In the wide-format industry, fabrics and textiles are an important part of creating effective signage. One thing that is not often mentioned in regard to creating signage is the finishing of these products. When it comes to finishing textiles, banners, and fabrics, the importance of seamers, industrial-strength sewing machines, heat presses, and fabric steamers cannot be underestimated. Proper finishing of a textile is crucial as it provides a polished look and a sense of quality to a product. Without proper finishing, the quality of the print may be diminished or negated entirely. While the type of finishing depends upon the substrate and the nature of the print process, it cannot be argued that it is an integral part of the process. Our experts weigh in on the topic.
Josh Marten, director of franchise business at Global Imaging, Inc. discusses the type of equipment that best serves the wide-format industry in regards to fabric finishing.
“Setting up a shop with the right equipment for fabric finishing will lead to a successful and profitable business model without the bottle necks, delays, and waste that could otherwise occur,” says Marten. “The type of printing used (e.g. Latex versus dye sublimation) will determine whether a fixation calender or other press is needed. Commercial and industrial Latex users don’t require fixation. Dye sublimation users need a calender press for the sublimation process, such as the Klieverik calender press that ranges from 67 inches to 10 feet wide. Shops producing frequent or large runs of roll-based fabric that must be cut will realize a savings of hundreds of labor hours per year by investing in a flatbed cutting system tooled for fabric that will automate the process, such as a Znd cutter. These are available from 48- to 126-inch widths. Also important is a hemming system that is appropriate for the scale and materials that are being finished. We also recommend having some simple items on hand, such as a hot knifes, which are great when hemming is not necessary.”
Kjell Eliasson, senior sales manager at Forsstrom High Frequency AB, states: “The most appropriate machine for making a soft sign (billboard, banner, etc.) is a traveling radio frequency welding machine, such as our models Forsstrom TD, Forsstrom TDW, and Forsstrom TDW-Mega, mounted on a long track. The longer the table and track, the more versatile the machine is.”
Karel Lansu, director of sales at the Netherlands’ Klieverik, explains the process by which some textiles are prepared and the reason for using specific equipment for the finishing process.
“There are several different dye systems to print on textiles, as you probably know. We, at Klieverik, are specialized in transfer printing on polyester fabric by means of pre-printed paper with disperse dyes. Traditionally, these pre-printed papers were made by specialized companies like a.o. Transfertex in Germany. Over the years, digital printing took over a part of this market and numerous smaller companies started to print their own limited amount of printed paper. Also, this digital market has started to print directly (without the use of paper) on the fabric. One way or the other, there is a need for an additional machine for finishing the direct printed fabric or the transfer paper.
Lansu continues: “This machine is called a calender (sometimes a press), which are produced by Klieverik. On this transfer calender, the fabric together with the pre-printed paper is running between a hot cylinder and a belt. The dyestuff on the fabric or on the transfer paper is transformed by heat into gas. This gas is penetrating into the open pores of the heated polyester fibers. After reducing the heat when the fabric is leaving the hot zone, the pores are closing and the dyestuff is trapped inside the fibers. This method generates very bright colors and a good wash-, wet-, and light-fastness. Transfer printing results in the highest sharpness of print and brightness of color. Direct printing on fabric results in a better penetration. In general, one chooses transfer printing for highest quality and for items close to the eye. Direct printing is very suited for flags. Klieverik supplies solutions for both systems.”
Savvy digital and sign shops know how to pool together information and processes to make the most out of this finishing equipment. What is the key to success in this area?
Marten says, “Soft signage is one of the fastest growing segments in the large- and grand-format printing industry—shops need to understand the potential and decide to invest financial and training resources to allow for their success. Print shops should investigate what applications they want to produce and to what scale they plan to produce them, then plan for equipment to match. A great thing about finishing fabric is that equipment is available for all sizes and types of output. Fabric printing and finishing is now in reach of small and large shops.”
According to Eliasson, “Through implementing this kind of equipment in the production and making a layout of the company’s type of welding/seaming, a radio frequency trackwelder is used for many different products and when implemented correctly is always a faster technology.”
As with most equipment upgrades, one of the reasons for the purchase is to improve productivity and profit. How can a shop improve these vital parts of a business?
“Productivity and profit will follow when the print shop makes their production cycle easier and quicker through a combination of capability of equipment, training on the workflow, and understanding how to translate this into their sales cycle,” says Marten. “Whether or not they are just starting out and need to make the jump into soft signage or are increasing their efficiencies on their current fabric production, optimizing their tool set for their goals will help them to run leaner and more profitable. Lastly, it is always important to educate sales teams on capabilities and product set so that they can, in turn, sell those capabilities into your target market.
“A Forsstrom trackwelder gives the owner a faster weld and the welded product a very nice looking finish and a high-quality seam,” says Eliasson. “The result is a better product that the graphics and sign shop is able to charge more for, at the same time as they will produce more. The machine also gives the graphics and sign shop a higher status.”
As the market continues to grow and savvy shop owners look for more uses for their wares, trends will emerge. Let’s look at some of the trends in the finishing department.
“The current and future trends that we see is that our customers use the machines also for other applications, such as light architecture with prints,” says Eliasson. “On our side, I stress that the trend within this area is that more and more graphic customers widen their customer type and base, and find use of our equipment for many other applications.”
Marten weighs in: “For medium and large PSPs, the trend is toward speed, automation, and any method of cutting down on the number of steps in the production process are becoming key for profitability. Equipment investments that produce consistent repeatable results such as a Klieverik heat press or Znd cutter accomplish this type of consistency and cut down on human error, equipment error, and waste. For smaller PSPs, there is growing urgency to be able to produce at least some if not all jobs in house to reduce fulfillment time and delivery reliability.”