Do Your Customers Know About Fabric?

Insight into the latest up and coming fashions isn’t all we can glean from our European friends. Just as many of the most successful fashion trends start in Europe, so too do trends in the only slightly less-glamorous signage and graphics industry.

Take for instance the movement towards fabric. While fabric printing itself dates back hundreds of years, the earliest applications involved processes like block, copperplate, roller, or stencil printing. It wasn’t until the development of dye-sublimation (inks in the early 1990’s that digital textile printing for visual communications came into existence. When it did, the Europeans were among the first to embrace it for its versatility and sophistication.

In fact, when Signs By Tomorrow of Rockville, MD owner Mary Lou Goehrung purchased a dye-sub fabric printer two years ago, the manufacturer told her it was one of only 30 in the US. But today, more and more US signage and graphics providers are offering digital textile printing to customers. As demand for the product has started to make its way States-side, do you know everything you need to know about how to leverage this exciting new graphics option—and how to market it to your customers?


Working with Fabric: A Primer

For those who aren’t familiar with digital textile printing, there are two primary techniques for printing on fabric. Recently the preferred method has been to use a latex printer, but the results were not always as vivid or durable as would be optimal. Newer dye sub inks brought about a process in which inks could be heat-sealed directly into the fabric, allowing for more brilliant colors and unmatched durability. Even after repeated washing and drying, colors hold up and graphics look as good as new.

There are also two basic options for finishing fabric: cutting it with a hot knife or sewing it using a standard sewing machine. A hot knife is frequently used for applications like pull-up banner stands, or if the printed product will be stapled to the back of wood. Fabric backdrops often feature sewed-on pole pockets which accommodate Pegasus-style stands. And panels inserted into light boxes or frames are typically finished by sewing on silicone that slides into aluminum extrusion channels on the hardware. The flexible silicone even allows for curved edges, such as those on a custom frame Goehrung’s Rockville center developed to look like a giant iPhone for a local mall.


Dressing Up Graphics with Fabric

There are as many applications for fabric graphics as there are reasons for needing visual communications. Printed fabric makes a dynamic press conference backdrop. Branded fabric designs stand out as curtains or table coverings at trade shows. And the high-end appearance and vivid colors offered by dye sub printing make fabric a perfect fit for large format graphics for light boxes or frames.

Best of all, there are great new choices when it comes to types of fabric. At the 2013 ISA International Sign Expo, some of the latest applications utilized a specialty tension fabric that can be stretched into a triangular shape and suspended from the ceiling or affixed to pop-up displays to set up and take down in minutes while staying wrinkle-free.


Smoothing Out the Wrinkles

Speaking of wrinkles, despite the many benefits fabric has to offer you and your customers, it does come with a price—literally. First of all, a good dye sub fabric printer is a six-figure investment. And the raw materials are more, which means you are going to pass some of that cost along to your customers. But consider this: it’s durable, foldable and lightweight. So if something gets spilled on it—no big deal. Just take it home, wash it and dry it and have it look as fabulous as ever instead of having to pay for a replacement graphic. Need to take it all over the country for trade shows? Fold it up, throw it in a suitcase and avoid exorbitant shipping costs.

So even with its higher cost, and the learning curve that comes with a new product (in this case, getting temperatures right can be tricky), it’s still something you’re going to need to offer if you’re not already. In the long run, we’ve found that it’s worth educating both ourselves and our clients about this great new medium. And we believe the demand will only continue to grow as businesses look for a higher end alternative to traditional vinyl banners and learn about this exciting new option. As summed up by a sign in Rockville’s lobby, “Fabric is the future.” The question is: will you be ready for it?