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Fabric graphics in hospitality environments

Feature, Graphics | September 1, 2011 | By:

Hospitality venues, such as hotels, casinos and nightclubs, are prime for creative fabric graphics projects.

The hospitality industry is a competitive one. Restaurants, hotels, casinos, nightclubs and even museums are on a mission to give their guests not only a great first impression, but also one that lasts. They pull out all the stops in their design, from funky furnishings to ornate light fixtures—and the fabric graphics industry plays right into this trend.

Hospitality venues have “a much more upscale and elegant look, and printed fabrics bring more to the environment than a typical mounted photograph or vinyl banner,” says Gary Teich, president of Color X in New York. “They could use metallic or glossy fabrics for an interesting look, or rugged burlaps to add texture. And fabrics are lightweight and soft. Hotels and restaurants can do so much with fabrics.”

Applications abound

Not only are fabric choices seemingly endless for the hospitality market, but so are the end applications. The mantra for fabric graphics in this sector could easily be, “If you can envision it, you can print it.”

“We’ve seen fabrics used as partitions and space dividers, wall hangings with acoustic properties and backdrops behind a seating area,” says Jon Weingarten, president of Dazian Creative Fabric Environments in South Hackensack, N.J.

When it comes to special events, hosts want to make their mark. “We do a lot of curtains and red-carpet backdrops,” says Dan Zinsmeyer, account manager for Rainier Industries in Tukwila, Wash. “We’ll also print wall coverings to refresh tired decor, even for temporary event and exhibit-like branding.”

Walls aren’t the only places to use fabric graphics. “Ceilings are often underutilized in many projects where fabric solutions can really shine,” notes Elaine Allen-Milne of Eventscape Inc. in Toronto, Canada. “Graphics can create an atmosphere and provide branding or even way finding.”

Printed fabrics also serve well in applications such as throw pillows and seating. Color X printed custom slipcovers with a leafy pattern for an event celebrating an anniversary of a major design house at the Metropolitan Opera. The venue sent a chair to Color X so they could create a prototype. The company then used a dye-sublimation printer to kick out “rolls and rolls” of 100-percent polyester fabric, which the sewing department fabricated into one-of-a-kind covers that easily slipped (and tightly fit) over the chairs.

Hot trends

As for the design of these applications, anything goes. “Everybody wants something that no one else has done before,” Zinsmeyer says. However, some common trends do emerge. For one, Zinsmeyer cites the move away from shiny fabrics, while some designers call for a somewhat unkempt look. “We’ve printed for window campaigns where the customer would wad up the fabric, then hang it to create an aged, unpressed look.” Bright, “poppy” colors also show up in contemporary pieces, he adds.

“People seem to like fabrics that are organic and natural looking,” says Weingarten, “and they want more surface texture in their fabrics. They have been purchasing cotton, linen and bamboo, but those same looks are being manufactured out of polyester.”

Fabric know-how

In many cases, print service providers and end product manufacturers are responsible for guiding their clients in fabric selection. The first step, of course, is finding out what the project is. “They usually have an idea what they’re looking for,” Zinsmeyer says. “Maybe their project is going to be up in the air or possibly it’s going to be touched and in close proximity to guests. We may recommend dye-sub fabrics for richer color saturation. I will open the swatch book so they can see and feel the fabric. We are trying to help them pin the tail on the donkey.”

For all hospitality applications, fabrics need to be fire retardant. Other performance characteristics are dependent on the application and whether its use is short term or long term. (The hospitality sector wants both.) “Durability is huge,” notes Lynn Krinsky, president of Stella Color in Seattle, Wash., citing the example of fabric graphics for a chair. “What you use for a banner might not be used for a chair because it will wear out too fast. It has to withstand cleaning over and over again with people sitting there spilling their pop or coffee. In some cases, you might have to find a fabric that is water repellent. You have to be very mindful of these things.”

For more permanent installations, “fabrics need to have better colorfastness, stain resistance and performance characteristics,” according to Weingarten. “They have to have the ability to be laundered or dry cleaned without losing the graphic on the fabric.” Another important capability is the long-term availability of the fabric substrate. “The product must be available for at least five years, so when hotel operators need to replace an item, they know it is still available. They don’t have to redesign the whole interior.”

Special considerations

As with any industry, the hospitality sector is not without its special considerations and challenges. Krinsky acknowledges the importance of partnering with the right fabric supplier. “I have used some heavy-duty fabrics for upholstery, and a lot of companies that have sold these fabrics have gone out of business. A lot of times you will find a fabric but it’s not something that the manufacturer stocks regularly, so it can only be a one-time project if you can get your hands on it. You have to be careful going outside the box when you’re buying any kind of supplies, whether it’s a fabric or substrate. You also have to make sure you have samples on hand and that you test them.”

Weingarten notes that designs and fabric applications have become more complex. “In the past, designs were cleaner and less synergistic with the interior environment. Applications have become a lot more creative and sophisticated both in their color, form and placement. Structural limitations of buildings also come into play, as well as the functional role of interior furnishings.”

In addition, properly bidding a hospitality job can make or break a project for a print service provider. “It’s always good to know the image you are printing,” Teich says. “Is it full coverage, meaning that you are going to lose a lot of ink, or is it something like a flower against a white background? Or let’s say you have a heavy red or black background. Those projects are going to take more ink and time, too. Finishing is another important consideration when bidding a job.”

Relationship management and education also play important roles in the process, whether you’re working with an architect, graphic or interior designers, purchaser or even the end user. “We work closely with interior designers and architects from initial concept to final realization,” says Eventscape’s Allen-Milne. “That way we can provide solutions based on all technical and aesthetic requirements, as well as any budgetary restrictions.”

For her part, Krinsky finds that some interior designers require some assistance in the fabric graphics process. “They work differently because they are used to taking things out of books, not going in with a blank canvas. It is getting easier as digital printing and materials have gotten better, but the biggest step for interior designers is to even think that it’s available and know what they can do with it creatively.”

When done right, fabric graphics projects for the hospitality industry will likely beget more work. “It’s a small circle,” says Teich of the market. “You might do work with one restaurant, and now you’re dealing with three. You might deal with an architect whose projects are seen and noted, and people ask, ‘Who did that fabric graphics project?’ And now all of a sudden, you’re in the architect market.”

Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer from Pine City, Minn.

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