It is no secret that digital printing onto textiles has been constantly growing over the past decade. According to the “2017 Digital Textile Industry Review, Executive Summary”: the digital textile sector has grown 22% in 2017.
One of the niches in the digital textile printing industry is soft signage; it has become more common to see signs printed onto fabric than it was before. This is due to the fact that now that digital printing onto textiles is more popular and has grown, it has also become more accessible and easier to produce digitally printed fabric applications. Sure you can print onto fabric using screen-printing, but if you do not require bulk printing it can be very expensive.
According to IT Strategies, soft signage printer sales are expected to expand 8% annually until 2018. One of the factors that have helped increase the digital soft signage production is the fact that the market is driven by the ease of use and availability of the equipment, as well as the customers’ demands.
Other than flags, what else is considered soft signage?
The term soft signage applies to all digitally printed signage onto fabrics, regardless of the ink type used. The main factor to define soft signage is the media onto which it is printed: a textile, no rigid substrates apply.
Soft signage can be used both for indoor and outdoor signage, it is not restricted to one or the other due to its versatility. In order to understand it better, we will divide soft signage applications into both indoor and outdoor.
Indoor soft signage provides vivid and sleek signage that does not glare or reflect; some of them use backlit technology to add a more vibrant and intense color definition and to help attract attention.
- Backdrops (theater/TV)
- Black outs
- Indoor wall graphics
- Mid-store applications
- Point-of-purchase displays
- POP Light boxes
- Shelf backdrops
- Store windows
- Suspended signage
- Trade-show displays
- Wall-mounted décor
As for outdoor signage, what makes fabric ideal for these applications is durability and flexibility, even when exposed to the elements. Here are a few types of outdoor soft signage applications:
- Extra-large banners
- Extra-large posters
- Building wraps
- Full-blown backdrops
- Perimeter murals
- Window coverings
What type of ink is used for soft signage?
To produce all sorts of soft signage and visual communication using fabrics, you are not restrained to digital textile inks, you can also use UV-curable, latex or solvent inks; which are not designed specifically for textile printing but can get the job done.
If you already have a printer that uses any of the above-mentioned inks, but textile, you can buy pre-coated fabrics and print soft signage. Just take into consideration that for long periods of time, dye sublimation onto a fabric will last longer than any of the other inks.
For long-term soft signage applications, dye sublimation printing is more suitable and will produce better and more enduring results. Why? Because unlike other inks, dye sublimation inks penetrates the fabric creating a bond with pigment and the fabric once it is printed and fixed. This makes the fabric well suited for washing, long exposure to sunlight and weather effects, while retaining its texture. You can print directly onto the fabric or onto transfer paper and then transfer the image to fabric, and still get a rich color vibrancy that characterizes dye sublimation inks. Plus you can also achieve double sided-printing with these inks.
Using UV-curable inks for soft signage is an option, since they can print onto a wide variety of media and offer great light-fastness, but UV-curable inks do have durability issues. You should also consider that UV-curable inks will toughen the treated fabric and cannot achieve duplex printing (flags or double sided-banners) because of the ink deposit density, plus they are more expensive.
What about latex? Just as UV-curable inks, latex will toughen the pre-treated fabric and is not an option for duplex printing. The advantages of latex ink are that it dries pretty fast and is resistant to solvent cleaning; but it consumes lots of energy and does not resist abrasion on porous materials, such as textiles, very well.
Similar to latex, solvent inks can also print onto fabrics that need to be coated with pre-treatment, so the ink can properly adhere to the fabric. Which elevates the cost of an otherwise less expensive ink type. And since solvent inks are not designed to print onto fabrics the durability is not so good on these types of substrates.
As you can see soft signage is not restricted to a specific ink, if you have the correct type of textile, you can print it with any of these types of inks, just be sure that both the ink and pre-treated fabric are compatible to ensure you get an optimal result.