By Melissa Donovan
Grand format printing, which Digital Output considers over 95 inches in width, is an essential piece of the event space as seamless prints are preferred to achieve a polished, clean finish. Part of the allure is the ability to accomplish peak productivity by printing a graphic on one piece of material, eliminating the process of painstakingly placing the right pieces together and compensating for overlapping and other nuances.
Above: Using VisualRIP+ software from Caldera, printed on a Durst Rhotex 500R, and finished on a Monti Antonio heat press, TentCraft created a 20×40-foot truss structure for Florida A&M University resembling a shoebox.
The Only Option
With a base in Traverse City, MI, TentCraft is well known for its manufacturing and sale of custom pop-up tents and structures. It also produces table covers, peak flags, tent walls, and other custom products primarily used for experiential marketing purposes.
The business began in 2005 as a subsidiary of Britten, Inc. In 2015 it spun off and began its journey as an independent company and today it operates out of 68,000 square feet of space with 70 employees. It focuses on supplying its core product—custom pop-up tents—to marketing agencies, education institutes, sporting companies, and other professional services. It quickly added healthcare to its list of customers in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, it now manufactures and supplies medical tents for testing, screening, and triage across the U.S.
According to Zach Grice, print operations supervisor, TentCraft, nearly all of the company’s business is completed by digital print and all of that is grand format for textiles. “A majority of our customers opt to include their branding and some kind of design on the canvas of their custom tent.”
Without grand format textile printing technology, it would be nearly impossible for TentCraft to exist. “It’s the only option for us due to the nature of our business,” explains Grice. TentCraft’s most popular product is its heavy-duty 10×10-foot MonarchTent. A typical custom print canvas is 120 inches wide. When setting up a print, it’s designed in the layout software to output to an entire 100-yard roll. In this scenario, there is only about 20 yards of waste at the completion of the print process.
The company has gone through a few iterations of print technologies since becoming independent from Britten.
Dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing is preferred because, “it allows us to produce super vibrant colors that really pop,” explains Grice. After printing to a canvas, the output is heat pressed on a Monti Antonio device, then cut on a Zund America, Inc. automated cutter, and placed through sewing fabrication.
Prior to committing to dye-sub, the print provider relied on UV printing, but found that the ink would scratch off or peel. This is something dye-sub does not do and so when the company went independent in 2015 it decided to switch to dye-sub.
In 2015 the shop invested in a Eos126 DS from PrinterEvolution. PrinterEvolution was a re-brand of ATPColor devices offered through Global Imaging, but now is directly referred to as ATPColor on the distributor’s website.
More recently, in 2020, the company integrated a Rhotex 500R with dye-sub ink from Durst Image Technology US, LLC. With a print width of five meters, the Rhotex 500R moves seamlessly into extra-wide fabric-based advertising and soft signage products at point of sale, trade shows, in arenas and events, as well as public spaces.
Printing on the Durst Rhotex 500R uses eco-friendly, water-based, and odorless dispersion inks for uncoated and coated polyester fabrics with photo-realistic print quality—brilliant colors and high fidelities. Durst’s water-based disperse dye inks conform to Oeko-Tex Standard 100, for odorless, 100 percent volatile organic compound free and skin friendly products for indoor and outdoor applications.
“When the ink transfers into the material, it goes from a solid, to a gas, then back to a solid. Our heat drum is 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which opens the pores of the fabric, and turns the ink into a gaseous state. At this point the ink pretty much explodes into the fabric, becoming one with it. Once the fabric cools down, it turns back into a solid that is embedded into the material. This is why the printed branding on our canopies won’t scratch, scrape, or peel off—even in really bad weather, which is important to us,” shares Grice.
TentCraft still uses UV printers in house, specifically an EFI VUTEK GS5000r five-meter roll-to-roll UV printer. This is particularly for its frame tents, which include a vinyl canopy that can’t go through the heat press. Frame tents once printed are hot air welded for better protection from outside elements.
Florida A&M University was looking to update their VIP game-watching experience at its football stadium. It wanted to promote the school’s new partnership with LeBron James and Nike.
TentCraft’s abilities are well known in sporting circles. Florida A&M’s associate athletic director was aware of a recent TentCraft installation for Soccer.com, which was a retail pop-up store that resembled a black Nike shoebox. The university reached out to TentCraft in Spring 2021 and had ongoing conversations throughout the year.
Once the designs were finalized, TentCraft got work, creating a 20×40-foot truss structure out of lightweight aluminum frames and a snap-together design. The “shoebox tent” as it was named was improved upon in this second iteration. To mimic the top of a shoebox, TentCraft created a shadow effect with a single piece of display knit material.
“The previous version included a separate piece of printed polyester material around the top of the truss. The improved process made the fabrication and setup considerably easier,” explains Grice.
Graphics were run through prepress using VisualRIP+ software from Caldera, printed on the Durst Rhotex 500R, and finished on the Monti Antonio heat press. Media used totaled 2,500 square feet, with 1.014 liters of dye-sub ink utilized.
The full print process took an hour and production of the structure was handled in a few days. This timeline is common for most jobs, with the construction of the frame system usually the deciding factor.
The company’s entire production process is under one roof, allowing it to control a project’s entire lifecycle. Andrew Dodson, content marketing/PR manager, TentCraft, says this is what differentiates the company from its competitors. It can create quickly, with all manufacturing done in house.
The Florida A&M shoebox tent made its debut in September 2021 and was so eye catching, the opposing team at that day’s game reached out to TentCraft to have something similar produced. At press time, the structure was in production.
TentCraft is equipped with superwide printers that really make its organization’s production fly. The Durst Rhotex 500R device optimizes productivity—eliminating unnecessary piecing and seaming with the ability to print up to five meters wide.
Dec2021, Digital Output