There is a wide range of polyester fabrics available in the market that fits most every customer requirement. “Although you can print on uncoated polyesters, for best print quality we recommend using fabrics that have been direct-print finish coated,” says Faulkner.
The range of fabrics available today for soft signage printing is wider than ever, “Many print systems offer VOC- free water based inks allowing for an environmentally friendly approach that can be complemented by using recyclable polyester materials,” says Kevin Currier, Manager, Application Solutions, Durst Image Technology U.S. “When combined with the higher resolutions and precision dot placement available on many systems, a truly attention grabbing fabric graphic can be manufactured.”
Know Your Fabric
Knowing your fabric/coating options is the best advice I can give to any entry level fabric printer,” E. Tyler Reich, Director of Marketing, Que Media. “First and foremost, let me say that coating is everything. A good coating can help even the worst ink sets meet the required dry times and display vibrant colors.”
Looking at coatings, “don’t hesitate to ask your media provider what type of coating is being used, so you can make sure that you are getting a good product for your money,” says Reich. Different types of coatings include: matte water resistant porous coating, which is compatible with aqueous, latex and UV-curable inkjet printers; micro/nano coatings—glossy instant dry and water resistant aqueous coating designed for aqueous printers; swellable coating—glossy and semi-glossy aqueous, non-water resistant coating for aqueous printers; and glossy and semi-glossy coating for eco-solvent, solvent, latex, and UV-curable printing.
When choosing media, look at its water resistance, media curl, and binding (how well the media's coating is adhered to the substrate), notes Reich.
“Most fabrics do not have curling issues since they are woven and tend to be very flexible,” says Reich. “Make sure that you are getting a high grade fabric. Many manufacturers use harsh chemicals to clean their fabric before coating because the virgin threads are usually very dirty. Unfortunately when these chemicals are introduced into a fabric weave it tends to break down the fiber and reduce the resistance to tearing (tinsel strength.)
Que Media weaves its own fabric. “We use a wet weave system that keeps the fabric clean and consistent during the weaving process,” says Reich. “Backlights are installed on each weaving machine for quality control.”
The company also rolls fabrics onto jumbo rolls 3,000 meters long—double the industry standard, and mixes its chemical compounds with purified (reverse osmosis) water, so coating mixtures are consistent and free from impurities. Its long drying machines ensure excellent binding, says Faulkner, as time and even temperatures properly cure on the fabrics.
“Our end product is a very strong fabric that is very consistent in color representation and perfect binding to withstand the elements,” says Reich.
HP has added features to its HP Latex printers to further facilitate the easy transition into textile printing, reports Perez-Pericot. These features include a 61-inch print width on the HP Designjet L26500 printer, double-sided printing capabilities, a textile loading accessory, front tension for smooth quality, an ink collector on the HP Scitex LX850 Printer, edge holders, and most recently, a platen cover.
“If a print service provider can install a roll of PVC or vinyl in the shop’s wide-format printer, he or she can also install a roll of textile into an HP Latex printer,” says Perez-Pericot “There are many digitally printable textiles available that are cut to sizes fitting an HP Latex printer, including polyesters, poly-blends, natural fibers, natural blends, and other synthetics.”
Demands on Printing System
While the many choices available can make offering the right fabric for your customer’s needs possible, it can also put high demands on a printing system’s media transport capabilities,” says Currier. Durst offers the Rhotex 320, an industrial strength 3.2 meter wide system equipped with the Quadro Array 30D AQ Heads, configured to print seven colors (CMYK + Light Cyan, Light Magenta, and Gray) for photographic quality at up to 775 sqft/hr.