Finishing is another concern for anyone entering the fabric printing arena. Getting the right equipment is one thing, “but then you have to figure out how you’re going to cut it and how you’re going to finish it,” says Powell, whose company started as a tent supplier to Alaska Gold Rush prospectors in 1896.
“I like to joke that printing is the easy part. Finishing it is a bit harder than simply hemming vinyl banners, especially if you are using a stretch product that’s less stable and requires greater craft sewing. We have a fairly highly skilled workforce that does the fabric-based products, tents, and industrial fabrics, but then can also do the finishing on banners and bigger trade show stuff. The labor can be as important as the equipment in this particular area. If you start shipping out crooked seams, it denigrates the end product. And no one wants that.”
Neal A. Zucker, president of Atlanta’s Southern Tailors Flag & Banner, another company with 19th century origins, which upon its founding in 1875 was a producer of ceremonial regalia, also stresses the importance of finishing.
When the company got into textile printing, he says, “We had an established, competent, and professional sewing staff. So we were able to look at fabric pieces and know how to finish them.
“A lot of people are looking to get into dye sublimation today who have come out of the vinyl world, and they’re hoping to farm out their finishing . . . If you’re getting into this, you have to hire the finishing expertise, because you don’t have the time to farm it out. In this industry, it’s often needed yesterday. And management has to be up to date and hands-on with finishing as well.”
Officials of shops expert in fabric printing report color management is also crucial. “You have to have a good understanding of color,” Zucker says. “The machine prints by CMYK, but the hardest part of the job is color adjustments, and it’s not plug and play. We’re always changing color. And the only way we can do that is understand what the customer’s intentions were, and translate that into the finished piece.”
Powell agrees shops must ensure they’re color managed or color balanced. “You either heat set it or physically transfer the image to the fabric,” he says. “So the colors off the printer don’t match either the screen or the finished product. Your calibration has to be through that second step, and it’s one more variable you have to be aware of.”
How to Get Started
Roberts advises PSPs starting out in the fabric market to meet with their existing suppliers and distributors, who are likely to offer different fabrics, and can be good consultative sources as to what’s selling.
“Start with those, and also reach out to some of your top clients,” he says. “Every shop has clients that they’ve been with forever. Ask them if there’s any interest in fabrics and offer to bring samples over to them.”
Powell suggests buying your equipment according to what fabric products you can sell to your current customer base. If you have clients needing pop-up trade show exhibits, for instance, you’ll need a wider printer than if you are expecting to produce smaller banners. “And then think through the rest of the process: cutting, sewing, and finishing,” he adds. “Make sure you have the equipment and the space to accomplish these functions.”
As for marketing, Lederman says, try “traditional advertising, electronic advertising, trade shows, sampling, networking, telemarketing, direct mail to any and all industries related to promotion, marketing, and advertising.”