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.
In July, Fisher replaced its style ET 9499 fire-safe with a brighter and whiter version. Enviro-Tex fabrics are eco-friendly and also made with recycled Repreve. The woven, textured yarn fabric is 6.1 oz. and 125 inches wide, made with 55 percent Repreve recycled polyester and 45 percent polyester. Applications include banners, roll-up banner stands, table covers, and trade show exhibits. A month later, in August, Fisher also introduced a new grand-format fabric for dye sub and UV temporary fencing applications. GF 3030 Fencing is a thin, open fabric created specifically for short-term construction barriers, eventing, and sports marketing markets. It is 3.0 oz/yd2, 126 inches wide and 100 percent polyester. Small perforations in the fabric allow for some see transparency, and there is adequate space for printed colors and images. Free sample rolls of all these new fabrics are available for testing.
Que Media, also in the wide-format space, coats substrates such as polypropylene, PVC, backlit film, fabrics, banner material, and multi-layered PET film in addition to a full line of pressure- sensitive laminates. Its matte Porzeno coating, which is compatible with aqueous, latex, and UV-curable printers, is one of three new polyester fabrics added to the Motif line of media. These fabrics are 100-percent recyclable and are available in three weights. Four new semi-gloss and gloss fabrics with its Serenzo coating are designed to work with all eco-solvent, solvent, latex, and UV-curable printers.
Sinai Hospital, Baltimore, has chosen InteliCoat Technologies' Museo Silver Rag 100-percent cotton paper for a wing expansion/art installation that includes 75 to 100 images. Similarly, Wet Stone Graphics, a New Jersey-based digital art reproduction shop, this summer adopted InteliCoat’s Magic Brand Ink for Giclée prints.
Ink Has Artistic Flair
“My sales rep told me that … I could save a lot of money with them [Magic Brand Inks], so I thought I’d try them,” said proprietor Marc Cohen. “I use a lot of InteliCoat brand media, particularly their canvas and coated papers, so the brand gave me some confidence. We’re having no problems at all. These inks work great; they use the same profiles as the originals, and I’m saving 50 percent.”
Wet Stone’s clients are highly critical and expect accurate color representations of their originals, Cohen added. The shop produces fine art prints from original artwork, transparencies (slides), and digital files, and uses the Magic Inks with the latest 12-color printers for unequalled color gamut and fidelity.
Formulated to deliver ultimate performance and image quality, Magic Brand Inks deliver complete alternative solutions for highly accurate color reproduction and superior print longevity. Magic Inks are an exact match for existing Magic profiles and are compatible with all brands of inkjet media, delivering the flexibility to print on a range of coated and uncoated substrates.
Additionally, Magic Inks demonstrate equivalent OEM performance to deliver a cost-effective solution, allowing users to simply plug and print. These water-resistant inks require no flushing and are simple to insert into printers. Made in the United States, Magic Inks are available for Canon imagePROGRAF, Roland Eco-Solvent, Epson Stylus Pro GS6000, and Mutoh ValueJet printers.
Printing Beyond Fabric
At the FESPA Digital show in Barcelona in March, INX Digital International demonstrated its Prodigy brand line. An in-booth demo involved the printing of images on a variety of industrial substrates. “By running live and producing some amazing items printed on wood tiles, metal packaging, and other materials, I know we opened a few people’s eyes to the capabilities Prodigy has to offer in the digital market,” commented Paolo Capano, director of INX Digital International.
Capano added that he also was happy with another solid turnout of Triangle dealers attending the event. Triangle brand DTX and EDX inks are popular because they allow even small print shops to start a profitable textile business. DTX direct-to-fabric textile inks are meant for use on direct printing with synthetic fabrics or through the use of transfer paper and heat press. Compatible with a range of printers using Epson DX4 and DX5 printheads, these inks have extremely fast drying characteristics on polyesters with minimum 60-percent blends. DTX also displays optimal ink fluidity and an excellent image definition and fastness properties.
Triangle EDX inks are eco-solvent products and 100 percent color and chemically compatible with OEM inks. Designed for Roland printers, EDX is a fast-drying ink with low odor and low HAPS (hazardous air pollutants). With a nickel-free yellow formulation and providing perfect adhesion on low-cost vinyls, EDX offers both ink train and Triangle Outdoor Durability warranties. It also provides a significant cost savings when compared to OEM eco inks.
“Graphic arts customers remain very important and instrumental to our Prodigy business, both short and long term,” explained Willis Reese, INX Digital’s global director of business development. “However, we expect to be in a position to grow the new Industrial side substantially ... targeting markets such as textile, tile, glass, metal, and wood grain ....”
What Is Dye Sublimation?
Digital dye sublimation is the convergence of conventional dye-sublimation transfer technology and piezo inkjet digital imaging. Unlike silk screening that uses conventional inks and electrostatic printing that uses conventional toners, dyes are converted (sublimed) directly from a solid to a gaseous state by the application of heat, causing them to bond with the fibers of a non-organic textile, such as polyester. Upon cooling, the molecules revert to their solid state but as "soft" molecules more or less becoming one with the fabric.
It is basically a three-step process, as described by wide-format dye sublimated textile manufacturer Dye Into Print:
- Printing special dye colorants onto a transfer media as a mirror image.
- Placing the printed media in contact with the primary substrate, usually a synthetic fabric.
- Applying heat and pressure to transfer the image.
Dye Into Print’s various technologies offer both inkjet dye sublimation onto fabric (at up to 720 dpi) and inkjet direct to vinyl. It offer more than a dozen grand-format textiles, including linens, knits, and polyesters. The firm’s capabilities enable seamless printing up to 10-feet wide for applications such as banners, tableforms, carpeting, and backdrops.
Demo Stretching in Florida This Fall
Technology demonstrations at LexJet’s Sarasota, FL headquarters this autumn feature the latest printer, inkjet hardware, and finishing technologies. The demos feature a sneak peek at the easyFrame, a semi-automatic canvas wrap machine that produces up to 45 finished canvas wraps per hour, plus the latest inkjet hardware, media, and finishing technology. Other demonstration opportunities include the latest printer models from Canon, Epson and HP, as well as GBC laminating and binding equipment.