It’s not every day that an evolving, cutting-edge technology spurs a revival of a material in use for millennia, but that’s just what is happening in fabric printing. As digital printing becomes ever more sophisticated, the clients and end users of print service providers are increasingly demanding their materials be printed not on artificial-looking vinyls from the 20th century, but on the age-old natural medium of fabric.
You don’t have to look far to find evidence of the move to fabric printing. Observing a strong trend in that direction is Keith Faulkner, president of Splash of Color, a Richardson, TX integrator and distributor best known for marrying Roland printers with Italian-made on-board sublimation systems to produce integrated solutions.
Faulkner reported the move to fabric is coming chiefly at the expense of solvent printing on vinyl. Among the main factors behind the switch is that fabric provides a richer and warmer look, and can more readily be transported.
“If it is used in trade show exhibits, you don’t get the glare from the surface of the material you would get from vinyl,” he said. “On an emotional level, fabric is warmer than a hard, rigid substrate. It connects more on a personal level with purchasers.
“And it’s lighter weight, and can be shipped more easily and more affordably. You don’t get as much wrinkling, either. Part of that depends on the fabric. Some fabrics may be susceptible to wrinkling, but most fabrics will not crease. They can be rolled up or folded, and when you use them in the exhibit they are not wrinkled.”
Not only do fabrics easily fold, but they offer a soft “hand,” meaning the way they feel to the touch is inviting, said Andrew Oransky, director of product management for Irvine, CA-based Roland DGA. “Also, textiles can be made into dimensional objects,” he added. “Customers perceive printed textiles indicate higher-end, higher-quality goods. For extremely large-format graphics, fabric is safer to display.”
Moreover, fabric helps differentiate printers from the competition, Faulkner argued. “People printing on fabric can set themselves apart in a crowded field, charge their clients a higher price and have a better-looking product,” he says.
Concurring with that observation is Dan Barefoot, president of Graphics One, a Burbank, CA firm that offers the Go Salsa TX, a combination direct-to-fabric unit with fixation and dye sublimation, sold to two to three dozen North American resellers.
The advantages of fabric are particularly clear in the point-of-purchase environment. In that setting, Barefoot said, “there’s a lot of overkill with vinyl banners. You just don’t have the sleekness we see with fabric. Vinyl has a plastic feel, and those people in the retail industry want the much more natural feeling you get with fabric.”
Like Faulkner, Barefoot agreed that fabric printing provides a superior appearance. “Your colors pop a lot more,” he said. “Your inks are going all the way through the fabric. You just get a much more vibrant color, and the colors are denser.”
That’s one reason, he added, progressive retailers like Apple and IKEA that put a premium on more aesthetic POP displays are now using a lot more fabric.
What’s more, fabric is versatile enough to allow printers to serve a wide array of markets, printing flags, banners, trade show and exhibit materials. “We even have a fabric that’s a microfiber well suited to printing gaming tabletops,” Faulkner observed.
Wider Fabric Selection
Demand from an ever-wider array of end users and PSPs are spurring textile companies to introduce a broader selection of fabrics, said Scott Fisher, president of Fisher Textiles, a 20-year-old Indian Trail, NC-based company specializing in the manufacture of polyester fabrics for the digital print industry.