April '23

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G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M A P R I L 2 0 2 3 • G R A P H I C S P R O 5 3 "hand," before and after printing, which adds to the high-end perception of the product. Put simply, the end result is bet- ter by far in look and feel because dye- sub ink is infused into the fibers of the substrate itself, unlike with pigmented ink that builds up and sits on the surface of the fabric. is level of saturation pro- duces superior output. Another important benefit of infusing the ink directly into the fabric is that, without any additional sur- face protection, the image will be perma- nent and cannot be washed away, rubbed off, or otherwise removed from the fabric. UV-curable ink is the most versatile of these other ink technologies. It adheres well to a wide variety of substrates, includ- ing fabric, but it does change the feel of the material. Latex is similar to UV except that it can produce better, brighter color on textiles than most UV printers. It can change the hand of the material, but not to the extent that UV does. However, a latex printer must be slowed down and requires many more passes to achieve the same color as a dye-sublimation print. Solvent inks (pigmented inks, not to be confused with solvent-based dye-sublima- tion inks) require the material to be coated with a receptive layer for the solvent ink. is can change the hand of the material as well. In addition, solvent output gener- ally produces a less saturated image than printing with dye-sublimation. If someone wanted to get started in dye-sublimation, what equipment would be required? Basically, you need a printer, some sort of heat press to sublimate the ink, and fin- ishing equipment. ere are several man- ufacturers that offer solutions. ere are three types of dye-sublimation systems: systems that are dedicated transfer paper printers; systems that can only print and fixate inline; and systems that can be con- figured to print paper, direct offline, or direct inline. e most versatile systems can be set up to produce output by any one of the three methods depending on application. Beyond the printing equipment, there are a variety of fixation units, from small clamshell heat presses where pressure is applied manually (often used in shops decorating T-shirts), to industrial subli- mation systems such as roll-to-roll calen- dars and large-format flatbed heat presses. e last components are the cutting and sewing systems. ese components will be broken down in more depth in future articles. Why do you think adoption of this process has been slower in the U.S. than in Europe? What are the barri- ers to trial? In my opinion there a few reasons: First, the perceived high cost of entry and steep learning curve because of the complexity of the process could be a reason for slower adoption. Second, many companies have concerns about the sizing, cutting, and sewing of fabric graphics, which causes hesitation in adopting new technology. ird, some industries have been slow to adopt new applications due to the uncer- tainty and changes it would cause within the business. On the first point, equipment and mate- rials are expensive, but the margins are much higher. Because of the complex- ity of producing dye-sublimated graphics and the cost of the materials themselves, the retail selling price of fabric per square foot can range from $7-$10, which can be far greater than the price of vinyl, for example. In other words, printing busi- nesses stand to make a lot of money, and the dye-sub market remains on a healthy upswing. Although the install base has grown over the past few years, the fab- ric graphics market is still less commod- itized than the market for typical vinyl banners. In the long run, transportation, handling, and overall management of fab- ric is less costly as well, which is attractive to end-users. For the second point, it's the finish- ing that takes people out of their com- fort zone. ere is a general lack of educa- tion in our industry about sewing, appro- priate setups for sewing equipment and supplies like needles, threads, and the various types of sewing machines. is has left many in our industry apprehen- sive about taking the first step into the dye-sublimation business. However, the market is wide open, with great opportu- nities for print shops to increase their mar- gins, differentiate themselves, and remain competitive. Finally, some industries have been slow to adopt fabric. However, the trade show and event business has fully embraced fab- ric over the past several years. In fact, most displays at a trade show will have multi- ple fabric-printed graphics such as SEG- printed walls, stretch fabrics, hanging signs, and more. e retail industry has been slower to adopt fabric, although this is quickly changing, especially with some mass retail stores fully embracing fabric graphics. Over the past four years, we've seen several large retailers change some or all of their displays to fabric, which has saved them money on shipping and instal- lation in addition to providing a product that can be recycled. GP Typical applications include banners, stretch graphics for exhibitions, traditional flags, feather flags, retail P.O.P displays, tents and even hot air balloons.

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