By Tim Greene
A number of forces are driving growth of fabrics for trade show graphics. InfoTrends conducts end-user research among digital wide format printing systems companies and print service providers and found four forces to be among the most prevalent in determining the strength of trade show graphics as a digital print application.
The rapid development of digitally printable fabric options. Fabrics offer several advantages to printing trade show graphics onto fabrics compared to vinyl or other film-based media products. Fabrics are lighter weight and more easily folded without damaging the graphic, making them easier to transport and less expensive to ship. Fabrics typically offer greater fire-retardant properties than other print media.
The “green” aspect of fabrics over PVC-based substrates. There have been “green considerate” print media options developed by leading wide format media companies and suppliers that specialize in fabrics. Aurora Specialty Textiles has a wide portfolio of fabric products for use in digital, dye-sublimation, screen and litho printing. Late in 2008 Aurora launched textile print fabrics called Act II, made from plastic bottles. Aurora also introduced a recovery program called “Full Circle,” in which it takes back scrap polyester fabrics from its customers then recycles them into end products. Many fabric providers have also launched “green” fabric lines.
The growth in single-pass wide format sublimation systems and direct-to-textile printers using standard “eco solvent” and UV-curable inkjet inks. Leading suppliers of wide format digital printing equipment, including Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, d.gen and Splash of Color, offer single-step dye-sublimation printers or direct-to-textile printing systems. Manufacturers and distributors of these systems in the United States indicate that they foresee single-step and direct-to-textile systems quickly surpassing the sales of two-step dye-sublimation transfer printing systems, especially because the quality of the ink and print media has improved so dramatically and so quickly.
The print service providers’ need to differentiate and thereby increase or sustain profit margins. Many paper- or film-based wide format graphics projects are priced at just a few dollars per square foot; pricing for fabric prints are typically around $8 (depending on size, substrate, volume, etc).
The custom nature of these, or any, fabric projects can be a healthy contributor to the bottom line for print service providers.