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					                                                                                              SPECIALTY MATERIALS


                                                                                  Evolving
                                                                                   Substrate
                                                                                  Possibilities
                                                                                                      BY CATHIE BECK

                                                                                    Max Hoyt of Pixus Digital Printing is living a dual life in this
                                                                                  ever-evolving digital-printing world. Though he produces a great
                                                                                  deal of traditional retail-type graphics that advertise, announce,
                                                                                  and encourage sales — his imaged output can just as often be
                                                                                  found decorating walls, shading windows and even adorning a
                                                                                  table beneath someone’s scrambled eggs.
                                                                                    “We’ve been half-joking around here about changing our name
                                                                                  to Pixus Digital Interiors,” says Hoyt. To date, his Lafayette, La.-
                                                                                  based business tackles many non-traditional digital imaging sur-
                                                                                  faces including fabric, canvas, and wallpaper — even furniture.
                                                                                    “I just left a customer 20 minutes ago,” he says. “I was showing
                                                                                  some of our custom laminates done on Formica — suitable for
                                                                                  tabletops. They want a different image on every one of their
                                                                                  tabletops. So we take their design, piezo inkjet that image using
                                                                                  pigmented inks for stamina, and have a laminate company bake
                                                                                  it into the Formica for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. It’s all about
                                                                                  learning new ways to use the technology.”
                                                                                    Ross Mills bases a great deal of his consulting and research
                                                                                  business upon the same concept. He says it’s all about learning
                                                                                  at Boulder, Colo.-based iTi (Imaging Technology International).
                                                                                    “A lot of our printing is done for design houses and depart-
                                                                                  ment stores and shopping malls. But most of what we do is on
                                                                                  an experimental basis — not on end user-type jobs. We’ve
                                                                                  printed on canvas, leather, felt, and onto plywood and art
                                                                                  board,” Miller says.
                                                                                    Imaging on some of these non-traditional substrates often leads
                                                                                  iTi down the adventurous path of specialty-material testing.

                                                                                  THE BIG CHALLENGE
                                                                                    The big challenge is finding a materials/inks mix for nontradi-
                                                                                  tional substrates that produce traditional, tried-and-true results.
                            Printing onto specialty materials is becoming         “First,” Mills says, “you often have to deal with uneven surfaces.
                            increasingly popular. This trade show display by      Once you’re past that, then you find that the color tends to
                            Fabric Images illustrates the imaging possibilities   change on these unusual substrates in ways that don’t occur with
                            for dye sub applications. (Photo courtesy of Oscar    traditional media. Typically, then, you have to adjust the color
                            & Associates)                                         profile for that particular material.”
                                                                                    Which inevitably leads to complex adjustments in color-
                                                                                  matching and color-consistency issues.
42 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s MARCH 2000
                                                                                  A growing area for spe-
                                                                                  cialty materials is printing
                                                                                  onto carpet. Tropical
                                                                                  Graphics, Sunrise, Fla., pro-
                                                                                  duced these samples using
                                                                                  a dye sublimation, heat-          “If you use standard material,” Mills
                                                                                  transfer process. Scanned       says, “vendors have already done a color
                                                                                  images were printed on a        profile for you. But when you print on
                                                                                  52'' Mimaki inkjet printer at   specialty materials, you have to com-
                                                                                  360 dpi using Sawgrass          pletely re-do the color profiles.”
                                                                                  SubliJet inks and trans-          Sometimes a customer’s specific request
                                                                                  ferred onto the carpet with     adds to the complexity of iTi’s trial-and-
                                                                                  a George Knight 6' x 4'         error equation.
                                                                                  Triton heat press.                “Not only do we get a request for a spe-
                                                                                                                  cial material — like leather — but then
                                                                                                                  we’re asked to use a special ink as well.
                                                                                                                  That requires extensive testing and re-pro-
                                                                                                                  filing of the ink and the substrate.”
                                                                                                                    This kind of experimentation can be
                                                             These ceramic dye-sub tiles were pro-                expensive, which may account for some
                                                             duced by Tropical Graphics using an Epson            print providers’ reluctance to output on
                                                             3000 printer at 720 dpi and SubliJet inks.           anything other than a conventional media.
                                                             The image was transferred onto the tile                “The companies wanting this kind of
                                                             using a 25'' x 20'' Insta heat press.                work done have to pay for it,” says Mills.
                                                                                                                  “Our specialty is the non-traditional. It’s
                                                                                                                  R&D and our time is very expensive, but




                                                           PictoGraphics, Las Vegas, produced this kingly
                                                           crest for a “jousting” event held at the Excalibur
                                                           Hotel & Casino using a poly suede material. It
                                                           was dye-subbed with Specialty Toner pigments
                                                           on an RGI 5442 e-stat printer and transferred
This dye-sub image was done by Tropical Graphics on        using an Astechnologies 7900T heat press.
a metal surface using a 36'' Mutoh Falcon AccuPlot
inkjet printer at 720 dpi with SubliJet inks, and trans-
ferred to the metal using an Insta heat press.                                                                    Pictographics produced this dye-sub image on poly
                                                                                                                  satin material for Westood Studios.

                                                                                                                                   MARCH 2000 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s 43
                                                                                     This mural was produced by PictoGraphics for a Las Vegas
                                                                                     Harley Davidson dealer using Firesafe Fabric. It was printed
                                                                                     on an RGI 5442 e-stat printer with specialty toners and
                                                                                     transferred using the Astechnologies 7900T heat press.




there are some people who want this type       descent look to their imagery. In that case,      research it and find the look you’re
of work.”                                      we’ll use a sublimation process with what-        searching for.’”
  Likewise, customer needs often lead          ever fabric works best for that specific            But fabric may be a transitional specialty
Marco Alvarez of Fabric Images, Elk            effect. All of it makes each piece unique.”       substrate. Clients are looking to digital
Grove, Ill., into testing not only new sub-      Fabric Images, true to its name, has            imagers to produce products on an
strates against his digital technology, but    conducted its own extensive research in           increasingly wide variety of non-tradi-
new imagining methodologies as well.           order to determine what it can do with            tional surfaces, media that includes
                                               fabrics.                                          counter tops, tiles — even metals.
SOMETHING DIFFERENT                              “We’ve tested well over 100 different             “We’ve got a metal fabrication side to
  Though he admits that a good deal of         fabrics,” says Alvarez. “Our goal is to be        our abilities and we can do circular pieces
Fabric Images’ output ends up as signage       recognized as an imager capable of pro-           and dimensional projects,” says Alvarez.
for trade shows and retail displays, Alvarez   ducing out-of-the-norm applications.              “We’re also looking at putting images on
says he’s creating specialty products for a    What we say is, ‘come to us, let us               perforated metals and sheet aluminum.”
customer base searching for novel ways to                                                          The dye-sublimation process is part of
stand apart from the crowd.                                                                      Alvarez’ expanding research, in spite of the
  “Our customers are looking for some-                                                           idiosyncrasies particular to sublimation.
thing different from the norm,” he says.                                                           “Sublimation is, on some days, very
“What I mean by norm is going from                                                               good,” he says. “But on other days it
hardback paper goods to something a                                                              behaves like a spoiled child. It’s a very
little different in fabric. Fabric’s been                                                        temperamental technology — yet it’s the
around for a little while but people in                                                          best we’ve found to do what we do.”
retail are looking to catch someone’s eye.
  “Both inkjet and dye-sublimation have                                                          PATIENCE PATIENCE
opened up the door for greater creative                                                            Patience with new procedures — dye-
license,” Alvarez says. “So, our customers                                                       sub or otherwise — lends itself to the
come to us for a specific look. They’re                                                          trying-out process, adds Mills. “You’ve got
looking for something delicate, for                                                              to kind of zig and zag your way into it,”
example,” he says. “They might want to                                                           he says. “Though we’ve always been a
be able to see through an image, so we’ll                                                        consulting company — a research and
work with sheer fabrics. Some want a                                                             development team — our client doesn’t
morphing effect, so we’ll print on                                                               always go with the job successfully in the
Spandex and stretch it. Others seek an iri-                                                      end, for their customer. They may just get
44 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s MARCH 2000
Fabric Images says much of its output ends up as signage for trade shows and retail displays,
but the company is searching for novel ways to make its images stand apart from the crowd.


the information they wanted about what                     communicating it to people. You need         but that’s a no-longer-needed hassle.
a substrate will do, what the possibilities                sales and marketing to do that.”               “Today you can create anything on your
are — but they might not go for the                          Communicating the possibilities to the     desktop computer, email us the file and
product.                                                   imager is an ongoing task, adds Pixus        receive custom wallpaper back — unique
  “I’d say that shops looking to try out                   Digital Printing’s Hoyt.                     to your specific application. This is a con-
new surfaces need to hire a good                             “There’s a learning curve. In the wall-    tinuously evolving digital imaging world.
salesman,” he adds. “That’s the hardest                    paper industry, for example, people tradi-   And we have to work to keep the cus-
part. Whenever you have a technology                       tionally feel they have to wade through      tomers educated.”
that gives you an edge, the hardest part is                30-pound books to pick something out,
                                                                                                          Cathie Beck is a previous
                                                                                                         editor of Digital Graphics
                                                                                                           and a frequent writer on
                                                                                                        wide-format printing topics.



                                                                                                                                   DG




                                                                                                                        MARCH 2000 s DIGITAL GRAPHICS s 45

				
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