By Peter Saunders
With both direct and transfer-based textile printing systems making their way into sign shops, digitally output wide-format fabric graphics are coming of age, particularly for point-of-purchase (POP) displays and trade show exhibits. There are a number of reasons more and more signmakers have become keen to work with soft substrates.
A light touch
“Signage fabrics can be preferable to vinyl or banner materials because they are lighter and easier to store in inventory and then ship,” says Catalina Frank, dye-sublimation product manager for Epson, a printer manufacturer that has recently embraced the transfer-based graphics market.
Having previously developed printheads for other manufacturers’ direct-to-textile printers, Epson started selling its own four-colour dye sublimation inkjet printers about three years ago in Brazil, which represented a very large and textile-heavy market. After studying the results and following up with further research and development (R&D) at its headquarters in Japan, the company expanded its push, bringing textile printers with roll-to-roll capabilities to other signmaking communities around the world.
“We’re focusing on different types of businesses that can benefit from soft signage,” says Frank. “From small to large sign companies, wide-format dye sublimation transfer printing is available at a variety of price points.”
While other major printer manufacturers have released direct-to-fabric presses, Epson’s focus on dye sublimation follows the example of garment printing. Its inks are certified for use on clothing.
“As in the garment industry, dye sublimation embeds the ink in the fabric for vibrant, durable colour,” says Frank, “so it’s perfect for photographic soft-signage applications.”
Developing new business
Electronics for Imaging (EFI) is among other printer manufacturers that have taken a different approach to the fabric graphics market. Some of its Vutek presses offer both direct and transfer-based printing.
“We don’t want to pigeonhole our customers, so we’ve developed larger industrial printers than can direct-print a flag, for example, or transfer for exhibition-type graphics that will be viewed more closely,” explains Mike Wozny, EFI’s strategic inkjet product manager.
With more than 10 years’ experience in the fabric graphics segment, EFI is on its third generation of printers geared for this market, but Wozny says there is still a lot of room to grow.