By Melissa Donovan
Textile printing is a popular topic of conversation for many in the graphic arts. It is everywhere and used to create anything from soft signage to garments and décor. Print service providers (PSPs) not offering the ability should at least be curious about how to incorporate it into their existing business model.
There are three primary considerations when it comes to offering textile-based applications—the printer, the media, and finishing equipment. It’s important to research all three prior to starting this service and weighing the advantages of eventually bringing the entire process in house.
Above: Deko-Tex Blockout 7255KMFLBS from Top Value Fabrics is ideal for soft signage applications.
Swaying the Undecided
If you are a PSP still determining whether to not to offer textile printing, think of all the benefits related to your bottom line. Adding the service diversifies your product offerings, places your company in new industries, and bolsters sustainability efforts.
Beatrice Drury, marketing and communications manager, Zünd America, Inc., points out that “it’s a great way to became even more of a one-stop printing/finishing service provider while taking full advantage of all the benefits of digital production processes—greater personalization, customization, and automation.”
Fabric printing opens doors to new industries like apparel and home furnishings. “Machinery, ink, and textile advancements make the transition between markets fluid and easy. Today, a PSP can tackle any application regardless of market because the technology is consistent and supports project variety and expansion,” shares Kathryn Sanders, product marketing manager, apparel and home furnishings, Top Value Fabrics.
“Depending on the industry they are currently focused on, adding textile printing diversifies their offerings, giving them the opportunity to enter into a different market and add a new revenue source,” agrees David Lopez, textile solutions specialist, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Additionally, fabric-based graphics are a great opportunity for repeat sales. “Soft signage allows customers to easily change graphics rapidly in promotional activity and advertisements with reduced cost to business,” explains Lindsey Hynek, marketing manager – Milwaukee location, Gerber Technology.
Another benefit focuses on sustainability. Sanders says digital textile printing uses significantly less water compared to traditional rotary screen and flatbed printing, as well as utilizes recyclable or biodegradable substrates.
In addition to textile-based prints, dye-sublimation and direct to print technologies also increase revenue opportunities in other substrates. “This technology creates outstanding rigid metallic signage, photography printed on metal, or customized products leveraging equipment to create transferable output for a variety of porcelain and glass in addition to creating customized cutting boards, glass wear, and even wine tote bags,” suggests Tim Check, senior product manager, professional imaging, Epson America, Inc.
First Things First
Your interest is peaked, but before committing to a printer, media, or finishing device it’s important to know a few things like what type of textile-based applications you plan on offering.
“This is a critical step before anything can be planned. Chances are good your current customers are already purchasing printed textiles from another vendor and would prefer to buy them from you. Ask your current customer base what they need now or would take advantage of if you offered them this solution,” recommends Andy Arkin, strategic account manager, Zünd.
According to Lopez, the application you decide to provide dictates the type of printer or ink needed. For example, if looking to tackle a niche market like silk scarves, acid dye is the desired choice. If a printing company plans on offering flags or soft signage, direct to fabric printing with disperse dye is recommended.
“Knowing the product you intend on offering is an important step in deciding which equipment you want to bring into your production facility,” agrees Hynek.
Sanders suggests reverse engineering the project. Start with the end goal to determine the attributes that are necessary for a successful application. “Projects are derailed far too often when PSPs don’t collaborate with their suppliers or machine technicians,” she continues.
Drury argues that the multifunctional digital cutting/finishing devices available can be adapted to any type of textile application. “What dictates the tool configuration is the type of substrate/fabric that needs to be cut and what type of edge quality the application demands,” she says. Questions to consider include do the edges need to be sealed or will the product be sewn or finished otherwise after cutting?
Specific features of the printer, finishing device, and media are dependent upon what it will be used for. Once the application is decided upon research can begin. A good start is to visit a local demonstration center or if the timing is right—a trade show—to see equipment in action. According to Hynek, demonstrations are an important part of the process, as they allow the PSP to ask questions specific to their production facility and product line.
When consulting with a media supplier, Sanders says working with them to determine the ideal printing process is essential. This includes ordering sample yardage and running test prints on the substrate. Things to look for include print clarity, fabric hand, crocking, and color to lightfastness, she shares.
For finishing in particular, it is worthwhile to consider automated cutting options as this addresses the challenge of media coming on and off the table as well as software that enhances cut accuracy. “When it comes time to finish a textile, using an automated winder/unwinder for a conveyor table can greatly reduce time and room for error,” suggests Hynek.
“Because of the challenges of cutting/finishing digitally printed graphics, particularly related to stretch, skew, and potential wrinkling, this application requires a lot more registration marks printed along with the graphics to ensure accurate cutting,” explains Drury. Solutions are available that include cameras to accurately and efficiently read the registration marks.
Knife or laser cutting are options for finishing textiles. “Using a laser cutter to finish textiles allows a sealed edge, which not only reduces your finishing bottleneck, but your cost of production since it eliminates the need for sewing or hemming,” says Hynek.
Arkin cautions that working with digital cutting vendors who truly understand how textiles need to be cut is important.
Conducting thorough research and understanding application goals prior to purchasing a printer, finishing device, or media are important steps for adding textile printing to a shop’s existing services. “Taking risks can break you before selling your first square foot,” warns Arkin.
With a good base amount of information, a PSP is in a position to truly reap the rewards of textile printing—from expanding services for current customers to entering new markets.
Jun2019, Digital Output