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Lasting impressions

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Fabric and coating technology has definitely increased outdoor durability—but it’s not durable indefinitely.

“Outdoor durability and product lifespan can range drastically, depending on output, ink, fabric, application, finishing and the physical environment.

“It’s very difficult to simply put optimum fabric and ink combinations together,” says Eric Tischer of Verseidag Seemee® US. “With that said, we typically find that exterior textiles will last three months to one year outdoors. Solvent and UV inks will typically outlast the fabric, unless you’re using PVC vinyl. Dye sublimation inks, although offering the most vivid colors, typically offer a more short-term outdoor life.

“Many Verseidag Seemee fabrics are manufactured with coatings or treatments to enhance the durability of the fabric,” he continues. “These treatments offer improved durability to moisture, scuff, UV/fade, fungus/mold and/or cold cracking. They also can enhance the ability of the inks to adhere to the fabric. Post coatings or treatments typically enhance the product and ink’s durability even further following print. Post treatments should always be tested with the specific ink and substrate combination to ensure that they work.”

“Dye sublimation inks are excellent for super-vivid, eye-catching graphics,” says Elissa Decker of Moss Inc. “They will generally last one season outdoors before gradual fading begins. Direct printing with solvent and UV inks may not be as bold and bright, but will have a longer period without fade.”

Paul McGovern, Mimaki USA Inc., points out that too many coatings will make a fabric too thick and ruin the hand. “It makes it stiff and not flexible,” he says. “Salesmen have to be honest with users to tell them the limitations. … They’re for applications where it will be up four to five times a year or seasonal awnings, not a sailboat to go around the world for a year or an awning that’s going to be up for three years on a restaurant in Arizona.”

It’s difficult to warranty the lifespan of outdoor fabrics because of all the environmental variables. “We do not guarantee duration over a period of time because of factors such as UV impact and weather,” says James Gay of Fisher Textiles. “In the harshest environment, durability is probably a few months.”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer and editor based in San Diego, Calif.

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