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Taking the Direct Approach

Exploring direct printing on fabrics.

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By Peggy Middendorf

In addition, textiles can open up new products and applications for existing or new customers, and print providers can generally earn a higher profit margin on printed textiles. Fabric applications can be organized into four basic categories: event, retail, decor, and fashion:

* Event graphics: Comprising sports graphics, inside and outside stadiums, and arenas, as well as TV, movie, and theatrical backdrops. Also keep in mind that inflatables and promotional balloons need the flexibility and lightweight properties of fabrics; and many tradeshow graphics imaged onto textiles are morphed into 3-D shapes and forms using metal "skeletons." Too, fabric mesh works well for airflow with building wraps.

* Retail graphics: Here, fabric signage is counted on to provide an upscale appearance, and it allows stores the flexibility to layer graphics and colors for a unique look. Retail graphics comprise weekly and seasonal banners, flags, and in-store displays; and umbrellas, awnings, and tents for permanent or temporary use. "The visual aspect of the images being able to be seen-and seen through-is desirable in the retail marketplace," says Cheatham of Fisher Textiles.

* Decor applications: These run the gamut-from corporate headquarters decorated with the company’s logo to customized home furnishings for consumers. Specific application include: textured wallcoverings, which are printed in strips and applied just like regular wallpaper; room dividers, bedding, and drapes; carpets; and the gaming felt that covers casino tables and pool tables (all of which can be highly customized).

* Fashion: Applications here begin with prototypes, garment strike-offs, and multiple color versions of designer textiles, and go all the way to swimwear, sportswear, fashion accessories (such as shoes and purses), and limited-edition runs for designers. The direct-textile printer d-gen Heracle is being used to produce bags, canvas shoes, bedding, curtains, swimsuits, and umbrellas, reports Ackerman from NuSign.

"We are open to the whole world where the huge fabric markets are, such as home furnishings and apparel, direct to carpets for shows, printing upholstery, garments for strike offs, and more," says Codos of L&P.

Examining market demand
This rise in popularity of printed fabrics is good news for print shops that have already invested in fabric production or are now exploring their fabric options. Opening new markets-furnishings, decorative products, and apparel-can prove to be both exciting and profitable.

Depending on your current mix of wide-format printers, your shop may be able to image directly onto fabrics using the machines you already own. If the market demand is there, however, and you find yourself considering the purchase of new technologies, carefully examine the options available to find what fits best within your operation.

"Fabrics can help set your shop apart from your competition because they enable unique solutions that will gain repeat business from customers," says Avery’s Hutt. "And they enable you to add value to your customers’ signage, which will result in higher profits for your business."

Peggy Middendorf is managing editor of The Big Picture.