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					Special Report: Materials

                                Digital Dress-Up                                       BY JENNIFER HADDEN
                                                                                                               rom childhood dress-up games

                                                                                                        F      to grownup black-tie affairs,
                                                                                                               there’s something alluring
                                                                                                               about stepping out of our
                                                                                                       everyday garb into something more
                                                                                                           Some innovative print providers
                                                                                                          feel the same way, as they—and
                                                                                                           their customers—see fabrics for
                                                                                                            digital printing beginning to
                                                                                                             evolve and open exciting niche
                                                                                                             And, this time, it’s a stretch
                                                                                                             beyond canvas to a closet full of
                                                                                                             silks, satins, poplins, taffetas and
                                                                                                            more—both natural and syn-
                                                                                                            thetic—for direct-print and dye-
                                                                                                            sublimation methods. But,
                                                                                                            while digitally printed fabrics
                                                                                                            might be fun, often luxurious,
                                                                                                            and simply something different,
                                                                                                            the big question is will they
                                                                                                             really sell in the digital-produc-
                                                                                                              tion world?
                                                                                                                 Moving beyond the usual
                                                                                                              vinyl, paper and poly-film sub-
                                                                                                              strates certainly won’t be for
                                                                                                             everyone. However, like any up-
                                                                                                             and-coming process, digital
                                                                                                             fabric printing presents oppor-
                                                                                                          tunities to win new customers, as
                                                                                                well as offer existing customers another
                                   The application possibilities for digital fabrics            reason to keep doing business with you.
                                   are many, including wearables like these                        “You have actually increased your
                                   inkjet scarves.                                              market potential by being able to extend
                                   PHOTOS COURTESY BONNY LHOTKA/UNIQUE EDITIONS                 your abilities and print on textiles,” says
                                                                                                Philip Ziadie, design consultant at
                                                                                                Digitalarts Technology, a Hallendale, Fla.-
                                                                                                 based print provider that does about half
                                                                                                 of its overall business in fabrics.

                            20 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s SEPTEMBER 1999
One of fabric’s greatest benefits is
its “foldability” and ease of travel,
especially important to clients in
the trade-show industry. These
banner displays are fabricated
using a combination of taffeta,
sheer and poplin.

                                        SEPTEMBER 1999 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s 21
Special Report: Materials

                            Digital Dress-Up
                                                                                           PRACTICAL AND BEAUTIFUL                           COST CONSIDERATIONS
                                                                                           One of fabric’s greatest benefits is its “fold-   The digital fabrics market hasn’t leveled
                                                                                           ability” and ease of travel. Great reduc-         out yet (especially on the inkjet side,
                                                                                           tions in the creasing, buckling and bulk          which is quite new), so consumables’ costs
                                                                                           that are often associated with more tradi-        are all over the board. Print providers
                                                                                           tional vinyl, paper and film substrates           report paying anywhere from $1 per yard
                                                                                           render fabric alternatives especially attrac-     for some polyester dye-sub fabrics to $35
                                                                                           tive to customers in the trade-show               per yard for natural silk used in direct
                                                                                           market, where graphics are constantly on          inkjet printing.
                                                                                           the go.                                              While dye-sub fabrics tend to be
                                                                                              Still, the idea of printing large-format       cheaper (because they’re synthetic) than
                                                                                           graphics onto fabric doesn’t always occur         direct-print inkjet fabrics (which include
                                                                                           to customers as a viable option.                  many natural fibers), inks and toners for
                                                                                              “People tend to have blinders on when it       all processes are expensive. Whichever
                                                                                           comes to vinyl,” emphasizes Ellen                 fabric printing method you use, assume
                                                                                           Westnedge, owner of Carolina Digital              that you’ll spend a lot on consumables,
                                                                                           Graphics, an Asheville, N.C., print provider      print providers warn.
                                                                                           whose sole specialty is direct printing on           Selling prices vary widely, too. With so
                                                                                           fabric substrates. Westnedge adds that            many materials and methods, and with
                                                                                           about 50 percent of her customers need to         in-house experimentation still at a high in
                                                                                           be educated on the benefits and possibilities     this area, most print providers say they
                                                                                           of fabrics.                                       price by the individual job rather than by
                                                                                              Sheer practicality is often the number-        the square foot. It all depends upon the
                                                                                           one selling point. When the City of               type of fabric used, ink/toner coverage,
                                                                                           Asheville’s Parks and Recreation Division         printing method, finishing requirements
                                                                                           made plans to include some 4' x 7' stage          and even the market served.
                                                                                           backdrops with 1920s-era photos of the city          At any rate, customers do get charged
                                                                                           in this summer’s Belechere Festival, one of       more for fabric products than typical dig-
                                                                                           its biggest requirements was a lightweight        ital graphics—but if it’s fabric they want,
                                                                                           finished product. Fabric became the               they’re usually willing to pay.
                                                                                           obvious solution over vinyl, says                    “It’s a much nicer product, and it’s still
                                                                                           Westnedge.                                        not as expensive as other types of adver-
                                                                                              Fabric substrates also add to your arsenal     tising,” says Nora Norby, owner of
                                                                                           of ways to bring out the best in your cus-        Minneapolis-based Banner Creations.
                                                                                           tomers’ artwork. Fabric Images of Elk                Other considerations in working with
                                                                                           Grove Village, Ill., works with dye-sub           digital fabrics include a high scrap rate
                                                                                           satins for this very reason. Vice president       compared to other substrates, and
                                                                                           Marco Alvarez says that though satin has a        shrinkage, which is compounded by the
                                                                                           tendency to wrinkle easily, it offers a glossy    heat of the dye-sub transfer and inkjet
                            If you’re looking for permanence with direct-printed           stock with reflective qualities that work well    post-treatment processes. It’s hard to pre-
                            inkjet fabrics, you’ll need to follow a rather lengthy post-   for enhancing the pearlescent look of snow        dict which fabrics will behave in what
                            treatment process involving steaming, washing and              scenes and the shimmer of water scenes.           ways, as shrinkage is “very hit-and-miss
                            occasional ironing.                                               (It also points out one of the real differ-    with all brands,” explains Janet Havig, co-
                            PHOTOS COURTESY BONNY LHOTKA/UNIQUE EDITIONS                   ences between satin and the softer “hand,”        owner of Rembrandt Graphics in
                                                                                           or feel, of images printed on poly-poplin         Anaheim, Calif.
                                                                                           and silk-type fabrics; stick with these for          You’ll also find that each fabric accepts
                                                                                           graphics that will be folded often.)              ink at different saturation levels. There’s
                                                                                              Print providers agree that it’s the classier   no way to predict this one either, so you’ll
                                                                                           look of fabrics—especially silks and              need to do a test run on each fabric job.
                                                                                           satins—over other substrates that often              Watch for static, too, cautions Banner
                                                                                           wins over high-end customers.                     Creations’ Norby. Her static-reducing tips
                                                                                              “Most of my customers aren’t coming            include using an anti-static bar on the
                                                                                           here looking for a product with no distinc-       printers and anti-static carpeting in the
                                                                                           tion,” says Rachel Scandarion, Digitalarts’       production area.
                                                                                           president. “They’re looking for something            Keep in mind that, as with other digital
                                                                                           that’s going to put them ahead.”                  substrates, some fabrics work better for
                            22 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s SEPTEMBER 1999
Digital Dress-Up
indoor applications—satins, silks and any-                      Furst, vice president of Los Angeles-based                causes toners to become embedded in the
thing that’s not water-resistant or has a                       AAA Flag & Banner. “After working with                    fabric (rather than just sitting on top as in
lower tensile strength—while others, like                       it for a while, most people would throw                   other digital printing processes), the
Dacron®, perform well outdoors. Check                           their hands in the air and say, ‘Forget it.’”             resulting prints are automatically water-
your manufacturer’s recommendations.                               The good news is that on the software                  resistant, washable and ironable. And,
   In certain situations—hotel and restaurant                   and RIP side of things, nothing extraordi-                even with the transfer process involved in
projects, for example—you’ll run into flame-                    nary is necessary; you can use the same                   getting the toners from the donor media
retardancy issues. Check with your customer                     products that have proven effective for                   to the receiver media (the fabric, in this
as to requirements for their specific job and                   your shop’s other digital printing jobs.                  case), production speeds with e-stat dye-
be conscientious about the details.                                And, 300 dpi is considered a sufficient res-           sub still beat all other types of digital
   What’s the learning curve like? If you’ve                    olution for most fabric-printing applications.            fabric printing.
never worked with fabrics, expect it to be                                                                                  The sublimation process won’t affect
rather steep. Some print experts say it                         DYE-SUB VS. DIRECT PRINT                                  the hand of the fabric, so soft fabrics will
takes a year to become truly confident                          When it comes to print permanence, com-                   remain soft after printing—a factor
with fabric-printing capabilities.                              bined with production speeds, you just can’t              important to many customers.
   “It takes lots of supervision and moni-                      beat e-stat dye-sub for fabric applications.                With inkjet dye-sub, you’ll get perma-
toring of your machines,” says Craig                              Because the dye-sublimation process                     nence similar to e-stat products and still

This banner and seat cover are dye-sublimated onto flame-retardant                         This inkjet banner is printed directly onto silk. High-end clients tend to
polyester. Many fabric applications are required to pass fire codes.                       like the look of fabrics—especially silks and satins—over more typical
PHOTO COURTESY BANNER CREATIONS                                                            digital substrates. The angel graphic in the background is printed
                                                                                           directly onto drop screen, a non-woven fiberglass fabric.
                                                                                           PHOTO COURTESY BANNER CREATIONS

                                                                                                                                          SEPTEMBER 1999 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s 23
Special Report: Materials

                            Digital Dress-Up
                                                                                                                retain the hand of the fabric, but of course
                                                                                                                your printing speeds are drastically low-
                                                                                                                ered. In addition to using inkjet, because
                                                                                                                it’s the technology they’ve already invested
                                                                                                                in and know best, some shops simply like
                                                                                                                the look of inkjet-printed fabrics over
                                                                                                                those produced by e-stat, citing a less
                                                                                                                noticeable dot pattern.
                                                                                                                    Print providers are getting the richest
                                                                                                                and most consistent colors, meanwhile,
                                                                                                                from direct inkjet printing. Not only do
                                                                                                                the inks—most notably the dye-based
                                                                                                                ones—saturate the fabric more heavily,
                                                                                                                but you can immediately see the color’s
                                                                                                                results on the material (as opposed to
                                                                                                                waiting for the dye-sub transfer process to
                                                                                                                be completed).
                                                                                                                    With direct inkjet, you’ll also get the
                                                                                                                opportunity to print on natural fibers,
                                                                                                                something that can’t be done with dye-
                                                                                                                sub. Even the best synthetic substitutes
                                                                                                                can’t duplicate the exact look of their nat-
                                                                                                                ural counterparts, admits Fabric Images’
                                                                                                                Alvarez, who works strictly with e-stat
                                                                                                                dye-sub synthetics.
                                                                                                                    While you can achieve water-resistance
                                                                                                                and ironability with many direct-printed
                                                                                                                inkjet fabrics combined with pigmented
                                                                                                                inks, if you want permanence you’ll need
                                                                                                                to do a steaming and washing (and some-
                                                                                                                times ironing) post-treatment process. It’s
                                                                                                                a time-consuming affair that can take a
                                                                                                                couple of hours, explains Unique
                                                                                                                Editions® artist Bonny Lhotka, and just
                                                                                                                isn’t practical for most production shops.
                                                                                                                    Production shops that do direct inkjet
                                                                                                                report, however, that most of their fabric
                                                                                                                applications don’t require post-treatment
                                                                                                                because the finished products are being
                                                                                                                used for short-term indoors and the cus-
                                                                     When the City of Asheville, N.C.’s Parks   tomer has no intention of washing them.
                                                                     and Recreation Division requested 4' x
                                                                     7' stage backdrops for this summer’s       BIG MARKET POTENTIAL
                                                                     Belechere Festival and required a light-   There seems to be no end to possible mar-
                                                                     weight finished product, poplin fabric     kets and applications for digitally printed
                                                                     made an excellent solution.                fabrics.
                                                                     PHOTO COURTESY CAROLINA DIGITAL GRAPHICS      Trade shows and point-of-purchase are
                                                                                                                the two big markets, and banners rule
                                                                                                                both. These range from simple 18'' x 36''
                                                                                                                store banners equipped with dowel rods to
                                                                                                                the massive 60' x 80' piece that AAA Flag
                                                                                                                & Banner produced for a Sony display at
                                                                                                                the Los Angeles Convention Center (said
                                                                                                                to be the largest dye-sub banner ever pro-

                            24 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s SEPTEMBER 1999
Digital Dress-Up
                                          As with any digital media, some
                                          fabrics perform better in outdoor
                                          applications than others.
                                          PHOTO COURTESY AAA FLAG & BANNER

                                              But, it doesn’t stop there. While
                                           exhibiting at a recent textiles trade show,
                                           Digitalarts Technology did a little pro-
                                           moting of its own with a booth draped in
                                           digitally printed fabrics, lounge chairs cov-
                                           ered in the stuff, and staff members
                                           wearing it in the form of ties and dresses.
                                              Other “wearable” examples include the
                                           fine-art scarves that Unique Editions’
                                           Lhotka creates for discerning buyers and
                   Beware of dog: This     the vests that Rembrandt Graphics pro-
                   image was scanned       duces for casino employees—or costumes
                   from a photograph       for entertainers and theater productions.
                   and inkjet-printed         Flags, awnings, inflatables and theme-
                   directly onto flag      environment furniture are also possibili-
                   material for the pet    ties. Rembrandt Graphics recently printed
                   owner to hang at        dye-sub booth-backs with famous
                   home and use as a       painters’ works for a restaurant at The
                   vehicle window          Paris resort in Las Vegas.
                   shade when trans-          Unique Editions’ Lhotka sees cus-
                   porting the dog.        tomized memorabilia for consumers as an
                   PHOTO COURTESY          emerging market. She recently printed a
                   CAROLINA DIGITAL        wedding tablecloth with photos of the
                   GRAPHICS                bride and groom for her son.
                                              Then there’s textile sampling—a big
                                           market for those who want to get
                                           involved. Instead of investing in a thou-
                                           sand yards at a time from a screen printer
                                           and taking the risk that the textile market
                                           won’t accept the pattern, a fabric designer
                                           can simply request a yard of his design
                                           from a digital printer and greatly mini-
                                           mize his risk.
                                              Offering fabric-finishing services—
                                           sewing, grommeting, pole pockets,
                                           custom framing and more—increases
                                           your market possibilities, too. Most
                                           printers who work with fabrics have fin-
                                           ishing capabilities like these, but those
                                           who don’t can contract out for them fairly

                                                           SEPTEMBER 1999 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s 25
Trade shows represent one of the biggest markets, and banners are one of the most popular applications for digital fab-
rics. These double-sided dye-sub banners are fabricated with a poly-poplin cloth.

Making customers aware of both the pos-
sibilities and the limitations of digital fab-
rics is absolutely necessary to your success
                                                                ON THE WEB
with the substrates, print providers stress,                   Manufacturers:
and it’s not always easy.                                      Astechnologies Inc.:
   “Since there aren’t very many people                        Color Wings:
who do what we do, the education process                       ENCAD Inc.:
is that much harder,” says Fabric Images’                      Fisher Textiles:
Alvarez.                                                       Mile High Engineering Supply Co. Inc.:
   Sometimes it means saying no.                     
Rembrandt Graphics recently spoke with                         Rupert, Gibbon & Spider Inc.: www.jacquard-
a customer who wanted a 10' x 20' dye-               
sub banner with fairly complex artwork                         Sawgrass Systems:
and a turnaround time of two days. Havig                       Specialty Toner Corp.:
explained that it couldn’t be accomplished
to Rembrandt’s quality standards in that                       Print Providers:
time frame and suggested a longer turn-                        AAA Flag & Banner: (Web site
around time. When the customer refused                         coming soon)
the advice, Havig refused the job.                             Banner Creations:
   “We’d rather do that than turn out poor                     Carolina Digital Graphics: (828) 277-8137 (Web
quality,” she says.                                            site coming soon)
   If you’re going to work with digital fab-                   Digitalarts Technology:
rics, you have to want to do it, everyone                      or
agrees, and it helps to identify the markets                   Fabric Images Inc.:
you want to serve before you invest your                       Rembrandt Graphics:
time and money in the materials and tech-            
nology.                                                        Unique Editions:

                       Jennifer Hadden is the
                       former managing editor of
                       Digital Graphics and fre-
                       quently writes about digital-
                       printing technology.


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