The quality of a product is often determined by the processes by which it is finished. This is certainly true in the case of soft signage and textiles. Print service providers rely on heat presses, fabric steamers, seamers, and industrial-strength sewing machines to create a finished look that will complement the printing of the substrates and present an attractive overall package to the client. Our experts share their experiences using various techniques and technology to achieve the best possible end product.
When it comes to equipment, there’s a long list of products that can help to make a PSP’s job a lot easier when it comes to finishing a textile project. But where do you start? If you’re just entering the market, outsourcing might be key—at least at the very beginning.
“Many sign companies make step-by-step transitions into the digital textile marketplace,” says Tara Lamb, president of Global Imaging. “Offering textiles as a product isn’t as lateral as something like adding latex to a shop’s printer portfolio. We know latex technology is slightly different than solvent for example, but the printing and finishing is basically the same. In the world of fabrics the inks, printing, sublimation method, and finishing are all unique to the digital print market. Shops can begin with mastering the printing and sublimation processes, whether it be direct or transfer (or a hybrid of both), and outsource the finishing to an expert finisher until they are ready to take that next step.”
But when you’re ready to take the step and install equipment in your shop, Avedik Izmirlian, president of DigiFab Systems, stresses that it is important to marry the proper equipment with the substrate and process needed.
“Steamers are used to enhance and fix the color of fabrics printed with acid and reactive inks. After steaming, it is necessary to wash the fabric. Heat presses are used to enhance and fix the color of fabrics printed with disperse or sublimation inks, to fix the color of fabrics printed with pigment inks, and to transfer prints onto fabric from paper printed with sublimation ink,” says Izmirlian.
Media is also a very important component when it comes to finishing. It is essential to know exactly what you’re working with before you start the finishing process. “Nylons, silks, and wools are printed with acid dyes, while cottons and linen are printed with reactive. Polyesters are printed with disperse or sublimation inks. All fabrics can be printed with pigment inks, but the existing color gamut is limited,” says Izmirlian.
When it comes to operating essential equipment to create a quality finished product, Lamb offers this advice: “Heat presses will need to be employed in sync with the printing. Depending on the model and manufacturer chosen, it may be a separate unit or an on-board unit. PrinterEvolution for instance, sells the Evo33 series, which is 10-foot industrial dye sublimation printer that can print both direct and transfer dye sublimation and requires a separate transfer calendar. Their other product line, the Neo Series is a dye sublimation printer with an on-board fixation unit. A great pair of scissors, a hot knife if you require a sealed edge, and a good sewing machine certainly aid in the finishing process.”
According to Kjell Eliasson, Forsstrom senior sales manager, the most appropriate machine for making a soft sign is a traveling radio frequency welding machine. “Our models Forsstrom TD, Forsstrom TDW, and Forsstrom TDW-Mega are mounted on a long track. The longer table and track, the more versatile the machine is.”
There are times when almost every PSP will have the need to outsource jobs or specific parts of a job. We touched on outsourcing earlier, but when is it appropriate to outsource the finishing aspect of printing fabrics and textiles?
Forsstrom’s Eliasson echos what Lamb said earlier. “You would typically outsource your fabric welding when you have a small production, and bring it in house when production is growing and you need to control the quality of your product and the delivery time,” says Eliasson.
“If a limited production of only a few pieces is needed, this can be outsourced,” suggests Karel Lansu, director of marketing & sales at Klieveri. “When a digital printer is occupied for a full shift daily, it’s necessary to have your own equipment for finishing. With the smallest drum-diameter calendar (200mm), you still have the possibility to grow in capacity, as one calendar can cope with the production of two to three digital printers.”
Izmirlian offers a word of caution when it comes to outsourcing. “I wouldn’t recommend PSPs outsource the heat transfer process. But, in the case of steaming and washing, I would wait until I have a real ongoing production to purchase the equipment, and this is due to the high cost of the equipment.”
Lamb says, “Fabric finishing requires a skill set and space. Often the extrusions, stretch frames, and finished pieces need to be setup for measuring and testing. This can require a fair amount of space. Additionally the sewing and construction require skill sets that are not common in non-textile print shops. Bringing these finishing components in-house make sense when the skill set, space, and level of pain that outsourcing is creating all converge.”
With the ongoing changes in the industry, PSPs are able to tap into underutilized markets and to follow trends to create a larger bottom line. The experts offer their insights.
Lansu feels it is important to direct PSPs to venture into the area of home textiles.
Izmirlian says, “This is an 11 million dollar question because your imagination and creativity can take you to unthinkable markets.”
Lamb gives an overview of the marketplace. “According to industry reports, the printed textile market is estimated to be a $165 billion market on a worldwide basis, and digitally printed textiles represent less than 1.5 percent of this volume. Within this overall market are exhibits and trade shows, retail, POP, soft-signage, upholstery and décor, and apparel.”
Lamb adds, “All of these areas are growing as end users continue to demand lower fulfillment and shipping costs, more environmental considerations, and a higher quality look and feel. Fabric addresses all of these areas.”
The current and future trends of this market rely heavily on technology and the abilities and innovation of the PSPs.
Lansu says, “Higher speed digital printers have been installed lately with capacities of 500 sqm/hr or more. Still, they have to prove themselves in the market. However, the trend will be certainly that digital will take over traditional printing with flatbed or rotary screen printing machinery.”
Lamb adds, “Some of the greatest attributes of fabric is the ability to create any shape or creative stretched piece that the end user may desire. Another great attribute is the lightweight and high quality finish. Therefore, the ancillary pieces need to match these attributes. RexFrame is a great example of a beautiful, lightweight, recyclable extruded aluminum that can be customized to any size or shape for stretched fabric. This is a very complementary product, and in the future we will see more products that complement the wonderful attributes of fabric.”
“We see our customers using the machines for other applications, such as light architecture with prints. We stress to our customers that they need to widen their customer type and base. Many PSPs find use of our equipment for many other applications. Since RF equipment is versatile it is easy to vary between different product types,” says Eliasson.