By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Fabric-based signage is popular for a number of reasons. For example, it is light weight and can be folded, to reduce shipping costs in freight and handling. Digital printing of textiles—whether direct or sublimation—is growing and many print providers offer their textile printing services for trade show to retail environments.
For added appeal, lighting for fabric signage is an option. Especially with framed systems—even the newest innovation silicone edge graphic (SEG) frames—back, front, and edge lit are all a possibility. These are used indoors and outdoors and again in a number of environments. A well-lit sign not only enhances readability for the intended viewer, but offers versatility when viewed during the day or night.
Mandel Visual Branding, a Mandel Company operates out of one 50,000 square foot location in Milwaukee, WI. In business since 1892, the company creates digitally produced graphics on both rigid and flexible substrates as well as fabric for event production companies, display manufacturers, trade show producers, retail graphics, in-ice graphics, and corporate events.
Mark Heimerl, VP of sales and marketing, Mandel Visual Branding, notes that the company’s specialty is printing on fabric. More specifically it is well-known for producing backlit fabric tension graphics and traditional tension graphics requiring keder gaskets, which are sewn in house—also referred to as SEG framing systems.
He estimates that about 50 parent of its annual sales involve fabric printing and about 20 percent of that is backlit signage. At press time, Mandel Visual Branding relied on an ATPColor nine-meter direct-to-fabric dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printer for its fabric work, purchased in 2018. However, it recently invested in a hybrid press that allows for printing both direct to fabric and transfer dye-sub, also at up to nine meters.
“We originally chose direct to fabric due to the high quality and quicker print to finish timing. The press prints and transfers inline and can changeover from different fabric like regular non-backlit polyester to mesh fabric. The new printer will expand the types of fabrics we can print on, where our direct to fabric has limits,” shares Heimerl.
Speaking of fabric, Mandel Visual Branding sources its textiles from companies like Fisher Textiles and Top Value Fabrics. Applications that the digitally printed fabric are used for include feather flags, retractable banners, indoor décor, point of purchase displays, event graphics, and fabric tension graphics.
Mandel Visual Branding’s customers request fabric tension graphics with frames. This includes visual display managers and designers, display manufacturers, store architects, and designers.
Framing systems from Brite Frame Fabricators and Xcel Products, Inc. are two of the company’s go-to choices when fulfilling customer orders. Many times, these requests are bespoke, so for Mandel Visual Branding it ideal to work with suppliers like Brite Frame and Xcel Products that offer customizable systems.
The frames’ ability to adapt well with lighting options is another consideration. LED lights are used in the displays but placement varies based on the customer’s needs—whether that be edge, lattice, or pattern lighting. Very rarely do the frames require light diffusion panels and most come with different types of switching or dimming, as well as options for hard wiring or direct plug-in.
To combat the light associated with backlit graphics, the print provider relies on a 100 percent polyester fabric with a tight weave. This acts as a diffuser, keeping light from shining through to avoid pin holes. The fabric still features the same stretch characteristics as a non-backlit fabric, but allows for a tight fit when installed in an SEG frame.
Backlit Rigid to Fabric
Buyers who once requested rigid translucent backlit signage now recognize the benefits of backlit fabric signage, says Heimerl. “Especially now with the lower cost of fabric for backlit and LED lighting making backlit more economical, we are receiving inquiries from non-backlit customers wanting to add lighting to their displays. We also see a growth in more temporary displays using backlit, due to the ease of display construction and more economical production,” he continues.
A first time customer worked with Mandel Visual Branding to create fabric tower-like displays that were backlit. The job was very economical compared to the client’s original display pieces. “The original display was built from heavy chrome extrusions and translucent acrylic backlit panels with non-LED light sources. It was not cost effective or customizable and difficult to move,” explains Heimerl.
Using a backlit fabric from Top Value Fabrics and special corner extrusions for the framing system, the print provider created graphics for multiple store locations. Each had a unique size configuration and was completely custom. Bought to order, digital printing’s ability to produce economical short runs was essential for this job. The ease of setup when it came to the framing systems was also important.
“The fabric tower solutions provided a customizable panel print unique to each store, changeable for promotions, an anodized aluminum structure for sturdiness and light weight, and LED lights with consistent, bright, long lasting, and cool temperature lighting,” shares Heimerl.
Mandel Visual Branding is a master at its craft. Printing to fabric and then constructing customizable framing systems, many times with lighting options, is its specialty. Thanks to new framing designs that offer an easy way to setup these displays—in addition to economical options—more buyers consider tension frame or SEG systems with fabric-based graphics.
Heimerl recently noticed a lot of traditional shelving systems and gondolas integrating with tension graphic backlit frames. “It may not be a new trend, but I feel it has a lot to do with ease of design and construction. And the more economical products make adding backlit to a retail environment more manageable than before,” he adds.
More traditional displays and even new environments will start to use fabric-based SEG in the future. The next article in this two-part series shares information from another print provider offering these services to its customers.
Mar2020, Digital Output