By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Backlit graphics and framing systems offer glare-free images for retail, advertising, and trade shows. These solutions capitalize on the growing popularity of digitally printed textiles. With the proper fabric, backlit graphics offer a modern presentation that enables quality and durability.
Founded in December 2012, Printed Ink LLC is a commercial printer based in Huntingdon Valley, PA. It started in a 2,000 square foot workspace collaborating with nearly 15 companies as a business-to-business digital print provider with a focus on interior office environments, specifically wall murals, posters, floor graphics, and window films. The company also produced vehicle wraps, fleet graphics, and outdoor signage.
Today, Printed Ink works with over 200 businesses including wholesale relationships with exhibit houses that serve multiple clientele. Its operations expanded to include a full suite of services from planning and design to production and installation from a 10,000 square foot facility. This includes direct UV, latex, and dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing. The company also intends to provide CNC and laser cutting services in the near future.
Printed Ink services companies across the country and on occasion, internationally. It produces dye-sub graphics including silicone edge graphics (SEG), which according to Jonathan Merenlender, co-founder, Printed Ink, is the company’s strongest selling product. Other applications include acrylic murals, ADA signs, backdrops, banners, custom window films, direct to substrate printing, floor graphics, office signage, vehicle wraps, and wall murals.
The PSP’s backlit graphics are produced with an EFI VUTEk FabriVU 340, which offers four color printing with a wide color gamut and deep color saturation for fabric display graphics. It prints up to 133 inches and handles fabric weights from 28 to 140 grams per square meters. Production speeds reach up to 5,381 square feet per hour.
According to Merenlender, Printed Ink selected the EFI FabriVU 340 because there was no comparison in print quality to the other dye-sub printers available at the time, and the industrial nature and speed of the machine made it appealing as well. “We wanted to enter the dye-sub industry with an advantage in speed and quality, so we took the risk of purchasing this robust machine with the intent to grow into its capabilities.”
Printed Ink started producing backlit graphics when it first opened. It produced traditional applications such as light box films and backlit vinyl. “Our focus on backlit graphics really grew as we began to produce dye-sub fabrics, specifically graphics for SEG frames,” shares Merenlender. “We spent a significant amount of time and resources developing a process that ensures both vibrant, accurate color and perfectly fitted SEG.”
In the past 12 months, Printed Ink shifted its focus on backlit graphics to figure out how to produce the best graphics possible. Merenlender says the company quickly discovered the need for extremely high-quality backlit SEG displays, which can perform well in exhibit, event, and retail.
“There are many elements that we’ve considered including tradeoffs in print quality versus durability, saturation versus opacity, etc. After many tests, we feel we’ve created a product that performs well while being very bright and colorful,” explains Merenlender.
Currently, 50 to 60 percent of the company’s dye-sub printing is for backlit, specifically SEG light box displays, which makes up nearly 30 percent of its overall work.
Printed Ink finds the best results come from Ultraflex Systems, Inc. VorTex Backlit Event T202 fabric. It is a 5.96 ounce woven polyester fabric designed to eliminate spider cracking and wrinkles. The fabric offers high-resolution imaging when printed via dye-sub transfer and is available in widths of 64 and 126 inches. “It is a great product that excels in durability and has excellent features such as ink receptiveness, sharpness, consistency, and overall hand feel,” admits Merenlender.
Most of Printed Ink’s backlit graphics serve the exhibit and event industry as a result of fabric quickly becoming the standard for trade show graphics due to its versatility and ability to be seamless up to ten feet, says Merenlender. “Backlit fabric in SEG light boxes provides a very powerful impact whether it is on the trade show floor or in the lobby of an office. It offers color and pop like nothing else that’s available in the display industry. In many instances, if the right creative/art is selected, backlit fabric will without a doubt steal the focus of anything else nearby.”
To keep up with competition, Printed Ink follows trends regarding digitally printed backlit graphics. Currently, it sees a massive move to fabric in the exhibit and event industry. According to Merenlender, many of the traditional framing systems that use rigid panels are being phased out for new structures that can accommodate SEG fabric. “The backlit fabric light boxes are typically integrated into exhibits as the center piece, drawing people in with a grand display that has a high impact.”
Additionally, office environments are also starting to use backlit fabric in SEG frames. Merenlender believes its appealing to this space because the frames and prints are all handled by the PSP initially. As time goes by, they can order a new graphic and change it themselves without the cost of building a new structure.
In 2017, repeat customer Grapevine Visual Concepts, a high-end custom exhibit manufacturer, approached Printed Ink for a showroom graphic. The client hoped to demonstrate how a great backlit graphic makes a booth standout on a trade show floor, says Merenlender.
“Grapevine Visual Concepts wanted to push the limits of what used to not be possible with backlit fabric, specifically, vibrant colors and rich contrast,” he explains.
Printed Ink selected an SEG frame structure. With the EFI VUTEk FabriVU 340, it printed on Ultraflex VorTex Backlit Event T202 and finished with an SEG gasket to fit to the frame. The completed backlit graphic measured 6×16 feet. From job submittal to installation, Printed Ink finished in three days.
According to Merenlender, challenges occurred in color vibrancy. “Especially having a black that is so dense that it effectively blocks out light while allowing the colors to shine through,” he explains.
With the use of its EFI printer and Ultraflex fabric, Printed Ink achieved a vibrant display. “This project really pushed our printer and the material to perform its best—we really had to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get such vibrant colors and bold blacks,” adds Merenlender.
The backlit display served as a prototype for Grapevine Visual Concepts. Due to its success, the company now uses Printed Ink to produce the majority of its backlit fabrics.
Print providers with experience in interior signage recognize digital print technology’s impact on fabric. Backlit graphics and SEG light boxes provide versatile and quality images to display in highly populated environments.
Part two of this series features a PSP that utilizes a variety of digital dye-sub printing equipment to print photorealistic images on fabric.
Oct2018, Digital Output