By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Fabric optimized for digital printing is in high demand. Many verticals consider this technology from apparel to décor. Home furnishings is one segment. Coupled with the short-run and one-off capabilities, buyers from multiple markets seek customized curtains, tablecloths, pillows, chairs, and even bedding.
Dye-sublimation (dye-sub) is the preferred print method when it comes to creating these applications although other technologies are used. Advancements in polyester fabrics allow for the creation of materials that mimic more natural products like cotton or linen, making them ideal for home furnishings. Specific features in these fabrics define them as acceptable.
Demand for customized home furnishings grows as potential users discover the joys of personalization. Digital print is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this trend thanks to cost-efficient short runs and one offs that provide a high-quality product.
“Colors are better than they have ever been and materials are long lasting and durable. Another major benefit is the ability to do short runs. Single orders don’t have to meet a large volume requirement and there is a quick turnaround in production, adding to consumer satisfaction,” explains Sharon Roland, advertising and PR manager, Fisher Textiles.
According to Expand Systems, LLC’s customer Dee Dee Davis of Décor Print, “digital printing can give a designer or company an edge by always staying one step ahead of the competition by showing trend-forward ideas that create revenue first and fast.”
“The on demand digital printing model is a more economical solution that allows goods to be manufactured as market demands, supporting creative freedom and versatility over branding, personalization, and messaging without having to absorb the costs and volumes associated with traditional processes,” agrees Jessica Blevins, product specialist, Brand Management Group.
Consumers in particular are benefiting thanks to the advent of Web to print (W2P) storefronts that make for easy designing, uploading, and ordering of prints and fabrics. Mark J. Shaneyfelt, director sales and marketing – print media, Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., believes that the W2P online market introduced consumers to the concept of customization and fueled the interest in personalizing living spaces.
Jeff Sanders, digital fabrics sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics, admits that while interest in the digital home furnishings market is high, the actual demand for fabrics for this application remains small.
“Several technological advancements still take place before digital print can compete with more traditional print methods such as flatbed and rotary screenprinting for home furnishing. At present, most printers that are seriously focusing on home furnishing are digitally printing with pigment inks so that they can take advantage of natural cotton or cotton blend fabrics. At this point there are still a number of issues such as the need to pretreat the fabrics and issues of binder passing uniformly through printheads that have proven to be major stumbling blocks for production digital printing,” he continues.
Fabric and Print
Dye-sub is favored when it comes to printing on fabrics for home furnishings, however latex technologies offer benefits for certain textiles. The fabric choice depends on the application at hand and more importantly whether it can withstand the print process in question.
For example, dye-sub is effective when polyester is a preferred substrate. This would include applications like curtains, lampshades, decorative pillows, and tablecloths. “Dye-sub on polyester blends is an ideal printing process for home furnishings due to the high quality, cleanability, and the wrinkle-free characteristics the output offers,” says Blevins.
As long as the fabric is polyester based, it works well and withstands the temperature required for dye-sub printing, according to Shaneyfelt. He lists a range of textiles that are polyester based, but provide the look and feel of other types of fabrics, and are especially made for home furnishings, including upholstery—rich look and feel of cotton, linen—look and feel of cotton table linens, twill—spun in twill weave, has look and feel of cotton, and poplin—weaved in traditional poplin construction, has look and feel of cotton
While dye-sub is common, Shaneyfelt admits he has seen some applications—like table drapes—done using latex printing.
“Latex printing competes in this market with media versatility, such as natural fabric blends, and lightfastness qualities that dye-sub cannot offer,” adds Blevins.
Natural fabrics, such as cotton, are not optimized for dye-sub print in most cases and require a pigment solution. This means bedding, couches, and chairs, explains Sanders, are not created as often, as there is still a need for a pigment breakthrough in digital production print.
“Pigments have come a long way with pretreatment to increase the durability and crock for furnishings that will be rubbed on. Pigment can also be printed on the widest range of fabrics,” agree Mark and Ann Sawchak, owners, Expand Systems.
Advancements in pigment-based printing are being studied closely, as polyester is a good substitute for many applications but not all. “While polyester may be a fine option for a lampshade, cotton will always be a preferred choice for bedding,” continues Sanders.
Print providers should look for washability, soft hand, lightfastness, and durability when determining the best type of material for a home furnishing project. Keeping in mind the actual application—say a curtain versus a chair—is important as well.
“Fabrics for window treatments might be opaque with light blocking features, transparent to allow light to come through, or contain backlit qualities to illuminate the imagery. Upholstery fabrics require higher thread counts that are tightly woven and durable to withstand cleaning, and provide resistance to stains and fading,” explains Blevins.
Sanders says fabrics with exceptional lightfastness, that are resistant to pilling, and when talking about pigments possess a high degree of resistance to wet crocking are what matters most in home furnishings. He adds that all of these attributes must be able to pass American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists or ATCC standards to be considered a viable option.
“Crockfastness of the ink and fabric is very important especially for brand holders. Depending on the use, you need to reach a very high crock to meet brand compliance,” agree Mark and Ann Sawchak.
Furnishing the Home
Digital print opens up the possibilities for unique designs featured on chairs, curtains, tablecloths, and bedding found in the home. Demand continues to grow as more consumers learn about this capability. Print providers must become knowledgeable about specific fabrics and print processes ideal for this application segment to offer quality products.
In the next part of our series on digital print in home furnishings we share vendors offering fabrics for this space.
Sep2016, Digital Output DOHF1609