Fabric Media: Ready to Capture More Market Share

Fabric remains a small portion of the flexible printing sector, comprising 1.5 percent of the flexible media used, according to the “ISA Wide Format Print & Media Mix Survey,” prepared by InfoTrends, produced by ISA, and sponsored by 3M. Vinyl continues to dominate, with 75 percent of flexible printing comprised of either pressure sensitive or banner vinyls.

That being said, printable fabrics offer more and more opportunities for creative marketing.

There is a huge expansion beyond apparel applications for textiles, with the fastest growth in soft signage for point-of-purchase for retail, and exhibit and display graphics. Also on the radar are home furnishing products, including wall coverings and rugs, and fashion items, such as scarves.

“The signage industry is converting from traditional materials like banners or vinyl that use solvent ink to alternative fabric substrates that allow for other printing methods, such as dye-sublimation,” said Catalina Frank, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc. “There are several advantages to this method, including lightweight substrates, vibrant colors, and conformability of the fabric to different frame structures.”

Fabrics with exceptional color and vibrancy are not just for dye sub printers—but are available for a variety of printing technologies, including latex and UV direct print inkjet. “We’re seeing more inkjet-printed fabric being used for short-term outdoor and both short- and long-term indoor banners for promotional and special event applications as an alternative to vinyl banners,” said Regan Dickinson, marketing communications specialist, LexJet.

“As the direct-print inkjet fabric materials have improved over the years, they’ve become more versatile and moved beyond the typical trade-show application. Plus, with adhesive-backed fabric like LexJet Print-N-Stick Fabric, wall coverings and cut-outs with fabric are now possible and being used by print shops for these applications more frequently.”


Backlit and Frontlit Options

One growing use of fabrics is in frontlit and backlit aluminum SEG frame systems, which are generally lightweight, mobile, and easy to install as well as change out images.

“Backlit fabrics are everywhere these days,” said Sharon Roland, advertising, promotion, and publicity manager for Fisher Textiles. “Go in any mall across America and you will see them behind cash registers, within department displays, and even in storefronts. This increase in fabric usage has opened a segment for fabric that previously used vinyl or paper for graphic and promotional displays.”

Mike Compton, business development manager, Top Value Fabrics, agreed. “There has been an explosion of growth in high-end backlit fabrics,” he said.

One of Top Value’s most popular fabric media is Impact Prime, part of its line of Direct Print Textiles. Impact Prime is a premium backlit fabric that is flame retardent, REACH Compliant, and has a consistent white point that’s bright white. When installed properly, Impact Prime is wrinkle free, said Compton. A best-seller for Top Value, “it is used in backlit exhibit graphics and upscale retail applications when the client demands high-end displays that are eye-catching and impressive,” said Compton.

A recent application of this fabric was for the registration area at the ISA International Expo, held in Orlando April 24-26, 2014. The area spanned 250 feet of fabric backlit displays.

“Attendees came to ISA International Sign Expo looking for new products that will help them grow their businesses and better serve their customers,” said Iain Mackenzie, ISA’s Director, Meetings & Events. “Seeing printed fabric at the registration area certainly introduced them to the possibilities that come along with this type of material. Given that Top Value Fabrics’ Geo Mesh was named Best Green Product by attendees, I think the industry is certainly becoming more aware of fabric and textiles as print media.”

Some of Fisher Textiles’ biggest product developments in media technology for the coming year include new backlit fabrics that are engineered for better light dispersion. “Our backlit fabrics are made to distribute light evenly across the surface to maximize the back lighting effect,” Roland said. “In addition to the backlit fabrics we already carry, we are working on several new backlit fabrics for direct and transfer sublimation to be released in the next few months.”


Under Your Feet

Additional recent product development for Fisher Textiles include laminated fabric for flooring, events, and mat applications. Floor graphics applications are growing and are a creative way to transform previously unused area into advertising space.

“Our booth at the ISA International Sign Expo featured our newest carpet, a laminated anti-skid backed fabric, GF 2000 Rebound, custom printed with Fisher’s logo and tagline,” said Roland. “The carpet is resilient and does not hold a form when weight has been applied and released.”


LetJet’s Offerings

LexJet’s range of Poly Select fabrics gives print shops a number of options based on printer technology and the application, while providing an expanded color gamut on a bright-white surface to ensure excellent color and image fidelity, said Dickinson.

Poly Select fabrics are available in light, medium and heavy weights for aqueous printers; light and heavy for solvent, low-solvent, UV-curable and latex printers; and a blockout version, which ensures that banner stand hardware won’t show through and distract from the message on the banner.

For adhesive-backed fabric, LexJet Print-N-Stick Fabric, which debuted last year, has become a best seller. It allows the possibility of wall coverings and cut-outs with fabric. “It’s easy to apply with a repositionable and removable adhesive that doesn’t leave any residue behind, and offers true photo-quality printing for sharp, colorful graphics,” said Dickinson.


Verseidag Tackles World Records

Two recently introduced products from Verseidag Seemee US that work well with aluminum frame systems, are the seemee 3P Premium Backlit and seemee 3P Value Display, explains Eric Tischer, President, Verseidag Seemee US.

“The seemee 3P Premium Backlit is an award winning backlit fabric developed for dye sublimation outputs—both transfer and direct—that offers vibrant colors without losing quality when stretched into and LED frame,” said Tischer. 3P Value Backlit was developed for LED light box and backlit applications using direct or transfer dye sublimation print outputs. Its treatment, tight weaves and wrinkles, crease resistant yarn, make this product a perfect solution for a number of high-end interior applications, said Tischer.

The seemee 3P Value Display is a perfect counterpart for frame systems for front-lit applications.

Verseidag’s 13-ounce seemee VARIO is a 100 percent polyester printable for both front-lit and back-lit applications for interior, exterior, retail, exhibition, and display systems. VARIO is available in 126- and 196-inch widths and is compatible with solvent, UV, and latex printing.

The company’s lightweight PVC seemee mesh extra B 3131 garnered headlines for its part in helping to set a Guinness Book World record. To celebrate the release of the Bollywood film “Boss,” the fan club of the leading actor akshay Kumar, set about to create a larger-than-life poster. Macro Art, a UK-based company, printed the mega-poster using seemee mesh extra B 3131, which is primarily used for building wraps and billboards. The mesh can be welded to create a perfect unified whole. Because of the grid structure that allows air to circulate, mesh is lighter than PVC yet keeps its durability through a high tear and tensile strength.

The world-record poster consists of 36 panels (5x18 meter sections) of mesh extra. It was registered officially in the Guinness Book of World records measuring 58.87 m x 54.94 m.


Dye Sub Sees Growth

Roland DGA’s dye sublimation applications have expanded significantly over the past year, explained Lily Hunter, product manager—textiles and consumables for Roland DGA. “As with any wide-format application, end users seek flexibility to increase their product portfolio and reduce their costs,” Hunter said.

Office and home décor is fast becoming a lucrative market for Roland’s Hi-Fi Express FP-740 74-inch sublimation printer, used to produce large, fabric fine art reproductions, murals and decorative fine art prints. The FP-740’s range of sublimation inks produce dense, rich colors, making them well suited for a range of decor applications.

Epson’s SureColor F-Series dye-sublimation transfer printers offer a complete solution with end-user support, all under one brand. The SureColor F-Series dye-sub printers are designed to work exclusively with Epson UltraChrome DS ink, and are enhanced with three Epson DS transfer paper options for ultimate dye-sublimation quality.


Award Winning Fabrics

Top Value’s newest fabric media offerings are Canvas Prime and Geo Mesh. “Both of these fabrics were nominated for the 2014 ISA Best Green Product competition and we were honored to win the ISA Award for Best Green Product,” said Compton.

Canvas Prime and Geo Mesh are two substrates in the line of REACH Compliant Direct Print Textiles. The fabrics are flame retardent, have a consistent white point that’s a bright white, and are lightweight. Applications of Geo Mesh and Canvas Prime include banners, tradeshow graphics, and interior design. Canvas Prime is used for POP displays, fine art, retractables, and backdrops.

“The right printer, fabric, and ink combinations are absolutely breathtaking and printers want those upscale, impressive fabrics for high-profile customers’ retail and POP applications,” said Compton.