It’s nearly impossible to work in the print industry and not have heard about the expanding interest in digital textiles. Although digitally printed fabrics make up only 2% of the entire textile marketing, it’s a fast-growing technology. It’s expected to grow from a $14.2 billion industry in 2016 to a $33.4 billion industry by 2021, according to Keypoint Intelligence.
That’s more than doubling the opportunity in five short years. And it could grow even more, with big players like Amazon and Home Depot both entering the textile game in 2018.
As a print service provider, what does that mean to you? More material options with ever-advancing technology, more solutions to offer to your customers and more ways to grow your business. Here are four key points to know now about digitally printed fabric in the wide-format market.
Fabric Benefits: The biggest segments utilizing wide-format digitally printed fabrics are trade shows, signage and retail. Trade show fabricators like printed textiles because they’re inexpensive to ship and offer a more sensory experience, meaning people are more likely to approach and touch a printed textile than a vinyl or film. It’s excellent for signage, too, since fabrics continue to improve and offer better color reproduction, plus it can be easily transported without creasing or wrinkling. Fabric works well for retail, as well, because it drapes more elegantly, giving signage a more high-end feel. Plus, when finished with a silicone edge or keder tape, fabric signage switches out easily for seasonal or sale messaging.
Hot opportunities: Beyond traditional signage applications, digital fabric opens a lot of new opportunities for print service providers running latex, solvent or even aqueous printers. One application growing in popularity is step-and-repeat backdrops for photo shoots. When printed on fabric, these become lightweight, flowy backdrops that look great and can be folded up and used again. Digital textiles also open a world of opportunity in décor. Custom patterns and designs can be printed and used for pillows, window shades, lamp shades, curtains, upholstery, hanging tapestries and more. For printers utilizing dye-sublimation print technology, opportunities are springing up all over for décor, fast-fashion, sports apparel and more. Since digital printing allows print shops to produce short or even micro-runs, they can service more customers with no minimum runs – a highly attractive option for your customers.
Technology Advancements: Digitally printable fabrics are advancing all the time, as well as the printers and inks used in the process. Last year, we helped launch EnduraFab, a fabric line with a special coating that makes the fabric compatible with latex inks, while maintaining a nice, soft feel. This fabric has proven to work well trade show graphics, SEG frames and step-and-repeat backdrops. On the equipment side, we’ve seen amazing advancements with the Kornit Allegro, one-step fabric printing system. This incredible pigment-based solution can be used for micro runs on nearly any fabric type. Plus, Kornit introduced neon inks late last year for lots of color pop. Check out Kornit on the television show Project Runway, where designers created their own patterns and printed micro runs for extremely customized swimsuits.
Selling Tips: There are a few main avenues to sell fabric printing to – signage customers and designers. For signage customers, focus your sales pitch on the fabric’s benefits: easier handling, cheaper shipping, elegant performance, to name a few. For fashion and interior designers, keep in mind that they probably don’t have access to wide-format printers and don’t understand the customization opportunities they offer … so bring the print capabilities to them.
If you’re looking to add décor or fashion printing to your offering, reach out to designers over social media or attend community workshops and events to network face-to-face. With these potential customers, focus on the ability to print short, uber-customized runs with quick turnaround times. This is a huge benefit that digital print offers in the fabric arena – ordering a customized fabric using traditional methods would result in large orders with a lead time of weeks or months rather than days.