As companies continue to push for indoor signage that is less expensive and more environmentally friendly, the digital fabric and textile printing market continues to grow. With new equipment and applications popping up every day, the market has zoomed to new heights. Wide-Format Imaging contacted a group of wide-format print providers that are creating fabric signage. We asked them to discuss the impact of fabric graphics, recent trends, specific projects, and predict where the market will go from here.
Nora Norby, president, Banner Creations Inc., Minneapolis, MN, has printed on textiles since she started her company in June of 1989. “We used to screen print and appliqué and hand paint on fabric,” she said. “Now we primarily dye sublimate on fabrics.” Norby has seen the industry change during the past 20 years, noting that there are many more printers [equipment] for fabric than a few years ago, and many more companies printing on textiles. “There are more choices for us and this has resulted in more textile choices to print on,” she said. While fabrics are not interchangeable from one type of printer to another, Norby notes that suppliers often finish the textile to accommodate the different kinds of equipment.
As for recent trends in the market, Norby notes soft hand with a nice drape and, green, green, green. “Soft hand and nice drape is why many companies are turning to fabric,” she explained. “Fabric moves and attracts attention and doesn’t have the odor problems of vinyl.”
Regarding green fabrics, Norby said there are many mills out there right now making fabrics made from recycled soda bottles, which is quite different than three or four years ago. “Many are made for the dye sub industry,” Norby reported. “We have had several hundred customers buy banners made from this fabric in last two years, a distinct upturn from three years ago. For my business, this is a big change.”
The US Fish & Wildlife duck stamp banner is an example of such a banner. Norby estimates that Banner Creations has printed about 50 of these banners for different state wildlife associations. “This is an exciting new trend in the green market, where you can return your banner to us and we’ll send it back to the mill,” she explained. “Fabric seemed to fit their mission, preserving fish and wildlife, not polluting with vinyl.”
The recycling angle is helping to bring in new business. “We are working with a customer who called us wanting to buy green and wanting to return the banners and menus to us when done they are done with them,” reported Norby. “They sought us out because we work with the recycled soda bottle fabric and because we will take the banners back. This is a big deal to me, that some mills are willing to take back fabric and recycle it.”
Banner Creations is saving all its scrap polyesters to return to the mill for recycling as well. They have also established a product line available on www.scrappyproducts.com that is all made from its scrap. “We established this website because of the volume of fabric scrap left over from big jobs,” explained Norby. “We’ve had some success with this, but really our main focus is on the custom products for business-to-business sales.”
A turning point for Banner Creations was the Eco-Experience at MN State Fair in 2006. Minnesota Pollution Control ordered banners and table covers made from recycled soda bottle fabric. “When the exhibition opened, it was second-most visited venue at the fair and won them lots of awards,” said Norby. “They have used us every year since then and since that time, we’ve had so many customers ask for the fabric and incorporate it into their displays.
As for the future, Norby sees companies using fabric in more ways than traditional usage, such as home and business decor. “It’s an inexpensive way to change your environment,” she said. “Now, with digital printing, you can order something custom made, like fabric walls, or pillow covers or other products.” Norby said she has even worked with a couple of artists who have put their images onto table runners, scarves and tote bags as a way to increase sales of their art.