“Clearly defining the end product determines what media is selected, required performance, and application life as well as important process steps.”
Another authority argues that selecting fabrics appropriate for digital printing is the biggest key to getting the best results, and being seen as expert.
“That means quality fabric that doesn’t have a lot of dust or debris,” says Keith Faulkner, president of Richardson, TX-based Splash of Color, a 27-year-old distributor that specializes in digital textile printing.
“For best results, there’s a direct print finish coat provided by mills that helps give you a sharper, crisper image. When they’re applying that, they often apply a fire-retardant coating that is important for many applications such as trade shows and any other public spaces that require materials to be fire rated.”
Like others, Faulkner believes attention to ink chemistry is also crucial. “It’s important you select an ink that has a wide color gamut, to give you nice bright colors, deep dark blacks, and produce lots of pop,” he advises.
Another tip is to ensure that the equipment be in a relatively controlled environment from both a temperature and humidity standpoint. It’s not a sound idea to place the equipment in a warehouse and assume it will be just fine.
The ideal temperature for sublimation printing is between 66 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, with an optimal humidity level of 45 percent, Faulkner says.
HP’s Martin believes learning how to optimize cost structure by reducing the overall investment with a versatile printer and reducing the need to use special materials or papers to transfer ink to textiles can be a key to success.
Those who head companies in the business of producing digital textile printing have their own distinct views of the keys to textile printing expertise.
For Neal Zucker, president of Southern Tailors Flag & Banner, an Atlanta company that dates to 1875 and has been involved in digital textile printing since 1998, the secret to expertise is knowing the market niche you can fill.
“You have to start somewhere, and you start with a niche before going into the full textile printing market,” he observes. “Really key is to explore your own niche market, where you already have a following, and find out where digital textile printing fits within that niche, and what type of products are viable.”
“Later, you’ll find other opportunities outside your niche. And sometimes you’ll explore them and divine providence will come your way. The customer will say, ‘I need something,’ and you’ll respond by saying, ‘I can do that.’”
Ask Scott Snoyer, president and CEO of Nashville-based Brand Imaging Group, about the most difficult aspect of attaining textile printing expertise, and his answer is finishing. “You have to find a seamstress who can sew, and a variety of sewing machines to do different things,” he says. “One machine may be doing a standard hem, another machine will do a different type of finishing. You might have a single-needle machine and a double-needle machine. You may need a serger. You won’t get away with one machine doing everything.”
Personnel issues are also important. Snoyer believes it’s not possible to convert someone in your production facility who has never sewn before into your go-to sewing specialist. “You need to find a good seamstress who already knows how to sew, then apply her skills to our industry,” he asserts.
“I found a seamstress who could sew, but she had never sewn a pop-up, like one that might go on a hardware stand. Seamstresses have to adapt to that type of job…You may have to make the fabric do one of several things. You might have to fold and make a hem on it, you might have to sew Velcro to it, you might have to serge an edge. That requires expertise in sewing.”
Making matters more difficult is that the fabrics used in digital textile printing tend to have wildly different characteristics as well as purposes, all of which must be accounted for in production. Some fabrics have no stretch, others have both an incredible amount of stretch and shrinkage, Snoyer says.