By Melissa Donovan
It’s no surprise that customization is becoming common in all aspects of daily life. Consumers look for unique products with favorite colors, patterns, characters, or logos. Digital fabric enables personalization to expand into décor items like ottomans, chairs, couches, and loveseats as well the pillows and cushions that complement them.
Fabric optimized for digital printing and dedicated to upholstery applications is mainly either cotton, a cotton blend, or polyester. Depending on the material it can be printed via dye-sublimation (dye-sub) transfer or direct and direct print with ink sets such as UV or latex. Specific features in these fabrics define them as acceptable for upholstery. Durability as well as crock fastness and abrasion resistance are important factors to consider.
Above: PremEx Solutions’ DuraVibe fabrics are available in cotton, cotton blends, and polyester.
Demand Settles In
For print service providers (PSPs) looking to break into a new market, fabric printing—specifically with upholstery applications in mind—is a lucrative option. Customized furniture is alluring to consumers from many backgrounds. There is the media buyer looking to promote a brand in a unique way, a chain of hotels planning to decorate rooms with a one-of-a-kind feel, or a designer hoping to reach out to residential clients with the offer of never-before-seen prints used in their homes.
“Designers and buyers don’t want to be limited to cookie-cutter fabric options like in the past,” admits Sharon Roland, advertising and PR manager, Fisher Textiles. “People like options to showcase creativity and individuality, especially in home or business living spaces. Additionally, design challenges in coordinating elements for living spaces increases the demand for customized upholstery printing.”
Hunter Ellis, president, Jacquard Inkjet Fabric Systems, says customized upholstery allows both renters and homeowners to quickly and affordably put their own spin on furnishings and decorations. “It’s a great way to make a house feel like a home,” he adds.
Digital print is well suited for customized upholstery fabric. “Typically the run length of custom fabric is short, and digital can meet this demand more cost effectively than analog technology,” explains Dan Halkyard, senior marketing manager, S-One Holdings Corporation.
The ability to quickly turnaround smaller volumes has other benefits. “It also allows for the supply chain to respond quicker to market trends and enables more test marketing programs,” says Ann Sawchak, partner, PremEx Solutions.
According to Kathryn Sanders, product marketing manager, Top Value Fabrics, designers and artists look to use digital instead of traditional rotary screen and flatbed printers because of the cost savings. “Screens typically range from $350 to $1,000 each with a maximum of 16 color ways. Designers can print short, exclusive collections, incorporate unlimited colors, and experiment with scale without breaking the bank,” she suggests.
“The demand for customized upholstery is growing so fast due to the fact that digital printers are becoming more efficient, cost effective, and user friendly. Heat presses and calendar units offer more solutions. You can do short runs, customize to end users’ preferences, offer one-of-a-kind artwork, and print on demand,” shares Marty Meisner, sales manager, Media One Digital Imaging Solutions, LLC.
In addition to positive improvements to digital hardware, fabric optimized for this process continues to advance. “Digital textile fabrics now have the same rich quality, weave, and abrasion characteristics as traditional analog printed fabrics,” adds Sawchak.
PSPs familiar with common signage requests may find upholstery fabric orders daunting. Conducting a transaction with a fabric décor designer versus a brand manager looking to print a fabric banner or wall graphic does differ. Both parties have specific requirements when it comes to the job.
“Both types of clientele are very specific in their desired fabric properties and capabilities based on the end use. For instance, a sign customer may need the fabric to have a certain white point and stretch percentage, whereas an upholstery customer may be more concerned with texture of the fabric, durability, and wrinkle resistance. Every job requirement is different,” explains Roland.
Specifically, “in my experience, interior furnishing customers are looking for natural fabrics such as linen or canvas. Some customers will settle for polyesters, but the hand and feel of the fabric is much more important than it is with signage,” adds Ellis.
The good news is that customers looking for upholstery fabric could be current customers of a PSP. “Clients seeking digitally printed upholstery/décor fabric could be current customers for the sign printer, but the sign printer has not yet approached them for décor solutions. Examples include commercial customers such as offices, architectural firms, or boutique hotels. If not a current customer, then the printer needs to look at different markets to find these customers. Markets such as home furnishings, interior designers, and trade shows,” continues Sawchak.
Resting on a Fabric Type
Certain types of digitally printed fabric are ideal for upholstery use. Vendors overwhelmingly suggest cottons and cotton blends or polyester. Print processes—dye-sub transfer and direct, or another type of ink—also are a consideration.
“Cottons and cotton blends can be printed with reactive dye, direct pigment, and latex. Pigment has come a long way in reaching the durability desired by the customer as it relates to crock fastness,” says Sawchak.
Sanders agrees that cotton and cotton blends can be successfully printed with pigment, but cautions that they need to pass the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) crocking standards. For example, the AATCC TM8-2016, Colorfastness to Crocking: Crockmeter Method and the AATCC TM116-2013, Colorfastness to Crocking: Rotary Vertical Crockmeter Method are both designed to determine the amount of color transferred from the surface of colored textile materials to other surfaces by rubbing.
On the other hand, polyester fabrics are ideal because of their durability in indoor and outdoor environments and compatibility with dye-sub printing, according to Sanders. She adds that polyester is also advantageous because finishes like DuPont Teflon Durable Water Repel (DWR) and soil release can be applied that are not normally compatible with other print processes.
“Polyester fabrics can be printed either transfer or direct. Direct uses disperse dye inks or pigment. We have found to get fine details when printing direct with disperse dye it is necessary to have the fabric pretreated so the ink does not migrate. If the design does not have fine details you may not need to pretreat,” recommends Sawchak.
Ellis shares that most of Jacquard’s upholstery customers request linen or canvas. “Permanent pigment textile inks are what I recommend to most, although a few are printing high-end silk pillows that call for acid dyes,” he adds.
Features that Take a Load Off
Fabric ultimately used as upholstery must remain durable despite human interaction, safe in regards to fire hazards, and still be comfortable. In addition to durability, safety, and soft hand, abrasion testing and lightfastness are important considerations.
Sawchak says abrasion testing is important to understand the strength of the fiber. Most standards begin at 15,000 rubs and higher to see where the fiber will break. Popular testing standards are held up by ASTM International.
“It is imperative that print providers choose textiles that pass the ASTM D4157-13 abrasion test. If the fabric doesn’t meet that standard, then it simply is not suited for the home furnishings market,” argues Sanders. This test method covers the determination of the abrasion resistance of woven textile fabrics using an oscillatory cylinder tester. It may not be applicable for some fabric constructions.
ASTM also conducts the ASTM D3884-09 abrasion test. This covers the determination of the abrasion resistance of textile fabrics using a rotary platform, double-head tester. “It uses a specialized machine to determine the number of cycles a fabric can go through before it is worn down. The test measures the fabric’s deterioration, including the effects of abrasion,” explains Roland.
When fabric is placed in direct sunlight it could fade. This is especially true in regards to cushions or pillows used for outdoor furniture. “Another consideration is lightfastness—dyes placed in direct sunlight will fade over time, which is another reason to turn to natural fabrics printed with pigmented inks,” adds Ellis.
“Pigment, latex, and high-energy disperse inks have the best lightfastness properties,” suggests Sawchak.
Sit Back and Relax
While many digitally printable textiles are available, here we include those specifically tailored for upholstery use. When possible, each vendor has shared ideal furniture applications, any testing standards passed, maximum width and thickness, weight, compatible print processes, and pricing.
Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. offers Upholstery FR, which consists of tightly woven ring spun yarns. The polyester fabric gives a look of fine cotton upholstery. It is treated to meet the NFPA 701 flammability standard. It is printable with UV and dye-sub transfer processes. Available in roll widths of 60 and 120 inches, the material is 19 mil thick and 8 oz.
Fisher Textiles provides several fabrics for upholstery purposes. GF 1010 Element is a woven fabric that is waterproof, bright white, and sturdy, making it ideal for outdoor upholstery. It is compatible with dye-sub transfer and UV-curable printing and offered in 60- and 125-inch widths at a weight of 8.5 oz. 7777 Casino Suede is a soft, warp knit fabric treated with a durable water resistant coating and tested under ASTM D3884-09 to withstand 9,000 cycles on a rotary platform machine. It is ideal for chairs and ottomans, compatible with dye-sub transfer, and offered in 72 inches wide at a weight of 7.4 oz. GF 9766 Poly Cube is a 100 percent polyester knit that is dye-sub transfer compatible and 118 inches wide at 6.6 oz. It is popularly used for pillows due to its unique texture and soft hand.
Jacquard carries a variety of furniture-favored fabrics. 3.5 oz. bleached linen, 5.5 oz. bleached linen, 5.5 oz. natural linen, 6.5 oz. optic white canvas, 8 oz. optic white duck, 10 oz. optic white canvas, and soon a 10 oz. canvas grown and woven in the U.S. Fabrics are treated for pigment, reactive dye, or acid dye ink. Linens are available up to 54 inches in width and canvas is available up to 58 inches in width. Pricing ranges from $228 to $411 for a full width 50-foot long roll, depending on the type of fabric.
Media One offers Endutex Napa Print for upholstery, specifically sofas, ottomans, and bean bags. It is a combination of PVC and polyester and features brilliant colors, elasticity, and softness. Compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, UV, and latex ink, it is available in 55 inch by 50 meter rolls. It weighs 550 gsm. Pricing is less than $0.80 per square foot.
PremEx Solutions’ DuraVibe fabrics are available in cotton, cotton blends, and polyester. The cotton and cotton blends are printable with reactive, pigment, and latex. The polyester is printable via direct or transfer dye-sub, with direct using disperse dye or pigment ink. The products are available in widths of 56 inches up to 3.2 meters. The average price per square yard for the cottons and cotton blends is $5.50. The polyesters average $6.25 per square yard. According the company, the media is ideal for upholstery due to its durability in both crock and abrasion.
Top Value Fabrics offers multiple fabrics specifically engineered for upholstery applications using dye-sub printing. Glacier S/567, Denali S/568, Zion S/569, Yosemite S/570, and Heavy Poly Linen S/535 are all 100 percent polyesters available with DuPont Teflon DWR finish. Weights are 15 oz., 11.5 oz., 10.3 oz., 9.4 oz., and 9.4 oz., respectively. Widths vary around 56 inches.
Pull Up a Chair
Upholstery fabric has specific requirements, but most importantly it needs to be able to withstand abrasion. Textiles optimized for digital print—when paired with the correct print process—are available to meet this need and more. Not only are they durable, they also offer a soft hand, crock fastness, and lightfastness.
PSPs looking to expand into new markets should consider textile printing and by extension upholstery applications. Not only are designers and artists a group of new clientele worth pursuing, current customers are also ripe for choosing. Digital print’s short-run capabilities make customization of furniture including couches, chairs, and ottomans a possibility for many buyers.
Nov2017, Digital Output