By Jeff Leagon
It was just over two years ago when I wrote the first in this series of articles for the magazine. In that first article I mentioned that the typical output speed of digital fabric printing systems was “a few hundred square feet per hour.” I’ve just returned from the International Exhibition of Textile Machinery where Stork, MS and others showcased new, high-output digital print systems for fabric. The speed of these systems is now being given in terms of thousands of square feet per hour.
I also mentioned in that first article that fabric printing technology was originally developed for traditional textile markets, like apparel and home furnishings. But, because of the relatively slow speeds, it was the sign, banner and custom graphics markets that ended up benefiting the most. Now, those traditional markets will finally start to benefit from the technology, and those of us who supply printers, inks and fabrics have a much broader base of prospective customers to sell to.
As print technology has improved, so has the selection of fabrics. In that same two-year period, Aurora’s “Northern Lights” collection of printable fabrics has more than doubled to include more than 60 styles. The development of new fabrics is more focused to match up with either a specific print technology (latex or direct dye sub, for example) or a specific application (outdoor shelters or backlit signage). It’s not as likely now that printers will have to settle for an ill-fitting fabric solution or force something to work just because it’s what they have on the shelf.
Creativity on the part of print service providers and their clients will drive growth and development in the fabric graphics market. Innovative applications for printed fabrics will determine what the next generation of fabrics will be and who will use them.
It wasn’t that long ago when retail signage, flags and trade show graphics accounted for most of the digitally printed fabric production. Now, custom interiors, clothing, tents, car and boat covers, and special event accessories are among the in-demand products. It seems like there’s something new every day.
The late Steve Jobs was asked whether the key to his company’s success was giving people what they wanted. His reply was essentially, “No. They don’t know what they want until someone creates it and shows it to them. Then they can’t live without it.”