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Fabric banners, signage and displays help guide visitors—and are getting smarter all the time.

Industry News | February 1, 2019 | By:

architects Peter Silling & Associates, recreating a Palace of Versailles experience at THE 13 luxury hotel in Macau needed an innovative solution—provided by a Barrisol® acoustic printed membrane. The Louis XIV artworks were printed to a scale suited to the interior, and added acoustic benefits to the large spaces. Photo: © 2009-2018 BARRISOL NORMALU S.A.S.

Advances in digital and interactive technologies are heralding a new era in museum graphics, banners and signage, creating opportunities for the printed banner industry from conventional signage printing markets to crossover areas such as interactive displays. A combination of factors is contributing to this: We are seeing incremental improvements as well as new developments in materials, and technologies are emerging in tandem with a movement toward greater migration of digital and smart materials and systems.

Andrew Bolton, curator in charge at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, says “Technology will allow us to look at what the eye can’t see in fashion—structure, construction, undergarments, motion, silhouette and sound, like the rustle of the bustle or the creak of a crinoline.” Technology is just one part of the visitor experience, and in the last few years we have seen a gravitation toward a museum language of communication that is more sensory, with a renewed interest in what textiles can offer.

The visitor experience

Printed textiles are creating new aesthetic possibilities and visitor experiences in museums. The French company Barrisol® (with offices around the world) creates a stretch ceiling that offers a range of technical and aesthetic qualities and some unique possibilities for interior design, including exhibition displays. The PVC stretched ceiling is nonflammable (classified Bd B-S2-d0 in Europe, Class 0 in  the UK and Class I in the USA), tightened along a special tracking system after applying heat. Flat walls and ceilings are standard, but the system also allows for specially designed curved and organic shapes. Acoustic properties can bring additional benefit to spaces where there are large numbers of visitors, and the system offers a soft light when backlit in ceilings or in printed signage.

The National Museum of China in Beijing is one of the biggest museums in the world, covering all the history of China from prehistory to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. As part of a five-year cultural exchange partnership with Italy, the exhibition “Renaissance in Florence: Masterpieces and Protagonists” was shown at the museum in China, showcasing almost 70 artworks from the high period of Italian culture. According to the museum website, its importance was that “The exhibition makes it possible for Chinese people to enjoy a journey to Florence in Renaissance without travelling abroad, and to deepen their understanding about Italian history and culture.” The Barrisol fabric used in the exhibit offered the soft homogenous lighting necessary because of the age of the original artworks shown, where light, temperature and humidity must all be maintained to strict levels. The use of printed fabric expanded the visitor experience to show work that could not travel, such as frescoes, to their original scale. Photographic and video projection was accompanied by interactive media, all utilizing fabric and helping to maintain a more subtle technology presence in keeping with the Renaissance artworks.

Integrating electronics
TF Massif Technologies Ltd. has used large-area flexible electronics as part of an illuminated smart flexible e-banner product. At the IDTechEx show in Santa Clara, Calif., in November 2018, it was part of the visitor experience and wayfinding to different sectors of the show. Photo: TF Massif Technologies Ltd.

Flexible electronics are offering new opportunities for printed banners and signage in applications across a number of sectors, including museums. TF Massif Technologies Ltd., based in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, specializes in large-area flexible electronics such as illuminated smart flexible e-banner products, large-format flexible heating devices and antennas, and other initiatives involving Internet of Things (IoT) platform integration. The fully integrated technology solution means that graphics can be directly printed onto the manufacturer’s proprietary electronic banner material on a roll-to-roll basis with lighting circuits added using large-format printing equipment.

The 2018 IDTechEx show in Santa Clara, Calif., covered new developments in sectors such as 3-D printing, electric vehicles, energy storage, graphene materials, the IoT, printed electronics, sensors and wearable technology. TF Massif produced the first flexible printed electronics banners for the show. The RGB LED-embedded flexible electronic e-banners were dynamically illuminated to dramatically enhance graphics, attracting visitor attention and increasing brand awareness. For these banners TF Massif also incorporated Near Field Communication (NFC) tags to provide attendees with event information. As we watch the growth in flexible printed electronics, it’s increasing critical that the printed textile banner industry embrace these advances and investigate partnership opportunities and synergies.

Sustainable success

The European Parliament has voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans; the ban is expected to go into effect in 2021. The directive is having a ripple effect across all industries, including printed banners and other textiles. This year saw the opening of the Fashion for Good interactive museum in Amsterdam, focused on sustainable fashion. For museums like this one, and increasingly for many museums, environmental credentials are no longer optional. Local Projects, the New York-based designers of the Fashion for Good museum, brought sustainability to every aspect of the display and visitor experience.

The interactive RFID bracelets given to visitors are made using recycled plastics produced by Polimeer, a Dutch circular design studio that collects waste plastic and makes it into new products. The 3-D printed bracelets use Kanèsis Hemp Filament, a biodegradable, compostable material that contains hemp waste from industrial processing. The upholstery and fitting-room curtains are made using natural and recycled materials by the Danish company Kvadrat, which also provided the museum with a special recycled textile board made out of scraps from their production process, used for the “Journey of a T-shirt” exhibit.

Taking the ubiquitous museum gift store T-shirt to a new level, a custom-printed Cradle to Cradle Certified™ GOLD T-shirt is printed with the Epson® F2100 direct-to-garment digital textile printer, which uses about 50 percent less energy than comparable printers and is designed to be easily recycled when the printer is at the end of its useful life. The UltraChrome® DG ink used in the printing has received certification from ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX®, indicating that no hazardous chemicals are present. Participation in Epson’s take-back program that recycles and refills used printer cartridges also helps to prevent unnecessary waste. This environmental information is made available to all visitors on the museum’s website, an indicator that museums are starting to follow similar practices set by other industries and organizations. Printed banners, signage and other interior textiles will continue to provide value to museums, especially as fabric technology continues to expand, but corporate sponsors and visitors will increasingly need to be assured of their environmental credentials.


Marie O’Mahony is an industry consultant, author and academic. She is the author of several books on advanced and smart textiles published by Thames and Hudson, and a visiting professor at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London.

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