In textiles, with one investment, PSPs can handle applications they can’t with solvent or ecosolvent inks. “The big difference here is that with textiles, you have the option to invest in dedicated technologies,” he says. “The benefit we see in latex, with one investment you can do your traditional signage with PVC materials, vinyls and films, and wallpaper applications. And in addition, you can use textiles to diversify your business. The textiles are mainly polyesters and some natural fibers. Polyesters are a very good alternative to PVC materials. They’re easier to install and transport, and the look and feel is more high end.
“You can differentiate with textiles, doing the traditional signage applications. And in addition, you have other options: wall coverings that are textiles as well. In retail, for instance, you can use it with curtains.”
The two machines offer a number of enhancements designed to provide a better performance with textiles, Casas adds. New inks improve the water resistance of the textiles. There is a media-loading accessory to make loading media easier. Front tension in both printers helps ensure the right tension in the printing area, to achieve optimal image quality. And edge holders help make sure the edges of the material do not create a problem with the carriages.
Another enhancement is a refined double-side printing process. “You tell the printer you are printing double-side,” Casas says.
“The printer asks you to load the material, you print Side A with a registration mark, then you load the material on the other side, the printer reads the registration marks, automatically aligns the material, and you print Side B. And this way you have aligned, double-side printing.”
Keep These Considerations in Mind
The many issues PSPs need to stay on top of in fabric printing include the learning curve required to master the capability, the necessity of trouble shooting daily issues that arise, proper maintenance, changing and advancing technology, and the need for a facility that can accommodate efficient production flow.
So says Matthew Lederman, whose shop, Dye Into Print, has been producing 10-foot-wide, seamless, very high-end quality dye-sublimated textile products for 13 years. Dye Into Print operates in a state-of-the-art 60,000-square-foot facility, where it manufactures products start to finish that include backdrops, banners, curtains, tablecloths, pillows, bags, scarves, and pennants.
Phillips says PSPs need to understand the cost and quality requirements of their customers, and also the range of fabric types required. “Different fabric types often require different inks to be used, as well as having different post processing requirements,” he reports. “This can complicate the production process, unless it is accounted for early in the investment cycle.”
Digital textile printers essentially fall into three categories, he adds. They are those with speeds below around 100m2/hr, those in the 250-600m2/hr range, and a very few at even higher productivity of more than 2000m2/hr.
These obviously come with very different capital requirements. As a result, Phillips reports, a solid business plan is required to ensure the right capacity is built into the facility at the right time.
When seeking a printer specifically devoted to fabric printing, a number of key items should be considered, Currier says.
“The range of fabrics available today for soft signage sublimation printing is wider than ever,” he reports. “There are a multitude of choices in weave style, weight, and appearance. This variety can put high demands on a printing system’s media transport capabilities. Today’s industrial-level printing equipment must be designed to manage these materials while achieving high production throughput. Look for printing equipment that will perform at an industrial level.
“The ability to load entire full-width rolls that result in finished product allows for the most effective workflow. Robust, high production-level equipment minimizes waste and keeps the flow of graphics to the sublimation and finishing departments predictable and profitable.”
Another important area is the RIP and color management capabilities offered with the system, Currier adds.
Fabric printing comes with its own intricacies in this area. Solid profiling is the key to high-impact but consistent graphics over a range of materials. A RIP that works well enough for UV or solvent printing may not be sophisticated enough for use on a six- or seven-color dye sublimation printer.