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Choosing fabric

Graphics | January 1, 2013 | By:

What makes for a great fabric graphics project? According to Nora Norby, president and co-founder of Banner Creations Inc., it is critical to understand the project’s intended use. Is it for an interior or exterior site? What is the client trying to convey and specifically what is the project’s message? For whom is the intended message?

“Having a clear understanding of the intended use of the printed fabric is the most important thing for creating a successful project,” says Norby. “Exterior street banners, interior retractable banners and trade show table covers all have special concerns.”

Since 1989, Norby and her Minneapolis-based Banner Creations have worked with a range of clients including the former Becker Group, financial institutions, the city of Minneapolis and numerous trade show vendors. The company recently completed Urban Forest projects in Denver and in the state of Michigan. If a client needs design consultation, Norby can craft a creative design and solve that issue too.

Norby also encourages her clients to choose sustainable fabrics. Besides the obvious environmental reasons, another is that most sustainable fabric is made in U.S. mills, not abroad, thus limiting the resources needed to ship the fabric. “We are trying to change the prevailing mentality by guiding our clients to choose fabric made from recycled water bottles,” she says. “Additionally, we cut our remnants into bags, pillows and other accessory items. This fabric can then be recycled into carpet backing. We print on as little vinyl as possible.”

Banner Creations sources 15 to 20 fabrics from different mills and it’s named the recycled fabric Ecophab™ Canvas. It is versatile and can be used for interior and exterior projects.

Norby also carefully considers other tangible quality issues. What is the feel of the fabric? Is it translucent, transparent or opaque? Will the fabric be printed on one side or two? For a project that needs to be printed on one side but seen through two, Banner Creations uses a lightweight poly knit fabric. Another critical question is whether the fabric needs to be stretch or not.

According to Norby, the quality of the fabric has improved dramatically over the last decade. Unlike in the past, she seldom inspects for flaws and rolls of fabric are rarely delivered “smashed or dirty.” “We used to roll it out if there were tags or rolls were crushed, or selvages looked wonky, but not any more,” she says. To inspect for flaws, a large light table is needed, as is the capacity to roll the fabric up with the right tension over the cardboard core. “We can’t afford to do that—and, happily, it’s simply not an issue any more,” she adds.

On the rare occasion that Banner Creations does find flaws, documentation photos are sent back to the mill. “It’s rare to return fabric unless it’s something really unusual,” says Norby. “Neither Banner nor the mill want to pay shipping costs to simply confirm that it is flawed,” says Norby. “We just are credited.” The downside is that Banner Creations is not compensated for labor, ink and paper costs for the damaged fabric. At best, the company is reimbursed the yardage price.

In a world where quality seems to continue to plummet, why is the quality of fabric improving? Norby believes it is because the fabric mills have increasing representation at trade association meetings. The fabricators attend the same committee meetings and sit at the table with the printers. Information is exchanged. Everyone involved better understands the issues at hand. It’s called communication.

Mason Riddle is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.

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