By Jeff Leagon
When the average person hears the word fabric, their first thought is likely about apparel, upholstery or bedding. For almost as long as these products have existed, they have been decorated with images and patterns.
Instead of printing fabrics for apparel or home furnishings, most of the new digital textile equipment is used to image fabrics for sign/banner and other graphics applications. For the moment, that’s the better fit for the equipment given its capability. Output capacity for most of the digital systems is a few hundred square feet per hour. Traditional rotary screen systems run at about 100 times this rate.
There are also concerns about the performance requirements of printed fabric. For apparel and home furnishings applications, consumers expect the image to stay on the fabric and not fade. Aesthetics are more critical for these applications than for sign/banner. In many cases, when the requirements of look, feel and performance are considered, the right combination of digitally printable fabric, printer and ink technology may not yet exist.
Development efforts are underway that focus on fabric pretreatment and ink systems. If successful, there will be solutions to allow direct digital printing onto cotton and other natural fiber fabrics, making them wash-fast and requiring no post treatment after the image is applied. Output challenges are being addressed through the development of larger and faster print systems that will eventually bring digital print technology into the world of mass production.
Consumers and producers of graphics for soft signage, flags, banners, trade show exhibits and point-of-sale displays are benefitting from the digital fabric print systems currently available. The systems are relatively inexpensive, allowing print providers an easy transition into fabric printing. The revenue potential for graphics printed on fabric is significantly higher than that of printed vinyl, film or paper. And a broad range of fabrics compatible with these print systems is readily available.
Fabrics can be transported and stored more easily and less expensively than other materials. Fabrics are strong and resilient, allowing them to be stretched and shaped easily and without damage. These characteristics allow for more creativity and fewer limitations in graphic design.
Your customers benefit by having a completely new range of material choices. When applied to fabric, an image takes on a completely new dimension and quality that people relate to on a basic level.
Today’s fabric technology has found a perfect niche. Digital technology continues to put fabrics into new and innovative applications.
As producers of fabrics and providers of imaging and finishing services, our goal is to ensure that the range of applications continues to grow.