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Creating Soft Spaces

(November 2010) posted on Mon Nov 08, 2010

Fabric Images Inc. helps awaken the world to dye-sub's possibilities.

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But printer manufacturers balked at Alvarez’ request for a 10-foot wide dye-sublimation printer, he says, claiming it was too expensive to produce and had limited appeal. Undaunted, he persisted: “We knew dye sublimation was the best application for fabric printing, and the demand was there for printing on much wider material.”

In 2000, Alvarez convinced Italian manufacturer Monti-Antonio to custom-build a 10-foot-wide heat press for wider fabrics. The following year, printer manufacturer Nur Macroprinters (acquired by HP in late 2007) agreed to partner with Fabric Images to adapt its Salsa 3200 for the company’s dye-sublimation printing needs.

“We took their existing inkjet printer and had to modify its sensors and fine tune the printhead to work for dye sublimation,” he says. “On September 11, 2001 we started jetting.” Experiments with direct printing to fabric failed. “We could print, but it was wicky – the quality just wasn’t there,” he recalls. “We tested a lot of different methods before we decided we really needed to print on paper, then transfer the image.”

Next, he worked with Boise Cascade to develop paper for the wider press. By year’s end, they had it. “That was a big catapult for us,” notes Alvarez. “We were the only ones who could do dye-sublimation printing on fabrics 10-feet wide.”

In fact, that may be when the possibilities Alvarez first saw for dye-sub printing began to be realized. Projects grew more ambitious as designers started combining larger graphics with an expanding selection of fabrics “The 10-foot width really opened the doors, from a creative perspective,” he reports. “We did things like 10-foot walls, 130-feet long for trade show exhibits.

“The metal part of our business started to really grow, as well. Designers were getting more creative in their structures and environments, and needed skeletons to hold that fabric in place.”
To keep pace with demand, a second Nur printer was installed in 2002, then a third in 2003. In 2005, it added yet another wide-format press, the Keundo 10-foot dye-sub printer.