By Jill C. Lafferty
In the decades in which Photoworks Creative Group has been in business, the Charlottesville, Va.-based creative services company has evolved with every industry innovation. Photoworks started as a custom color lab and commercial photography studio in the mid-1980s, transitioned from film to digital in the 1990s, expanded into a full-blown creative services agency around the year 2000, and in 2008 added dye sublimation fabric printing to its in-house capabilities.
“We’ve actually been subbing out fabric printing, primarily dye sublimation transfer printing, for probably four or five years now, and more and more people are requesting that type of printing,” says Photoworks president Geoff Kilmer. “We decided it was time to get into that market because we saw it growing.”
With 20 employees serving the mid-Atlantic region and beyond, Photoworks’ core business is graphics production, primarily for the trade show industry. Because color output has been the company’s area of expertise all along, regardless of technology, the profiling and output portion of the fabric process came naturally. The company uses a Mimaki printer capable of printing seamless up to eight feet wide.
“The one piece of equipment that I wasn’t aware of, and hadn’t seen before, was the rotary heat press, which is quite a monster really, weighing about 5,500 pounds and having its own room and ventilation system,” Kilmer says.
The real challenge, he says, has been learning what to do after a piece is printed.
“It’s pretty easy to run an inkjet printer, profile it, print it to transfer paper and transfer the image and have a beautiful image on fabric, but now what do you do with it?” he says. “You have to know how to sew it or to stretch it on a frame.”
Information on finishing is one reason Kilmer recently joined the Industrial Fabrics Association International and attended Expo 2008, where he made a contact that resulted in purchasing a sewing machine.
Kilmer estimates that fabric printing makes up about 10 percent of the company’s business, and he expects that figure to grow. Photoworks’ business philosophy includes providing clients with “top-shelf solutions to their marketing needs.” More and more, “top-shelf” means printed fabric applications.
“People are getting to know it’s out there,” Kilmer says. “It looks cool and it’s easy to handle because you can stuff it in a bag and stretch it on a frame, steam out the wrinkles and it looks great.”