By Lisa Guerriero
Fabric is everywhere you look. Digitally printed textiles are a popular option for apparel, décor, backlit displays, and soft signage. Manufacturers are working to expand their offerings, with new takes on pure substrates as well as innovations in blended products.
Producing fabric for apparel is a moving target, as the demand for a given fabric can shift quickly. For décor, versatility is the watchword—removable, repositionable fabric is one of the hottest trends, while many companies are putting a new spin on traditional canvas. Flexibility is essential for backlit displays, an area where more producers are offering fabrics that double as soft signage. In soft signage, polyester is a common fabric, leading many companies to manufacture new products and reengineer existing ones.
Digitally printed apparel is a burgeoning industry—one that requires both innovation and flexibility. “The fashion world always seems to want every fabric you don’t have at the moment,” admits Michael Katz, president, Jacquard InkJet Fabric Systems (JIFS).
Fisher Textiles recently added a new product for apparel, ET 2600 Jersey Spandex Knit, a blend of 92 percent polyester and eight percent spandex with Repreve yarn made from recycled plastic bottles. ET 2600 Jersey Spandex Knit is certified by Unifi, the manufacturer of Repreve, through the U Trust verification program, using Fiberprint technology.
The treatment of the material makes it well suited for athletic and fitness wear. “This fabric is inherently treated with Sorbtek, Unifi’s moisture management system, which allows perspiration to move away from the body, dries quickly, controls odor, and promotes comfort,” explains Sharon Roland, advertising, promotion, and publicity manager, Fisher Textiles. ET 2600 Jersey Spandex Knit is suitable for dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and is produced at 61 inches wide. Buyers can specify length, starting at 25 yards. Thanks to in-house slitting capabilities, all Fisher Textiles’ products can be cut to customizable widths.
“Currently, our top-selling products in the apparel market are cotton percale, cotton sateen, and silks, collectively. But as with all fashion fabrics, the trends shift often,” says Katz. JIFS sells its fabric by the running yard, in standard roll lengths. In addition to set product lines, the company offers custom processing for digital printing with customers’ fabric.
Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF) offers textiles for sports apparel that incorporate advanced moisture management and wicking technology, tensile memory, comfort, and print definition. These are suited for clothing used in bicycling, yoga, soccer, basketball, baseball, golf, and paintball activities. Raptor S/902 is a 100 percent polyester fine mesh used for high-tech workout gear such as yoga wear, t-shirts, and polo shirts.
Décor—in the home and commercial areas such as hotels or hospitality environments—includes a range of applications. These stem from curtains and wall décor to furniture and wallcoverings.
Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. promotes Sticky Stuff 4 oz and Sticky Stuff 8 oz wall graphic fabric. Sticky Stuff 4 oz is a 100 percent polyester fabric with a polymer coating on the print side and a repositionable/removable microsphere adhesive on the back side. It is available in widths up to 60 inches.
Sticky Stuff 8 oz is ideal for applications where a heavier, canvas-like feel and texture is desired. The base is an 8 oz 100 percent polyester fabric with a traditional canvas weave. The print side is coated with polymer coating and the back side is coated with a microsphere adhesive for ease of installation and removal. Sticky Stuff 8 oz is also available in widths up to 60 inches.
GF 9766 Poly Cube stands out among Fisher Textiles’ products, shares Roland. “This textured fabric is unlike any other style we carry and is unique in allowing users to create interior wall and ceiling panel fabrics.” The intended use is offices, however Roland says it can be utilized to create customized environments in restaurants, hotels, home theater studios, places of worship, and public facilities. GF 9766 Poly Cube is suitable for dye-sub and UV printing, and is produced at 118 inches.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) recently introduced two products for décor, HP Premium Satin Canvas and HP Everyday Satin Canvas for latex inkjet printers. Premium Satin Canvas offers a bright white base, wide color gamut, and scratch- and crack-resistance that are ideal for fine art and photographic reproductions. Everyday Satin Canvas is a semi-matte, slightly textured canvas that’s engineered and priced to suit production-oriented décor and display work without sacrificing a quality image.
HP also revitalized two of its canvas options for aqueous printers, HP Artist Matte Canvas and HP Professional Matte Canvas. These next-generation mattes have greater physical flexibility, as well as improved coating for higher quality image reproduction, according to Brand Management Group (BMG), the worldwide licensing partner for HP Large Format Print Media.
For décor, one of Heytex’s most popular offerings is digitex decoflex opaque, a seamless blockout textile. “Its soft hand, flexibility, and richness are achieved with various ink sets,” including UV, latex, and direct dye-sub, says Nicole Meiners, communications manager, Heytex. Like other products in Heytex’s digitex line, it’s PVC-free and Reach compliant. digitex decoflex opaque is sold in roll widths of 126 or 197 inches, with smaller widths available on demand from 38 to 98 inches.
LexJet Corporation’s Print-N-Stick Fabric is one of the newest options for wall décor. It’s a polyester fabric “with a special adhesive on the back that makes it removable, repositionable, and reusable without leaving residue behind,” explains Jaimie Mask, product line manager, LexJet.
In addition to the convenience of repositioning Print-N-Stick Fabric, several other qualities make it a success, according to Mask. “It features a high white point for deeper, sharper color. It’s water resistant and won’t rip, wrinkle, or stretch during production and installation, and can be cut into any shape without fraying or tearing.”
Compatible with aqueous inks, Print-N-Stick is sold in roll widths of 24, 36, 42, 44, and 60 inches, for 89 cents per square foot. Although it’s designed for indoor décor, it can be used for outdoor short-term events and promotions.
PCF offers its Ultrasuede (SR) polyester upholstery fabric for décor applications. It is engineered to be compatible with transfer dye-sub printing. In addition to portraying a comfortable, soft hand, the fabric also offers a special soil release finish.
Roland DGA Corp. offers WallFlair Removable Fabric, designed for both indoor and outdoor use, though it’s used primarily for interior décor applications. “WallFlair Removable Fabric is GREENGUARD Gold certified, providing assurance that it meets UL Labs’ strictest standards for low volatile organic compound emissions into indoor air,” shares Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland. It’s sold in roll widths of 20, 30, or 54 inches, with 20-inch rolls sold at 90 cents per square foot and the two larger widths as 85 cents per square foot.
Color is a particular focus for fabrics created for use in backlit displays. When lit, graphics should showcase rich blacks and exhibit a high-quality feel—not be washed out.
At Dazian Creative Fabric Environments, the top sellers for backlit are 3D Celtic Cloth and Triple White, both geared for dye-sub and made from all-polyester yarn and permanently fire treated. “3D Celtic Cloth provides great light diffusion, features some stretch for light box skinning, and shows no pin holes. Triple White is improved to be easier to sew and has amazing light appearance,” explains Steven Weiss, director of sales, print, Dazian.
Dazian is developing several new products for dye-sub and direct print, notably Moonlight. It shares similar properties with 3D Celtic Cloth, “but radiates spectacular color because of its diffusion properties and can be printed direct or dye-sub,” adds Weiss. 3D Celtic Cloth is produced at 120 inches and Triple White at 118 inches; both are sold at around 40 cents per square foot. Moonlight’s prices are expected to be close to 60 cents per square foot.
When it comes to backlit, Heytex offers digitex heylux. It is designed to be seamless and “create a brilliant showroom experience in a growing global trend for large and grand format illuminated images in the retail environment,” according to Meiners. It is compatible with UV, latex, and solvent ink sets, and sold in roll widths of 126 or 197 inches, with smaller widths available.
Quality Media and Laminating Solutions (QMLS) distributes fabric from Berger Textiles USA, and finds that Berger Samba is a top choice for backlit. “This fabric performs at a very high level, most popular in backlit applications,” says Matt Sullivan, marketing coordinator, QMLS. Berger Samba is compatible with UV, solvent, latex, and dye-sub print processes.
At Seal Graphics Americas, Pure Color Mambo Fabric is the top item for backlit décor, though it can also be used for other applications, such as roll-up displays. “Mambo Fabric features a unique coating that provides high color brilliance and the deepest, richest blacks. Its distinctive characteristics make it an ideal choice for a variety of indoor and outdoor displays where the look and feel of fabric enhances and adds depth to the image,” explains Tiffany Guard, product manager, Seal.
The polyester fabric is compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, latex, and UV-curable inks. Mambo Fabric is available in roll widths of 42, 54, and 61 inches, as well as in 122 and 198 inches—the product is referred to as Artist Premium Heavy S in the two widest sizes.
Many products designed for soft signage are used in other applications. Polyester remains the most popular fabric choice when it comes to soft signage. “Although people are experimenting with natural fabrics for soft signage, by far the most common material is polyester,” notes JIFS’ Katz.
Beaver Paper & Graphic Media, Inc. has long been associated with paper, but expanded into soft signage and backlit with its TexStyles Graphic Fabrics line. The entire portfolio is U.S.-sourced, available in widths up to grand format, and contains options available for most ink sets. Most of the line is polyester, but it also offers “a few polyester/spandex fabrics designed and engineered for geometric-type applications,” shares Bill Shuford, TexStyles product manager, Beaver Paper.
Berger Textiles offers a number of products for use in soft signage. These specialty coated materials are used in direct dye-sub, transfer dye-sub, latex, solvent, and UV printing with a width capacity of up to 16 feet wide.
Coveris Advanced Coatings’ FAB-6 is an all-polyester woven fabric used for a variety of applications, though it’s especially popular for soft signage and backlit. It’s compatible with most aqueous, solvent, eco-solvent, and latex inkjet printers, says Cindy Laramee, applications specialist/technical support, Coveris. FAB-6 requires no carrier sheet and its shape memory makes it a practical option. It is sold in roll widths of 36, 42, and 50 inches, with a list price of 54 cents per square foot.
GF 4417 Soft Knit from Fisher Textiles offers durability and versatility, and is available up to 16 feet wide. “In addition to soft signage it can also be used for exhibit graphics, home furnishings, photographic backdrops, retail displays, silicone edge graphics, and table covers,” says Roland. It’s compatible for dye-sub, UV, and latex printing.
At Heytex, its digitex decoflex offers sophisticated and sharp graphic results, according to Meiners. It is an acrylate-coated polyester fabric that’s “highly elastic, tear resistant, robust, light, and flame retardant,” she notes.
Qué Media, Inc. offers the Motif line of light, heavy, and super heavy fabrics—PFL, PFH, and PFS, respectively. Though popular for soft signage, they are also used for backlit. The company starts with clean, all-polyester fabric so it doesn’t have to be washed or bleached afterward. “We control our coated fabrics from start to finish,” says Tyler Reich, director of product development, Qué Media. “We do not bleach, which makes them last longer and feature a higher tensile strength.” Qué Media coats its products to accept aqueous, latex, UV, and eco-solvent ink sets. Roll widths range from 36 to 60 inches, though the company accommodates alternate sizes for higher volume purchases.
Polyester may be a go-to fabric for signage, but that doesn’t mean companies have stopped trying to improve and innovate the substrate.
HP introduced a new product, HP Light Fabric, for soft signage. “HP Light Fabric is a wrinkle-resistant, pre-shrunk knitted polyester fabric that provides both a soft hand and high ink saturation for vibrant image reproduction,” explains Dione Metnick, product manager, BMG. The latex-friendly material is sold in rolls of 42, 54, and 60 inches.
PCF recently introduced Deko-Flex-7036FLBS, which is engineered to work better with frame systems. “One of the most visually pleasing ways to display digitally printed fabric is to stretch it to fit within a rigid frame system. The simple act of framing any image gives it a sense of both permanence and importance,” says Jeff Sanders, digital fabrics sales manager, PCF.
Deko-Flex-7036FLBS is a next-generation version of PCF’s top-selling banner fabric, features a mechanically engineered stretch, and is available in optic white. “This style is produced using Trevira Xpand—kelastic polyester yarn—that enhances stretchability while retaining the fabric’s memory. Once in place this textile pulls taught and provides a smooth surface with no sagging or drooping. In addition, Deko-Flex-7036FLBS provides excellent print definition with a soft hand,” explains Sanders. Available in 60 and 120 inches, it is compatible with dye-sub, direct to print, latex, and UV ink sets.
At Perception Wide Format Media, SofSign Fabrics is one of the newest options for soft signage. The all-polyester product is woven and finished in American mills to ensure consistent quality, says Jim Tufts, business unit manager, Perception. It’s suited for dye-sub, latex, and UV inks and is available in 60-inch roll widths.
Roland offers traditional polyester/cotton blend canvas options used for soft signage including its Matte Artist Canvas, Solvent Gloss Canvas, and Solvent Satin Canvas. These products are also used in the fine art space.
A newer offering from Top Value Fabrics (TVF) is its Direct Print Textiles line, which is primarily for soft signage, though it also contains options for backlit and interior décor. All of the products in the Direct Print Textiles line are Reach-compliant polyester with proprietary finishing, with options for direct dye-sub, dye-sub transfer, latex, and UV. They’re sold in widths of up to 126 inches.
The whiteness, finish, and precision of the fabric’s engineering is what makes it work, says Mike Compton, business development manager, TVF. “Printers require media with a consistent finish that features a constant white point from batch to batch, is wound correctly with clean edges, and on the same size cores. Printers don’t have time for disruptions in production, and they need reliable media with high quality and pure performance.”
Ultraflex Systems, Inc. offers soft signage divided into the VorTex T, D, and S lines that contain several new products. The T line consists of soft fabrics designed for dye-sub paper transfer, latex, and UV printing processes. The D line of fabrics is formulated for optimal compatibility with direct-to-fabric sublimation printers. The S line is a range of fabrics coated for compatibility with high-speed solvent, UV, eco-solvent, and latex printers, and “is ideal for companies looking to expand fabric offerings while using existing equipment,” says Kylie Schleicher, marketing coordinator, Ultraflex.
The fabrics in the VorTex T and D lines are offered in 126-inch widths, while the VorTex S line of products is available in 54 to 198 inches. Most of the lineup is polyester-based, though the VorTex Stretch D229 is a polyester/spandex blend that allows for the material to stretch in one direction.
While polyester and polyester blends are still popular for soft signage, other fabric types gain momentum.
Glaser Mills specializes in manufacturing material for banners and flags. For the latter, its two most popular products are 200 Denier Dacron and 200 Denier Nylon. 200 Denier Dacron is made from all-recycled content, sold in 62- and 72-inch widths, and compatible with direct-to-fabric sublimation, direct-to-fabric disperse dye, and heat transfer dye-sub. 200 Denier Nylon is made for direct-to-fabric acid dye and is sold in 40-, 60-, 55-, and 72-inch sizes. “It is vital that the image pushes through to the reverse side. With our digital fabrics, making a single reverse flag is possible,” says Mike Glaser, director of digital sales, Glaser Mills.
PVC-based Bantex curl-free digital media is available from Herculite. The laminated banner media is U.S.-produced, flame retardant, and prints with solvent, UV-curable, and latex digital inks. Bantex 10 oz. Blackback Curl Free, Bantex 13 oz. Two-Sided Curl Free, and Bantex 10 oz. Two-Sided Curl Free are the most popular products, says Dan Dix, business manager, digital media, Herculite. The line is sold in 36-, 54-, and 73-inch roll widths.
The Many Sides of Fabric
In each category—apparel, décor, backlit, and soft signage—trends are all about more. Manufacturers strive to provide additional options to allow for greater customization, but also offer fabrics that can be utilized in multiple ways. The result is a tendency toward crossover—a canvas that can be used for murals, a signage product that works for home furnishings. Vendors know that even small changes to a fabric’s composition, treatment, and coating make it more adaptable and thus vastly more appealing to buyers.
Nov2014, Digital Output