Fabric Images Inc. helps awaken the world to dye-sub's possibilities.
The company unveiled the dye-sublimation option to its customers in 1996 with the purchase of a 52-inch RasterGraphics E-stat printer. Initially, the service took off as a lightweight alternative to frame-mounted vinyl signs and banners prevalent in tradeshow booths. “Our customers could save on shipping, because polyester is so much lighter, and have a better looking product than vinyl or appliques,” he says. “They could also easily change the look while using the same frames.”
The service quickly found its niche, and a year later Fabric Images installed its second E-stat printer. “Graphic designers started to recognize that, by working with lighter fabrics, they were no longer as limited by concerns about shipping weight or set up.”
Recognizing an opportunity, Fabric Images added a metal-fabrication department in 1997. “That allowed us to custom-build and print exhibits that were lightweight, easy to set up, and more cost effective,” Alvarez recalls. “We were the first company to do the printing, sewing, and metal work in house,” he says.
Demand for these services followed, prompting the purchase of a third E-stat printer in 1998. By then, awareness of Fabric Image’s capabilities, and the creativity it allowed, had its clients’ designers pushing its limits. “Our customers started looking for more organic shapes and larger pieces,” he says. “The weight factor really drove our business then, and the fact that stretched fabric looked better, and allowed them to do much more creatively, than anything available to them before.”
At that time, Fabric Images offered a limited selection of three or four fabrics. Alvarez turned to the fashion industry in search of a broader selection of polyester textiles and fabrics suitable for printing. “These new materials were more aesthetically pleasing. The idea of creating more engaging 3D designs with fabric really started to catch on,” he says.
Pushing the limits
As designers exploited the possibilities of printing on fabric, they soon perceived limits. Although seams could be hidden when stitching together larger images, the 52-inch width of Fabric Images’ E-stat printer was considered inadequate. By late 1998, clients began asking for larger and seamless prints, and so Fabric Images began looking for something that could produce them.