Fabrics, textiles, synthetics – whatever you name for soft signage, printing on fabrics is well and truly here to stay.
Following on from our last post on alternatives for museum signage and wayfinding, I decided to put together this guide to help out with all things flexible, stretchable and foldable.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been producing fabric signage options for an increasing number of diverse projects. Projects where foam PVC panels, clip frames or display boards may have been the previous choice.
Some of the reasons we’ve moved over to printing on fabrics are:
- Ease of shipping – lightweight and easily folded or rolled up.
- Many new options in displays and frames
- Easy to fit in lightboxes or panels
- Simple to replace graphics – the fader systems of stitching a bead to the edge and pulling it through a channel has made the need for specialist installation pretty much redundant.
Benefits of fabric signage:
- Anti-crease – great that they can be folded up, even better when they don’t even wrinkle when unfolded. Perfect for storing away between promotions.
- Vibrant – using either dye sublimation or direct print the days of lacklustre wishy-washy colours are long gone.
- Washable and anti-dirt – most of the polyesters are specially treated with a dirt-repelling coating. Its all a bit like Persil but not quite.
The only downsides with soft signage can be when the stretch of the weave (or weft) can alter between products. The printer and RIP software can work out any tolerance but if either one is more or less forgiving, it can lead to problems when finishing.
And finishing is the other learning curve. You may be able to sew a button on but try stitching the zipped seams of a 3m x 2m exhibition panel with a full colour graphic and text….
Dye Sublimation For Display Printing On Fabrics
Dye sublimation is the process of either printing direct to the fabric using special textile sublimation inks and then ‘sealing’ it in using a heat press or printing the image onto a carrier paper and then applying heat to pass the print and ‘fix’ it from carrier to fabric.
Direct print is as the name suggests – by using a UV curable or latex printer, the printing of fabrics is done straight onto the media itself and there is no post-treatment to cure or fix it in place.
Types of fabrics for soft signage:
- Flag material – as you’d expect, lightweight to flutter in the wind and behave just like a….ahem, flag.
- Stretch display – for exhibition and retail graphics that are sewn like a sleeve and stretched over an aluminium frame.
- Backlit – for lightbox panels. These are proving very popular especially as some of them can be huge. Next time you’re in a department store look around and you’re certain to see these large-scale light boxes.
- Blockout – when you want to keep the light out and create a different ambience, blackout will do just that. Its also used wherever whats being the display needs hiding or the display itself has a frame that doesn’t want to be seen.
Most of these fabrics utilise polyester as the base material, especially if printed by dye sublimation.
Being a synthetic product, the weave can be knitted tighter to make the image more punchy. It enables the printing on fabrics to be capable of achieving a much higher resolution image. It can also be produced to be more receptive for the coating that ensures a uniform print layer.
If its direct print and not dye sub, you’ll also see canvas used to create framed wall graphics. Canvas is pretty resilient and still lightweight so is a great option for elevated images in a museum or retail store.
Other interesting projects we’ve seen using fabrics include canopies and corporate gazebos. There are a myriad of frame options from a number of suppliers and the list seems to be continuously growing.
It seems when it comes to soft signage, the only limits are imagination and sewing skills!