By Melissa Donovan
Digital print provides business opportunity in personalization and short runs. As a result, textile printers are pursuing digital print at an accelerated rate.
Comfortex Window Fashions celebrates 28 years in business. An independently operating subsidiary of the Hunter Douglas Group, it conducts commerce in over 70 countries worldwide. Based in Maplewood, NY, the manufacturer and fabricator of custom window treatments offers a complete line of cellular and pleated shades, wood blinds and shutters, sheer window shadings, and cellular vertical blinds.
With customers primarily in North America, it sells its custom shade designs to various retail locations, both brick-and-mortar stores and Internet sites. Upwards of 600 shades are produced on a daily basis at the facility. Much of Comfortex’s production is digital print.
A Digital Timeline
The company was introduced to digital print in 2005, when researching how to combat challenges related to its insulated cellular fabric blinds, the Odysee line of products. The manufacturing team had trouble maintaining quality levels and approached Thomas Marusak, president/co-founder, Comfortex, about adapting digital printing to address the issue.
2007 presented a new level of technology, using stationary digital printers to create customized cellular and pleated shades. Marusak explains that both types of fabric shades are individually run through the printers. Today the company operates EFI digital devices for this work.
Maintaining a collaborative relationship with its sister companies in Europe, Comfortex learned about wide format digital printers. In particular, how they were used to print onto fabric that eventually would be made into roller or roman shades and panel track system shades for large windows and patio doors.
After extensive research back in the U.S., 2009 presented the company with the opportunity to implement Agfa Graphics wide format digital UV printers. “We needed the right ink, one that was soft—wouldn’t crack, odorless, UV stable, cost effective, and eco-sound,” explains Marusak. The different polyester-based textiles used to create the shades also had to run well through the device.
While the technical side of Comfortex’s experience with digital print is evolutionary, the massive amounts of file types—patterns, graphics, and colors—the manufacturer keeps on retainer is impressive. “Before digital, we were economically challenged to inventory each design. Palettes of fabric would have to be stored. Now, it’s possible to keep multiple files of all different patterns and colorways without taking up physical space,” says Marusak.
With this revelation, Comfortex made inroads with big names such as Disney, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League, licensing logos, graphics, artwork, and more to offer customized shades with these entities’ characters or teams.
Another partnership is with Home and Garden Television (HGTV) celebrities. The technical team at Comfortex creates a collection uniquely suited to a designer, with different patterns and hues in a complementary palette. These product lines are then offered exclusively through high-end retailers that have a relationship with the fabricator.
For example, John Gidding a designer and host on the HGTV network, collaborated with Comfortex to offer the John Gidding Collection. The shades are inspired by elements in clothing such as seams found on jeans or stitching in a suit.
This particular program features over 345 different SKUs, which is possible because of digital print, according to Marusak, as less inventory space is required to maintain the collection. Additionally, he explains that with print on demand, if a product in a particular program isn’t selling, it is easy enough to switch it out with something different.
Digital print and its benefits have boosted the company’s work with Internet retailers. Today a higher percentage of its clientele base is on the Web. “People shop the Internet regularly, primarily for three reasons—price, convenience, and personalization. We are trying to capitalize on these last two reasons,” adds Marusak.
Its various work creating customized lines of shades led Comfortex to expand its reach further by offering its retail partners the ability to have their customers create personalized shades through its Persona Custom Designer Shades service. Users can submit a design of their choosing, whether through stock photography or a personal photograph, upload it, and then Comfortex prints directly onto the fabric.
A Cut Above
Printing isn’t the only part of the workflow that enhanced Comfortex’s production process, positioning it at the forefront of creative customized shades. A little over a year ago it instituted an MCT Digital cutter. Prior to this, the company used manual ultrasonic and roll cut tables, which Marusak explains were slow, labor intensive, and inefficient for the company’s regular production schedule.
To keep pace with the print side of the process, an automated digital cutter was essential. After two years of investigating what was available on the market, Comfortex chose the MCT device. It can be used as a cold cutter or a vacuum-based laser cutter, depending on the fabric. If a textile requires sealed edges, the laser cutter is preferred.
Both the company’s roller and roman shades are printed exactly to size and then cut on the device. A Caldera RIP—which communicates nicely between the Agfa printers and MCT cutter—enables efficient nesting of jobs.
Comfortex is making a name for itself in custom décor. While it may not have set out to do this 28 years ago, it’s successfully adapted its workflow to a period in both consumer and commercial decoration where personalization is slowly becoming the norm. Buyers look to put their personal touch on everything from the pattern on a couch to the pictures on their walls.
The manufacturer’s ability to work within its network of retailers, offering limited edition collections, collaborations with well-known TV personalities/designers, and some of the hottest pop culture symbols of the day presents many opportunities. The company’s digital printers and cutter are poised to keep pace with the growing demand for customized décor.
Jul2014, Digital Output