Digital textile printing is by far one of the most exciting developments in the wide-format industry.
There are a host of applications trending within the digital textile market, most notably soft signage, home décor, and upholstery. Fabric printing has a tendency to be divided between solvent/latex/UV (which require special coating on the fabric) and sublimation (which could require a finish coating on the polyester fabric, as well as the need to sublimate the fabric after printing).
In general, reports Joan Perez-Pericot, worldwide marketing director, Large-format Production Division, Graphics Solutions Business, HP, there are two kinds of textiles: long-term, such as fashion or interior décor—the upholstery on a sofa, for example; and temporary textiles, such as those used in retail, tradeshows and events, or for seasonal soft signage.
“These temporary uses have a much higher reorder rate and higher per square foot charge, even in low quantities, than long-term textiles,” says Perez-Pericot. “With a low cost of entry, an easy transition and the highest per square foot pricing in the market, textile printing can be a natural and highly profitable next step for large-format print service providers.”
Within a retail environment, temporary textiles include framed textiles, drop signs, double-sided drop signs, and teardrop banners and curtains. A second market is tradeshows, events and entertainment, which represents a huge opportunity for textile printing as there is an ongoing need for signage—and lots of it. Temporary textile applications for this market include roll-up banners, tents, and backdrops. “Printing each of these items on fabric instead of PVC reduces the weight, making them less expensive to ship and easier to install, with a nicer look and feel,” says Perez-Pericot.
Printing signage on fabric—soft-signage, is one of the fastest growing applications within the digital wide-format textile marketplace. Soft-signage—the fabric is typically made from polyester or cotton—is an alternative to paper, vinyl, or PVC signs. The application, which first took hold in the mid-1990s, represents 70 percent of the market for all digitally printed textiles.
Currently, soft signage is used for a wide range of applications, including interior decorations, such as wall murals; exhibition graphics; retail point-of-purchase, such as banners or flags; outdoor and event banners; and specialty applications, such as hot air balloons.
Soft-signage printing continues to gain in popularity as printer capabilities increase and fabric choices expand. According to IT Strategies, inkjet printing has become the most common technology for producing graphics on textiles, achieving more than 45 percent penetration of the overall soft signage market.
An emerging technology that takes soft-signage printing to the next level is direct-to-fabric printing using disperse dye sublimation inks, says Keith Faulkner, president of Splash of Color, who sees soft signage as the “next big wave in the sign industry.”
Faulkner adds, “The HeatWave Direct-to-Fabric printer is a complete solution including printer, on board sublimation unit, bulk ink system, inks, and RIP software. This system makes it easier than ever to enter the fast-growing textile printing market.”
The HeatWave printer features two precision stepping motors and synchronized dancing rollers that automatically fine tune the media feeding process to ensure precise movements with every pass of the print head. Also a special cork covered cylinder can be used to print on stretchable fabrics such as Lycra, spandex, and other sports textiles.
“No longer do you have to use transfer paper, an expensive heat press, and extra manpower to complete this process,” says Faulkner. “The roll-to-roll operation produces an efficient workflow with very little employee oversight.”