There’s no doubt about it: Printed fabrics are in demand right now. And with the textile market seeing a 75% increase in the soft signage category, print service providers need to offer fabric as an alternative substrate, or their customers may just walk on by.
One major misconception is that printers need dye-sublimation technology to print fabrics correctly. But with the advancements in media options and printer technology, that’s certainly no longer the case. And in some instances, inkjet-printed fabrics are an even better option than dye-sub.
“It’s the in thing now,” says Eli Weingarten from Precision Graphics in Brooklyn. “It has that matte look and customers really like the elegant look of it.”
Yes, a fabric banner or sign will billow gracefully, adding movement where a vinyl graphic would hang stiffly, giving the fabric a more high-end aesthetic. Fabric also gives a softer, warmer feel to light boxes, which is a popular application.
And besides great looks, fabric has a number of other advantages over films, vinyls or canvas: It’s lighter, making it easy to transport and cheaper to ship. It’s more free-forming and wraps easily around frames of any shape, and many are wrinkle-resistant, so you can fold them up when traveling.
“We really like using LexJet Poly Select Medium for banner stands because it stands up straight and doesn’t curl at the edges,” says Weingarten, who uses a Canon imagePROGRAF iPF9100 (which is now the iPF9400). “We also use it for trade shows, and we have jewelry clients who like it used with pole pockets.”
Getting into the Fabric Biz
While there are now aqueous- and solvent-compatible fabrics, the advances in latex printing technology have really opened a lot more options for wide-format printers, says Jessica Blevins, LexJet product specialist.
“And not just for sign and display, but fabrics and wall papers as well,” she says. “Latex gives you the high-resolution and quality on fabric that you get with dye-sub.”
Although inkjet-printable fabrics like Poly Select or even a softer fabric like HP Light Fabric are not washable like dye-sub printed fabrics, inkjet options won’t fade the way dye-sub will when placed in sunlight.
Also, direct-to-print inkjet fabrics don’t require dye-sub’s extra step of using transfer paper or a heat press to set the ink. There are a few things to keep in mind with different printer types:
- Solvent printers require a higher heat setting to make the colors really set and pop, otherwise they will be muted.
- Latex media should be set up on a take-up reel before printing to ensure the tension is set properly to avoid headstrikes. Using the ink collector is recommended for porous fabrics.
Generally speaking, fabric applications are ideal for indoor use or short-term outdoor use. They’re popular in restaurants and retail spaces, to name a few.
Another misconception about printing fabrics is that printers need a full-service sewing shop to finish fabrics to keep the from unraveling. However, fabrics can be easily finished with a hot knife and adhesive tape. Stay tuned for our upcoming video with more tips on finishing fabrics.