Durable, versatile, printable fabric makes a big impact outdoors.
The merging of advanced printing technologies and the broad spectrum of mesh products on the market is allowing fabricators to do more than was possible in previous years, especially with splashy, attention-getting outdoor graphics. Mesh, in an increasing variety of styles and materials, is an ideal solution for outdoor applications where airflow is necessary to avoid having the the wind catching the fabric like a sail.Â It’s a clear winner for end users who want to make a big impact with high-resolution graphics on building wraps, stadiums and other outdoor venues, or for those seeking a durable, printable and lightweight alternative to solid signage.
“We love working with mesh because it’s easy to print on, lightweight, forgiving and works well for large projects because it allows wind to pass through,” says Bruce Dickinson, vice president at Rainier Industries Ltd. in Tukwila, Wash. “We use mesh materials to allow us to have longevity of the material as well as holding up to UV exposure. Mesh has really opened up the work that we do, especially on stadiums and outdoor applications. Any project that is exterior, I’m using mesh 90 percent of the time.”
According to Dickinson, the strength and durability of mesh is attractive for longer-term outdoor projects, and new UV-resistant coatings add to its capabilities.Â Wider and more open-weave mesh and heavier architectural mesh products with bigger holes are trending for permanent architectural applications that require longer warranties. From an architectural point of view, the industry has come a long way in having better ways to attach the mesh to buildings, says Dickinson. “If we decide to use mesh for an outdoor architectural application, we’re also designing an attachment system to complement the mesh material for the building. Each project, especially when working with older buildings, has its own unique challenges.”
Bryan Rose, vice president and general manager of commercial graphics at Cooley Group in Pawtucket, R.I., says high-profile building wraps are by far the main application for outdoor mesh. Building renovation sites will print mesh barrier wraps to protect the area and show onlookers what the finished project will look like. This is especially popular in areas of Europe popular with tourists, and in the U.S. at places such as Walt Disney World Resort. Rose adds that large corporate end users have varied needs to meet their brand image. Apple®, for example, uses a lot of white in its advertising, and requires it to have a bluer shade as opposed to yellow. Mesh can meet these demands.
The Cooley Group offers a range of mesh products, from lightweight 7-oz. up to an extremely durable 11-oz. two-sided digitally printable seamless mesh, including an 8-oz. woven mesh and 8.5-oz. woven knit. Banner materials have become lighter and lighter, making the 7-oz. a popular weight. “You actually see more banner material being used in mesh applications because of the resolution and the print quality than you do mesh being used in banner applications,” says Rose. “The key with choosing mesh is size and location. If it’s really big and in a high-profile location like Times Square, you’ve got to go with mesh. For these and other high-profile jobs, the high-end mesh is what sells.”
Mesh is a growing category for Snyder Manufacturing Inc. in Dover, Ohio, according to sales representative John Kardos. “It’s trending outdoors more than indoors. There’s a ton of indoor applications, but the difference is the outdoor applications use more yardage, so the volume is higher outdoors than indoors. Wherever you need air to pass through or some type of visibility with it, that’s where it’s coming in as a good solution versus a solid piece of coated or laminated vinyl that will be like a sailboat in the wind,” he says.
Snyder produces an 8-oz. and a 10-oz. PVC-coated mesh. These standard weights have been used in a variety of applications, including gym divider curtains; at sporting venues to prevent team members’ cleats from tearing up the sidelines; in windscreens to help break up wind and provide an even, consistent airflow; in debris netting to protect workers at jobsites from falling debris; and in baby-proof pool safety fencing.
In one unique application, Snyder Mfg. supplied PVC-coated mesh bags for the “Root Ball” project in the city of Coshocton, Ohio (for more details, see page 16 of the Sept. 2013 Review, or search “root ball” at www.specialtyfabricsreview.com). The root balls were wrapped in burlap and a wire basket inside another wire basket packed with mulch, and placed inside the mesh bags.Â Beanbag seating attached to the root balls offered casual seating areas to create small urban parks. The advantage of the PVC-coated mesh is that it looks better than burlap and is more durable, so it will last for years, says Kardos.
Attracting smaller markets
Joseph Merritt & Co. in Hartford, Conn., provides mesh banners and building wraps for numerous events, fence wraps, parking garages, malls and other structures, but the company is also seeing more mesh now in smaller markets, according to Pat Freer, vice president of sales. One large real estate customer is printing mesh on pool covers for property owners, making them look like an open swimming pool during the closed season. They are also using the covers to show potential buyers what a pool might look like on the property, and are looking into hotel events where corporate logos can be printed on a mesh pool cover. A local bank printed a mesh graphic to brand its drive-through area, rather than using a vinyl banner that could catch the wind.
“Mesh was not generally considered as high quality as vinyl because vinyl is totally opaque. But with the higher quality dpi of modern printing equipment, it is giving the print quality that end users want. I don’t think printing on mesh is at its peak,” says Freer. “For example, we have a new five-meter machine that prints 1,200 dpi for mesh, which is really high quality.”
Choosing your mesh
Many different types of mesh are available, depending on the end use. While standard 8-oz. PVC-coated mesh is the most popular and versatile for outdoor applications, options can range from lighter weight specialty media such as 6-oz. speaker mesh to a very durable heavier weight 11-oz. fabric for use in areas exposed to extreme cold and high winds.
Depending on the project, both single-sided and double-sided mesh media are available. Hole sizes vary, too—70/30 is standard, offering a 70 percent printable area and 30 percent hole size for average wind conditions. The tighter the weave, the better the print resolution, but airflow can be more important in certain climates. A 40/60 or 30/70 weave would be recommended for extreme wind conditions or for specialty applications where acoustical clarity is a consideration, such as in speaker mesh for concerts or special events. Mesh has to meet FR standards for buildings; these include NFPA 701 and CSFM, as well as local codes. In high humidity areas, mildew resistance might also be recommended.
“Across the board, mesh media has gotten better over the last decade, and a lot has to do with how the media is woven with more advanced fibers and the process. A better understanding of the properties of airflow and the specifications that are important when the media is installed outside has improved the performance of mesh in our industry,” says Michael Compton, business development manager at Top Value Fabrics, Carmel, Ind. “If it’s an outdoor application and it’s cold outside, it’s a very different scenario than a warm climate where there’s very little wind. The durability and permeability of the mesh are important, even when considering the differences between vinyl and fabric mesh. Differences in climate and wind conditions matter in how the substrate reacts, whether it’s PVC or fabric. A project’s success absolutely depends on the end use specification and, ultimately, selecting the right media.”
A growing contender in the mesh market is polyester fabric mesh, which can be as light as a 4- or 6-oz. weight, ideal for indoor applications or short-term exterior applications where weather and wind are not a significant issue. Specialty textiles are one of the fastest growing categories for Top Value Fabrics. This is especially the case among high-end retailers and brands that are using more fabrics in displays because they offer an upscale look and shimmer, along with backlighting capabilities and vibrant print graphics that appeal to their target markets, says Compton.
“When you consider fabric mesh as compared to vinyl mesh, you can get a really sophisticated look with fabric and it has a much softer, richer feel. Fabric is significantly lighter weight, easier and less expensive to transport and install. It also has good outdoor applications because the wind can blow through it, while still achieving good properties of color penetration and durability.”
Top Value’s Geo Mesh is 6.8-oz. polyester constructed with a high-tenacity yarn, which provides a lot of strength and dimensional stability, and can be printed with UV ink, latex, dye sub transfer or dye sub direct.
Although fabric mesh is a growing market, it is far from replacing PVC. “I’ve seen in various parts of the world, in Europe but even in Brazil, where some of the larger cities have taken PVC off the market, and are replacing it with fabric due to environmental concerns. I think we’ll eventually move more in that direction in the U.S., but it’s a long way off,” says Compton.
Environmental issues with PVC are actually undergoing change, as the technology has advanced; its durability means less product used over time, and many vinyls can now be recycled. Fabric choices require more research than they once did, with many factors to weigh.
Exterior fabrics are the next frontier for R & D from the manufacturer’s standpoint, says Pat Freer. “The mesh vinyl and mesh fabric worlds are going to collide. They are coming together for shorter term outdoor applications, and especially interior venue graphics and barrier graphics.”
Mesh is a staple product line; the print quality is improving fast and the speed at which huge mesh products can be printed is greater. More clients are seeing the marketing prospects, and mesh will only get bigger.