According to the owners of the 2012 WFI Top 40 Shops, fabric graphics are destined to be one of the major industry growth stories of the year.
But for print service providers looking to enter this lucrative market, all kinds of issues must be addressed before leaping in. What printer options are available? What must be learned before investing in this technology? What pitfalls do you want to avoid? What markets can be conquered? How do you find customers? And how do you best go about marketing your capabilities?
In this comprehensive examination of the equipment options and other issues involved in fabric printing, we attempt to answer many of those questions.
Talk with experts about the potential of fabric and textile printing, and their enthusiasm for the topic is quickly evident. Will fabric, as suggested, be a growth area this year? “Absolutely,” says Randy Anderson, product manager for textile with Phoenix-based Mutoh America. “It’s a new revenue stream, and there are some higher profit margin products available. Part of it is it’s an application that’s kind of maturing. Textile printing has been very big in Europe and South America for a number of years, and it’s now doing the same here.”
According to Kevin Currier, manager of application solutions for Durst Image Technology, US, LLC, soft signage printing continues to gain in popularity, as printer capabilities increase, and fabric choices expand.
“The popularity of soft signage is easy to understand,” Currier says. “Many print systems offer VOC-free, water-based inks, allowing for an environmentally-friendly approach that can be complemented by using recylcable polyester materials. When combined with the higher resolutions and precision dot placement available on many systems, a truly attention grabbing fabric can be manufactured. Additionally, shipping and installation become less costly when using wrinkle-free, lightweight fabrics. All of this combines to make soft signage a good choice to expand into high-margin applications.”
Harlan Roberts, national sales manager for Philadelphia-based Big Mountain Imaging, is another proponent. “Clients are always looking for a way to differentiate themselves from others in the marketplace,” he says.
“And while textile has been around for a while, it hasn’t been mainstream. Whether it’s used in place of traditional vinyl banners and interior advertising, or in the exhibition and theatrical markets, there are no limits. And you can go up to 10-foot seamless prints, so there are not a lot of barriers on size, either.”
Scott Powell, marketing director for Seattle-based Rainier Industries, Ltd., says the future of textile is especially promising in the display and exhibit areas. “What once was built with heavy wood, with images plastered upon it, is now done with lightweight aluminum framework and stretch fabric,” he says.
“The benefits of fabric are light weight, and quicker setup and teardown. Also, you can do dimensional shaping with fabric that you can’t do with wood.”
The trade show and exhibit industry is only the start of the potential market for printed textiles. These materials aren’t just sought by trade show exhibitors, but by interior designers, retail stores, and sportswear manufacturers.
There’s even a market in the sports world for the backdrops featuring logos of pro and college teams, which appear behind a player or coach being interviewed on telecasts. “The big trend is personalization, in sportswear, home furnishings, mugs, awards, everything you can imagine,” Anderson says.
“If you want to design a pattern for your living room, you could do fabric for a sofa, drapes, chairs, the dining room tablecloth, as well as clothes.”