The market for digital printed fabric graphics continues to grow, responding to creative ideas for new applications, economic factors that demand affordable options, environmental concerns that push the industry in new directions and new technology and equipment that pulls it all together.
David Hawkes, Group Product Manager at Roland DGA Corp., says all of its fabric/textile printing with Transfer Paper products are expanding at an incredible rate, including for signage, wall coverings, upholstery, flags, clothing and even flooring materials. Though the possibilities are endless, the highest growth opportunity in the fabric graphics market is in the area of soft signage. The appeal of this application has to do with the attributes of fabric that make it a great alternative to traditional vinyl signs. It's much more compact, lightweight and flexible than vinyl for shipping, handling and storage, and it can be draped in creative shapes to frame eye-catching retail and trade show displays. In addition, the ability to combine low cost fabric options with UV printing opens up the world of short-term soft signage.
“That's a concept that wasn't even considered in the past due to the complexity and cost of the digital textile work flow,” Hawkes says. “That's no longer true today. The fact that soft signage is a lot easier to produce, install and remove makes it an ideal short-term application. Imagine how that capability would differentiate an end user from its competition?”
Deanna Kuhlmann of Kuhlmann Leavitt Design in St. Louis, Mo., tends to bring fabric into the conversation more often today with clients. “What originally drew us to fabric was the idea that the client didn't have a huge budget but had a lot to say, so how can we do that in a way that's dramatic, different and affordable?” Kuhlmann says. “For us, it's a question of, 'why isn't everybody doing this?'”
Trade show exhibitors who want to get the most from their booth space are going beyond fabric graphic signage and using fabric to create pathways and rooms with big, bold and colorful, digitally-printed branding messages. The market will continue to expand as other exhibitors follow their lead.
“We use inkjet and dye sublimation depending on the substrate, and print on all sorts of wovens, vinyls, polyesters, cotton and finer textiles,” Kuhlmann says. “As long as it can be roll fed or fit on a flatbed, we're willing to try it. We have tremendous luck printing on sheer polyester fabric using dye sublimation printing. It looks like it's printed on both sides, which is a nice effect. When you light certain fabrics, it's spectacular. Sheer polyester when lit looks like it's glowing.”
Kuhlmann predicts that there will be greater experimentation on different types of substrates and fabrics, especially by those who want to distinguish themselves. “I would encourage printers to get a little more daring as to what they offer their customers, work with a designer to figure out what a good collection should be, or at least be willing once a designer comes up with a particular substrate to give it a whirl.”
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