Developments in digital fabric and textile printing have helped alter the wide-format landscape, expanding print provider opportunities into the growing fabric graphics market. With qualities ranging from distinctiveness to ease of handling to lower shipping costs, fabric graphics have many benefits to offer, whether the fibers are natural or artificial.
Dye sublimation technology (see sidebar) is opening new doors in banner printing, fashion sampling, short-run apparel, manufacturing, home furnishings, product prototyping, soft signage, exhibit graphics, and other specialty markets, says textile manufacturer Dye Into Print. Flags, banners, tablecloths, table drapes, table runners, pillows, and much more can be heat-transferred to polyester material using the dye-sublimation process. The inks used in this process have an excellent fade-resistance and limited ultraviolet (UV) light-resistance. Because the image is “dyed” into the fabric, it can be laundered and ironed without the risk of running or fading like silk- screened images do.
On the west coast, DigiFab Systems, based in Los Angeles, offers a turnkey printing solution that supports digital printing for graphic and textile markets. Fabrics and software are compatible with several large-format output devices, including ColorSpan, Encad, Epson, HP, Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, and other inkjet printers. Its Evoultion RIP makes fabric printing simple and repeatable, and a refillable bulk ink-supply system allows for printing with disperse and pigment and sublimation inks.
Its StampaJet BP-64 is a new generation, low-cost textile printer with production speeds of up to 188 square feet per hour. The model BP-64 uses an all-in-one transport system that allows users to load fabric, print, and cure without the time or labor of a two-step process. A precision wind-unwind mechanism moves fabric precisely and smoothly through the system, providing the correct amount of curing time. Heavy rolls, up to 220 pounds, can be loaded for large, unattended runs. Hot-air curing takes place in a self-contained chamber that is digitally controlled for optimal working temperature and speed. Dryer loading is hands-free, so operators cannot get burned.
StampaJet BP-64 also features integrated ink and fabric versatility as well as exceptional color control. It comes with the extra-wide, eight-channel, variable-dot Epson printhead addressable to 1440 dpi. The distance from the printheads and the fabric surface is manually adjustable. On-board cleaning and maintenance provide quick and easy head cleaning to keep the device up and running, says the manufacturer.
Fisher Textiles is one of the leading national suppliers of fabrics for dye sublimation, UV, latex, and direct digital printing. The North Carolina firm has been providing fabric solutions to the digital printing industry since 1988. Two new flame-retardant fabrics were added in June for dye sub and UV printing: GF 2201 Voile, to its line of grand-format fabrics, and ET 600 Poly Duck, a “green” fabric alternative made with recycled yarns, to its Enviro-Tex line. GF 2201 Voile, a soft, thin, sheer fabric with a high sheen, is ideally suited for transparent flag and banner applications for retail, sports and event marketing, Fisher reported. It is 1.8 oz./sq. yd., 122 inches wide and 100 percent polyester. It is also flame retardant and passes NFPA 701.
At 126 inches wide, ET 600 Poly Duck is a 7.4 oz. woven fabric that is 68 percent Repreve recycled polyester and 32 percent polyester, meeting FTC guidelines for recycled products. ET 600 Poly Duck has been certified by Unifi under the U Trust Verification Program. Applications include trade show exhibits and roll-up banner stands.