By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Digitally printed textiles are used in a number of applications and environments including staged events and the theatre community. Customization and a variety of textures make textiles a popular choice for theatres, musicals, and concerts. Backdrop fabrics are chosen based on intended usage and lighting. It’s also important for print providers to consider what print process is used because certain fabrics aren’t compatible with all processes.
Digitally printed textiles are used for backdrops, sets, and props because they offer a level of customization to help convey certain moods and themes.
“Digitally printed textile backdrops capture the attention of the audience, drawing them in to make them feel like they are part of the scene for the individual play, musical, or concert they are attending,” says Mike Compton, product marketing manager, Top Value Fabrics.
Compared to other forms of backdrop creation, digital print gives stage production crews the ability to visually transport their audience to a desired location more realistically. “A backdrop can easily feature the bustling New York City skyline or outer space—anywhere a designer can create,” shares Heather McCusker, wide format product manager, Agfa Graphics.
Certain types of fabrics feature different textures to create a specific feel. “Printed fabrics drape well and have a nice look to them,” adds Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation.
The theatre industry seeks digitally printed textiles for their ability to offer widths up to 16 feet. Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag US, says that backdrops typically need to be very wide to cover stages. Digitally printed textiles offer production companies wide widths without specialty sizing.
Throughout a theatre production, scene changes occur and printed textiles offer a mobile solution. Compton says sliding textile graphics on overhead equipment like stage curtain bars can be achieved quickly and easily without the need to slow down the event to move structures.
Before digital print, set designers painted backdrops—a time consuming and limited process. “Digital print allows set designers, artists, and production companies to showcase photorealism, think animation versus film, which was previously almost impossible to do on an individual or small scale,” shares Kathryn Sanders, marketing and sales, Pacific Coast Fabrics.
Paul Grider, director of product development and technical services, Dazian, agrees and says the turnaround time for digitally printing a backdrop versus painting is enormously faster. Printing offers a cost-effective solution with high resolution. “The ability to create photorealistic, high-definition imagery elevates the look of the set and allows for endless possibilities for the designer,” he adds.
In the concert space, backdrops are used to portray photography, themes, and concert sponsors. Fabric is reusable and easily unwrinkled with steam. It is also a simpler solution to ship for traveling theatre productions and may be reprinted at any time.
Silk to Linen
Fabric types for backdrops include light materials, like silk, to heavy linen fabrics. Different types of fabrics are selected based on intended usage and lighting.
Compton says matte finishes are optimum for lighting and filming without reflective glare while allowing various venues to present alluring graphic images. Productions that want to avoid flashy or sparkling backdrops should seek fabrics with a matte finish.
Weave tightness reduces the chance of pinholes and light coming through the fabric, which often occurs due to lights shining at all angles. McCusker warns print providers to take notice of stage lighting. If the light is behind the graphic, a blockout fabric needs to be sewn into the material.
Hunter suggests print providers use materials with flame repellant treatments necessary to meet legal requirements. “Fabrics with the California Fire Marshall rating will meet the most stringent requirements, while others have lesser flame repellant ratings,” she says.
Sanders agrees that it’s important for fabrics to have a flame repellant finish because fire marshals are likely to inspect the stage and venue for code and safety violations. She suggests that warp knits are the ideal fabric for backdrops because of strong digital stability.
Due to stiffness, coated fabrics lay flat when hung. “They are not subject to waving,” explains Gautier Peers, North America sales manager, Dickson Coatings. Outdoor productions, like concerts or outdoor theatre, should consider wind and if it’s important that the backdrop fabric remains still. Indoor productions may also consider if the production uses fans, which would cause the backdrop to move.
The Ideal Process
Fabric types are also chosen based on the type of print process—dye-sublimation (dye-sub) or direct print with latex, pigment, or UV. “This depends upon the actual requirements and the specific look and feel you’re trying to achieve,” explains Hunter.
Only polyester fabrics can be used for dye-sub printing. Compton believes polyester fabrics printed on heat transfer or direct dye-sub inks provide high-performance finished backdrops with excellent image sharpness, color consistency, and color range.
Direct UV printing allows for more material options, but according to Hunter, UV printed fabrics are typically more rigid than sublimated polyester. So while they make great wall décor, they may not drape as well.
For stage backdrops, Sanders says it’s important to consider lightfastness. “Theatre lights are hot and bright and if printing for a long-term project, it is imperative that you have the correct inks for lightfastness,” she says.
No Business like Show Business
Whether dye-sub or UV printed, digitally printed textiles are a cost-effective option for backdrops. Textiles are available in widths up to 16 feet wide to cover large stage areas and are easily transported and stored. Part two of this series looks at specific digitally printed fabrics used as backdrops.
Click here to read part two of this exclusive online series, Stage Fabrics
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Sep2017, Digital Output