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Adaptable Fabric

Textiles Serve a Range of Applications

By Cassandra Balentine

Textiles present an effective medium for print service providers (PSPs) in many focus areas. Digitally printed wide format applications such as point of purchase (POP), event and trade show, apparel, and home décor rely on fabric’s characteristics to present a specific look or function.

 

Pira International—now Smithers Pira, in association with FESPA, predicted high growth for digital print for textiles in The Future of Digital Printing for Textiles: Market Forecasts to 2014 report, published in 2009. Based on primary research and expert analysis, the study finds that the display/signage sector is driving the development of digital print for textiles. Textile production moved to countries with lower labor rates, but digital printing could change this. Eco-solvent inks are replacing solvent-based inks as many older solvent machines disappear. Environmental regulations in Europe and North America support the continued development and use of eco-solvent approaches. The forecast also predicts the total install base of digital printers for textiles is forecast to grow at 52,800 units globally by 2014, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.1 percent.

 

The Future of Digital Printing for Textiles states that a total of around 30 billion square meters of textile fabric is printed annually and while digital technologies only currently account for a small portion of this total, they are set to enjoy significant market share in the coming years with a forecast CAGR of 54.1 percent to 2014.

 

A range of applications are well suited for textiles. Soft signage serves the needs of many core offerings—including event signage—providing benefits such as portability and durability. Additionally, artists adopt the technology as a way to produce new profit opportunities from original artwork. Here, we speak with end users and customers to see how the latest digital wide format technology fares in actual applications from signage to apparel and décor.

 

Event Graphics

Textiles are a favorable substrate for event graphics due to durability and mobility. Display Rocks, also known as Profinish Media, is a wide format PSP that regularly produces event-focused applications such as banner stands and POP.

 

In operation since 2008, the company started with just one employee—Christie Tyus, CEO, Display Rocks. Today it employs a staff of five and operates out of one location in Southern CA. To provide a one-stop-shop atmosphere, it maintains a strong relationship with an offset printer to offer competitive rates to its customers.

 

Display Rocks relies on a variety of printers for its fabric and canvas substrates, much of the media comes from Qué Media, Inc. The company uses a Mutoh America Inc. ValueJet 1624 for eco-solvent substrates, a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet L6550, and an HP Designjet Z6200 printer.

 

The company incorporated soft signage about two years ago. They moved in this direction based on trends, especially in Europe and Korea, of substituting vinyl with fabrics and mesh. “The benefits of using textiles are plenty,” suggests Tyus. First, printing on fabric provides a different feel to the image, she explains. “It provides a softer, more sophisticated look. When dealing with the product itself, it is a lighter substrate roll that is easy to handle and does not damage easily. It is much better for the environment, as it takes up less disposal space and can even be biodegradable or recyclable,” she notes.

 

The company finds this media appealing for trade show applications. This is because of the light weight and easy transport. “Anyone that has ever set up a trade show knows it is tedious and exhausting. Anything that can make the job easier is worth it,” says Tyus.

 

Some textiles, such as inkjet sublimation fabric, are stretched and fit into a customer’s POP display. “The designs are endless and create a really unique, eye-catching experience,” she comments.

 

In addition to trade show and POP graphics, Display Rocks points to a recent job that included a backdrop for a Fourth of July concert stage that was 60 feet wide by 20 feet high. The PSP created seven panels of the image and sewed them together. Each panel measured 8.57x2.9 feet.

 

Initially it planned to outsource the sewing. However, its usual partners declined due to the complex nature of the project. “With no other resources available, we did it ourselves. We were a little timid at first, but excited for the challenge,” admits Tyus.

 

Made out of Super Heavy Fabric, a 100 percent polyester media from Qué Media, instead of vinyl, stage employees set it up in half the time it would traditionally take. To easily secure the backdrop, grommets were included every two feet. “The client loved the ease of working with the fabric and the weight. We received so many compliments on the artwork and assembly that we obtained many other jobs and referrals,” she concludes.

 

Artist Appeal

In addition to event graphics and POP displays, textiles are digitally printed to express individuals and corporations. With improvements in the quality of digital print technologies, ink choices, and substrate availability, digitally printed apparel and décor applications are gaining acceptance.

 

As an artist, Katie Miranda, owner, Katie Miranda Studios, is constantly searching for a way to lucratively express her work, something she notes is a challenge these days. She offers a variety of products for every income level, from sterling silver jewelry to comics, digital prints, digitally printed scarves, and original oil paintings.

 

Miranda says that her own experience with printers introduced her to the capabilities digital print technology provides. “Several years ago, I heard that there were inkjet printers that could print on fabric and I began researching them on the Internet,” she notes.

 

The artist has several paintings that translate well into scarves. “Instead of profiting only from selling original paintings, I thought I could also sell printed silk scarves of my work,” explains Miranda. “This allows for infinite resale opportunities on a painting. A 12x48-inch oil painting is a lot of work,” she says.

 

To produce the scarves Miranda sent a digital TIFF file to DigitalTextile Image Data Creation. She ordered a run of 300. The turnaround time was under a month and the quality exceeded her initial expectations. “The translucency of silk makes it a great surface for printing artwork. It looks quite stunning with light shining through it,” she adds.

 

In addition to digitally printed apparel, artists are creating custom patterns on textiles and taking them to the next level by creating couches, chairs, and wall décor. Located in Springfield, MA, Blu Girl Art, Inc. is a small business that uses the power of wide format digital print technology to produce custom fabrics.

 

Three years ago, Suzanne Meyer Pistorius, owner, Blu Girl Art, began working with graphic designer Brian Frodema, to create digitally printed textiles used for upholstery, scarves, and other unique items. “We have a library of about 600 prints, some are created by digitizing hand drawn illustrations. We have a collection of photo-realistic prints created from our own photographs,” she says.

 

Pistorius was seeking an alternative to screenprints when she learned about the capabilities wide format digital printing affords. “I did not have the capacity to order the minimums that screenprinters require,” she admits.

 

To print the final designs, she works with Spoonflower Inc., a company that utilizes digital large format inkjet printers that are specially modified to run fabric. The company uses eco-friendly, water-based pigment inks on natural fiber textiles with Mutoh ValueJet 1618W printers. No additional chemicals are used in the printing or preparation process. Files take about two to three weeks to turnaround.

 

For Pistorius, digital printing presents both advantages and disadvantages. She is able to custom order low quantities not possible with screen technology; but it is still costly. “The price for digital printing is high. However, I am sure it will become more affordable as time passes. I also think it is a more environmentally feasible option—as it uses a lot less water,” she notes.

 

Versatile Media

Textiles are ideal for a variety of applications. Print providers rely on the latest advancements to continually raise the bar for quality and cost effectiveness. Meanwhile, artists seek an outlet to easily produce affordable custom items. The opportunities for fabric prints are endless.

 

Nov2012, Digital Output

 
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