By Michael Compton
Digitally printed textiles for the retail point-of-purchase (POP) market is one of the top growing trends in the industry. Businesses across North America are quickly adopting these substrate types for in-store display due to rapidly changing seasonal and year-round brand promotions. Other popular applications include backlit displays, silicone-edge graphics (SEG) frame systems, retractable banner stands, double-sided banners, tablecloths, storefront displays, and promotional flags and banners.
Typically, digital graphics for POP and retail displays are printed with polyester fabrics and dye-sublimation inks, either through heat transfer or direct disperse methods. Fabrics can also be printed with ultraviolet (UV) and latex inks with promising growth in digital pigment ink printing, depending on whether or not the substrate is coated properly for the ink to adhere.
All print systems are different. To be able to successfully print graphics on displays, print-service providers (PSPs) must work closely with fabric vendors to determine the optimum textiles for their systems, inks, software, and finishing equipment focused on the applications for the desired output.
Brand owners consistently choose fabric displays for POP and retail applications, such as SEG and backlit frame systems, due to the brilliant colour output that can be achieved on textiles as well as the ease in replacing graphics as marketing promotions change seasonally. There is also an inclination toward these substrates as the push toward sustainability grows. Today, brands seek fabrics made from recycled content—such as those made with fibres from plastic water bottles—and those that are 100 per cent recyclable and free of hazardous elements, coatings, fabric construction, and manufacturing processes, which further helps to identify these substrates as compliant with the European Union (EU) Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation as well as Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified.
Choosing the right backlit fabrics
Backlit fabrics for digital textile printing are widespread in the sign industry due to their popularity for mainstream applications such as trade-show booths, museum exhibits, event backdrops, POP retail displays, interior decor, storefronts, curved architectural structures, sports venue banners, airport ads, and ceiling displays. At the same time, there are many fabrics to choose from, with different weights and construction characteristics suitable for different applications. Therefore, it is critical for PSPs to understand the characteristics of these textiles as well as the details of printing onto this substrate.
Since POP displays are changed frequently, print providers need fabrics they can rely on time and again that provide excellent imaging detail and brilliant colour. Backlit and SEG fabrics must have very stable dimensional stretch to ensure graphics fit tightly in frame systems without bunching along the edges and corners and to eliminate sagging in the middle of the print.
It is also important to have the exact dimensions of the frame system the graphics will be displayed in. The best backlit and SEG fabrics typically have a warp-knit structure, while some woven ones are selected based on price. The interwoven construction of warp-knit backlit fabrics provides stable dimensional stretch and does not allow the substrate to fray along the edges. It also allows the graphics to be cold-cut as opposed to being hot-knifed, which is necessary with woven fabrics to seal the edges and prevent them from tearing.