high-quality look and feel.
Textile media presents PSPs with many advantages to pass along to customers. Durability is one major advantage. Fabrics are designed to withstand a variety of environmental elements, whether they are meant for use indoors or outdoors. Additionally, the ability to pack and ship lighter weight options presents a cost savings opportunity.
With a strong and growing selection of digital print compatible textile options, PSPs produce a range of applications. However, it is important to consider the final application as well as the printing method used in order to choose the appropriate match for a job.
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Sep2012, Digital Output DOTX1209