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Digital printing on furniture fabric

Graphics | September 1, 2011 | By:

In my neck of the woods, one of the major industries is upholstered furniture manufacturing. The industry isn’t as large as it once was, but the companies that have found their niche are thriving. I believe that custom-printed upholstered furniture is an underdeveloped, niche market for digital textile printers and represents a huge growth opportunity, especially for printers with direct or transfer dye sublimation capability.

For a print service provider to participate in this market, they have to develop a relationship with someone who can build (or reupholster) the furniture and assist with the layout of the printed images on the fabric. This partner might be a small- to medium-sized furniture manufacturing company. There are actually “pockets” of furniture manufacturers around the country (Carolinas, Mississippi, Great Lakes area, Amish country, So. Cal.). Most manufacturers have procedures in place for working with customer-supplied fabric, so for them it’s not a new concept.

A better partner might be a reupholstery shop. There’s one in every town and most can reupholster older furniture and order new frames from larger manufacturers to make new, custom furniture.

Another approach is to produce custom-printed slip covers that could be used on new or old furniture. Different sets of covers could be made for the same furniture, allowing it to be used in different settings.

Who are the prospective customers for this new application? All of your existing clients who have offices with lobbies or customer waiting areas, such as car dealerships, auto service chains and urgent care centers. If you’re already producing graphics for trade shows, custom-printed furniture is a natural extension of that product line and another opportunity for the client to get their message across during the event. The graphics could be anything from simple combinations of company colors to elaborate uses of logos combined with colors and printed messages.

Our own custom-printed furniture was supplied by Greenville, S.C.-based 360 Digital Media. 360 partners with a local furniture manufacturer to offer this very functional, yet effective, solution.

Aurora offers several styles of durable, 100-percent polyester fabric in the 6 oz. to 8 oz. weight range, such as Twill and Upholstery, which are perfect for this application. Outside the corporate arena, interior designers represent another group of prospective customers. Instead of logos or slogans, the graphics might be the designer’s custom-print patterns or images.

I encourage anyone involved in digital imaging of fabric to locate a partner who can help you add upholstered furniture to your portfolio.

Jeff Leagon is vice president of business development at Aurora Specialty Textiles Group Inc., Aurora, Ill.

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