“They did great marketing, but underpriced their product. They didn’t understand it’s very easy to make mistakes with fabric. And at the end of the day, if the customer doesn’t like the product, they’re going to say, ‘Redo it.’ ”
Producing high quality work is a significant enough challenge that Murray is concerned about the field filling with companies whose questionable output may tarnish the reputation of the entire fabric printing sector.
Only a handful of companies in the market produce genuine quality, and many others turn out fabric printing in which colors are poor,” he said. “Quality is part of the learning curve,“ Murray reported. “What worries me is that some of these are getting into the big accounts, and turning [prospective customers] off.”
Growing Applications, Other Trends
There may be more business ahead for quality fabric printers. Europe has led the way in innovation, unveiling such devices as frameless aluminum structures that hold fabric. These displays are now arriving in the US.
In addition, hanging structures or halos first unveiled at trade shows are starting to make their way into retailing, particularly in big box retailers, Murray says. “That’s a niche in its infancy in North America,” he added.
The growth of fabric printing will also benefit from the green movement worldwide, Murray believed. “Fabric is incredibly green by its very nature,” he said. “We use only water-based inks. We have big HEPA filters on some of our equipment, and we put absolutely zero VOCs into the atmosphere. It’s really green, and a really healthy environment for employees and also for customers.”
As evidence of the growing call for environmentally friendly printing across the globe, Murray points to the fact that at the 2012 Olympics in London, PVC banners will not be allowed. “There has to be an alternative to vinyl,” he said. “And sublimation is a great alternative.”
Andrade also believes customers are seeking a more natural alternative to vinyl. “Most people these days are veering toward fabric,” he said.
“There’s something about it, the feel, the texture. It’s something we’re used to, because we wear it every day. Vinyl is becoming less attractive because everyone’s doing it. You have kids coming out of high school doing it in their garages. But getting into a dye sublimation machine, and all those profiles, that takes time. The result is a real nice product. There’s something you get from fabrics that you can’t get from your average vinyl material.”
Fabric printing will also eventually become more cost efficient, Murray believes, and that should lead to more print service providers entering a field that could certainly benefit from additional quality performers, he said.
“The more product that is out there, the happier I am,” Murray asserted. “If you don’t have enough people producing, it’s hard to create a market. I welcome competition, but it’s got to be good competition.”