By Olivia Cahoon
Printed textiles are commonly used as brand promotion and color backdrops in retail spaces. One popular hardware method for displaying digitally printed fabric is silicone edge graphic (SEG) frames. Woven and knit fabrics are often selected for SEG systems and offer clients dual usage. Print service providers (PSPs) should consider lighting, print process, multiple uses, and measurements prior to choosing a substrate.
It’s All in the Fabric
Fabrics for SEG systems are chosen based on print application and end use. PSPs commonly use knit and woven fabrics for frontlit and backlit applications and blockout usage.
Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation, says knit fabrics stretch easily to fit contemporary curved frames with opaque consistency and minimal tearing.
Michael Compton, product marketing manager, Top Value Fabrics, agrees and says knit fabric typically performs the best in SEG frames. It stretches more in width than in length for easier management.
“A fabric’s stretch width on a printer is easier to work with. If an SEG fabric stretches too much in length it can cause the fabric to experience an hourglass effect while distorting the finished print,” he adds.
Mike Sanders, VP, Pacific Coast Fabrics, believes warped knits are the best fabrics for SEG systems. “Warped knits ensure dimensional stability and have a locking stitch that will not tear. In contrast, a twill weave features a blasted construction, which skews the design and can easily tear across the fabric,” he continues.
According to Heather McCusker, wide format product line manager, Agfa Graphics, the benefit of knit fabric is it is cold cut, while woven fabrics are heat sealed to keep fabric from fraying.
Sharon Roland, advertising and PR manager, Fisher Textiles, says PSPs can use either knits or wovens in SEG systems. It all depends on the required stretch for proper fit in regards to the final application. “We have found our wovens work better for backlit, whereas our knits are better for frontlit.”
Lighting affects fabric’s appearance in frontlit, backlit, and blackout fabric applications. “As expected, an even distribution of light without pinholes is essential for light boxes. Pinholes for unlit SEG systems need to be factored in too, if there is a light source behind or in front of the SEG system,” explains Sanders. Some unlit SEG systems are double sided and use blockout fabric to shelter light.
Paul Grider, director of product development and technical services, Dazian, says fabric for frontlit applications needs sufficient opacity so outdoor direct sunlight or indoor artificial lighting does not burn the graphic and compromise the color and image quality. “In many SEG structures, a blackout lining or a coated blackback print media needs to be used,” he suggests.
Output, position, and LED color temperature affect backlit applications. Using the wrong fabrics may lead to hot spotting, uneven illumination, and unwanted translucent effects. Grider believes coated fabrics tend to create more uniformed diffusion properties and fewer pinholes for light points to penetrate. “Many non-coated fabrics utilize unique constructions and micro denier fiber to achieve similar properties,” he adds.
Lighting affects fabric appearance in SEG systems, so products are typically designed for certain lighting conditions to maximize the print’s effect. “For example, there are certain products designed for utilization in an application where light hits the SEG frame from the front, allowing the product to illuminate with vibrancy,” shares Jaimie Mask, product specialist, S-One Holdings Corporation.
McCusker believes backlit products with light from behind the image make the image pop, while frontlit products shine light on the image, adding a more enhanced view of the print.
“A high-quality, coated SEG backlit fabric prints with brilliant color and image consistency without allowing hot spots from LED lights to show through the fabric after installation,” explains Compton. Paying attention to fabric weight and stretch in backlit SEG fabrics also ensures the material fits tightly in the frame system without wrinkles.
Grider notes color temperatures from artificial light sources also impact a print’s appearance. “A print of a snowy mountain that is frontlit will require a light source with a cooler tone. If it’s a print of a tropical island, a warmer color temperature may be desired,” he says.
While end users usually choose traditional white LED lights, Hunter notices some are starting to use different colored lights, like blue or pink, to make the graphics pop.
SEG fabrics are printed with dye-sublimation (dye-sub), direct disperse, UV, and latex printers. Sanders says the print process is dependent on the fabric, not on the application. He suggests direct disperse for light boxes due to its deep saturation.
Kylie Schleicher, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc., believes latex and dye-sub are ideal ink types that maintain a soft hand and flexibility of the fabric.
“We have seen many customers prefer utilizing direct dye-sub to print backlit SEG, this output offers better color saturation, which is a plus for producing quality backlit,” agrees Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag US.
Roland thinks backlighting requires adjustments in the print process. “PSPs typically must lay down more ink and use a higher curing temperature to get a vivid image that pops with the added light source,” she says.
Hunter says most people believe transfer sublimation printers don’t lay down enough ink for backlit signs and end up with direct sublimation. “There’s a fear that the images will end up looking washed out.”
While sublimation transfer and direct printing are chosen for easy folding and shipping, McCusker finds value in UV printing. “UV is making a push at backlit SEG for its color vibrancy—UV prints just need to be handled with slight care in shipping,” she recommends.
Compton believes both heat transfer printing and dye-sub direct produce beautiful graphics on any fabric. “The market for direct printing is trending upward with the launch of more direct print systems as well as inks providing excellent color and finished graphic print quality.”
Besides SEG frames, these fabrics are used for banners, exhibits, free standing frames, home furnishings, photographic back drops, point of purchase, retail, roll-ups, table throws, and wall mounts. “The best fabrics are multifunctional, you do not want to have a lot of styles sitting in your shop,” suggests Sanders.
Schleicher notes that some fabrics have both frontlit and backlit capabilities.
McCusker finds correct sizing to be the greatest challenge associated with fabric and SEG systems. “Correct sizing on SEG is very important. You do not want a graphic to sag,” she says. Loose fabric creates wrinkles while tight fabric may snag or tear.
“Always make sure you have the right measurements for keder placement, so your fabric is nice and taut in the framing system,” recommends Hunter. She also warns that backlit SEGs reveal flaws from the sublimation process like wrinkles and uneven colors. “Knowing this, take your time during the production process to ensure optimum results.”
Tischer agrees and says the greatest challenge associated with SEG and fabric is ensuring the SEG keder and silicone edge beading finished dimensions are correct. “There is a very small window to ensure the product fits properly into the SEG frame, too tight or too lose will ruin the display.”
PSPs must be aware of the fabric finishing process. “Understand the cutability of a fabric, some could have issues with fraying and need hot knives for cutting,” advises Mask.
Compton believes PSPs should work with their fabric suppliers to overcome these challenges and consult with them on the proper fabric for their print system, client requirements, frame system, and end use of the finished graphic.
Other major fabric concerns for PSPs creating SEG systems include fabric wrinkle resistance, white point, and if it is a backlit or frontlit SEG. “Fabrics with a light diffusing coating work best for backlit while blockout fabrics for frontlit will hide any shadows from lights near or behind the SEG,” says Mask.
Roland adds that backlit SEG sometimes uses an opaque liner on the inside of the frame to intensify the light source. “In this instance, it is very important for the liner to be opaque,” she shares.
Fabric weight is relative to the SEG system’s size. Large displays use heavy fabrics to keep the graphic smooth and tight while light fabrics are used for smaller SEG systems. Compton says fabric weight varies from four to nine ounces per square yard.
Bright and consistent fabric white points allow PSPs to create and print high-quality graphics without the need to reprofile. Mask says white point always offers benefits for improved image quality and depth to give the final application a visual pop.
Stretchability is a major concern. Excessive stretch risks wrinkles and sagging in the print’s corners and edges. “It is important to note that fabrics with too much stretch can cause issues with sewing the silicone edge on the graphic where the possibility of the fabric bunching up at the sewing needle can occur,” explains Compton.
Sanders warns PSPs considering stretch in both directions to ensure the stretch is equal. “If the stretch is unequal, the image can become skewed or the fabric can wrinkle. Even after the initial installation, wrinkles can show up later.”
While Hunter believes white point and stretchability are key factors for fabrics, she says testing various fabrics to see which types illuminate best and diffuse light to avoid hot spots are even more important.
Transportation also affects the printed media. According to Grider, coated fabrics that are folded tend to have permanent creasing that shows up in the graphic for backlit applications. “Uncoated knits perform better and their stretch properties eliminate wrinkling even when the printed media is folded,” he adds.
While knit or woven fabrics are used for SEG frames, it’s important to consider if the frame will be frontlit, backlit, or require a blockout fabric. Knit fabrics are cold cut and stretch easily, while woven are heat sealed and best used for backlit applications. Besides SEG frames, these fabrics are found in applications from banners to home furnishing and retail. PSPs choosing textiles for use in SEG framing systems need to consider sizing, wrinkle resistance, print process, lighting, and stretchability to determine the best material for the job.
July2017, Digital Output