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In printing, it’s fabric first

September 1st, 2013 / By: / Graphics

In answer to questions about machinery, Michael Reed, director of digital printing at Rose Brand, Secaucus, N.J., says “Fabric first.” He notes Rose Brand’s theatrical customer base has expanded into many markets over the years because fabric is a universal design element. Printing on fabric expands design possibilities. Reed suggests knowing your customers and colleagues well will make equipment decisions easier.

Question: What types of new equipment are available? What performance and benefits do they offer; what are their best uses compared to “traditional” printing/cutting/finishing equipment?

Michael Reed: We love seeing new developments, but our approach is often more traditional. For many of our customers, the type of fabric they want is an important part of their design and the look they are trying to achieve. They request satin, matte, wrinkle-resistant, flowing, tough, stretchy, sheer, opaque, translucent, backlit, etc. They also want the fabric to maintain those qualities after it is printed. Those needs define how we approach printing: fabric first. 

The type of inks used and fabric coatings affect the feel of the fabric the most. Anything that adds a layer to the fabric can change its appearance and feeling in undesirable ways. UV and Latex inks sit on the surface, make the fabric stiffer and can change the shine of the surface. Coatings are used to improve printability on many fabrics but often make it stiffer.

Q: What guidelines should end product manufacturers (EPMs) use to determine the correct equipment for their operation and market segment; what cautions need be observed?

Reed: Start by building on your existing foundation. Look for equipment that allows you to expand what you can offer to existing customers, or that improves productivity, before adding equipment to reach new markets. Customers regularly ask, “Can you…?” and we use those questions as a guide for what we could add to our services.

Make sure the equipment maintains or improves the quality of your products.

Q: What tough questions need to be asked to help EPMs make informed decisions on equipment choices?

Reed: Longevity is important. Invest in well-made equipment from manufacturers that have a good track record. Innovations that are not adopted in the industry quickly disappear. Once the support disappears, you will have to figure out how to handle maintenance or replace the equipment.  

Also evaluate and assess how well your staff handles change and learns new processes. UV Inkjet on coated fabric is very different than dye sub printing. Can your team adapt and handle both processes?

Q: What resources do EPMs have to verify manufacturer claims? How will this affect their own claims to clients and messages in marketing their services?

Reed: Your trusted network of suppliers and vendors is a good place to start. They can tell you what is working well for other companies. They also have access to seeing what is commonly used in other shops and hear both the good and the bad about equipment. Repair technicians have hands-on experience and can warn you away from trouble-prone equipment and tell you what they see working reliably.

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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