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The great FR question

Graphics | May 1, 2013 | By:

Asking the tough questions often leads to…more questions. The process of finding the answers can lessen your learning curve as you dive into new projects involving fire-resistant materials. Jeff Leagon of Aurora Textiles (Aurora, Ill.) and Mike VonWachenfeldt of Glen Raven Custom Fabrics (Glen Raven, N.C.) share their insight.

Q: What implications on digital printing must be considered when dealing with fabric treated for fire resistance/retardation?

Mike VonWachenfeldt notes some of the factors that should be weighed when printing on FR materials: Is the fabric treated in the manufacturing process or aftermarket? Will an added FR finish have an adverse effect on the adhesion of the ink to the surface of the fabric or another substrate to the fabric (if graphic is applied via printed film)? Will such graphics have an impact on the FR rating of the fabric? How large an area is involved? Is it a relatively small graphic in proportion to the overall size of the project or is it a full digital print?

Jeff Leagon weighs in: As a fabric finisher/manufacturer, our challenge is often in the development of finish formulations and processes that achieve both the print and FR performance required. In some cases the chemistries can work against each other so it can be difficult to meet both requirements without negatively affecting the look and feel of the fabric.

Q: How does the FR process affect the ink or image?

MV: The details for various fabrics can be found in the Fabric Specifier’s Guide. Abrasion resistance as well as UV durability of the ink will be important factors for long-term outdoor applications. The addition of a topcoat/overlaminate may improve durability and ink longevity. Applying these, however, could have other ramifications over time, such as cracking or creasing when flexed.

JL: A lot depends on the print technology being used. In transfer sublimation printing, for example, the fabric may become stiff or discolor from the high temperatures required for that process. With direct-to-fabric print technologies, the adhesion or durability of the ink can be compromised by surface-applied FR treatments. That’s why a thoughtfully engineered, print-specific FR treatment/process is critical.

Q: Have you heard of upcoming changes in FR regulations?

JL: The most common FR standard needing to be met for fabric graphics applications in North America is NFPA 701. I think it’s likely that as time goes on that standard—or others—might be applied in more places where fabric graphics are used. Also, requiring fabrics to be FR-tested after printing would ensure that the ink or print process didn’t negate the FR properties engineered into the fabric. The feasibility and practicality of that kind of regulation will determine its implementation.

MV: We know that California is reviewing Title 19, which is one of the many FR regulations. The California State Fire Marshall is writing a new draft version, which they may share soon.


Q: Where do you see the market going? Who will need FR fabrics graphics projects in the future?

JL: It’s likely that as time goes on there will be an increase in the use of FR fabrics for indoor graphics applications. This will be a result of both regulatory changes and voluntary implementations to reduce liability.


MV: In one word, everybody. As more and more municipalities and states consider more stringent FR standards, just about anyone in need
of graphics on textiles will be affected.

Dara Syrkin is a freelance writer and editor who admires the folks making science and art collide in the fabric graphics industry.

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