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Fabric in Signage

Fabric signage has been an area of growth in the UK for years, but are there still opportunities for diversification? Rob Fletcher speaks to the runners and riders to find out

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Soyang Europe provides a range of printable textiles suitable for fabric signage work

Eyes on the Prize

The signage industry has now evolved to the point where many businesses are active in a number of markets. Those companies that moved outside of their traditional remit are reaping the benefits, accessing work and winning new clients in the process.

Fabric print and signage is one area that has seen significant movement in recent years, with a large number of sign-makers descending on this market in an effort to take advantage of the work on offer. However, for those already active in this area, this means more competition, with the battle for work more fierce than ever.
With this in mind, we take a closer look at the fabric market to see if there are still expansion opportunities for those yet to make the move into this area, as well as how companies already active in the sector can successfully win and retain customers.

Market demand

Soyang Europe is one company heavily involved in this sector of the industry, supplying materials to businesses producing fabric signage applications. Tim Egerton, sales manager at Soyang Europe, says there is still plenty of demand in this market and, therefore, growth opportunities for sign-makers.

“Textile printing has become a popular sector for sign-makers to move into for good reason – the market demand is there,” Egerton says, adding: “We’re seeing sign-makers and graphics producers responding to demand from brands, retailers and exhibition companies looking to take advantage of printed textiles, so being able to offer a solution gives printers ready access to new revenue streams.

Textile printing has become a popular sector for sign-makers to move into for good reason – the market demand is there

“It’s important to remember that print providers may already have the capability to produce these attractive systems. We’re seeing a further trend in printers using existing technology to output to textile and improvements in ink technology as well as the coatings used on the fabrics mean a range of LED UV printers with flexible inks can generate a fantastic finish.”

Egerton goes on to say that for those sign-makers that do venture into fabric signage, it is important to ensure they are working with the right materials. He says investment in high-quality kit and materials will help them produce quality applications.

“Far Eastern partners at Soyang Technologies manufacture a good selection of our textile portfolio in its state-of-the-art factory, which sports the latest in manufacturing and coating lines,” he says.

With this in mind, Egerton draws attention to some of the latest offerings from Soyang Europe. The supplier offers a range of printable textiles, with materials at a range of sizes up to 5m in width and printable with UV, dye-sublimation and latex inks. In addition to its premium product from Soyang Technologies, the supplier’s product portfolio includes textiles from partners at Endutex, SENFA and Aurich.

New from Soyang Europe is ST-601 Starlight, which, manufactured by its partners at Soyang Technologies, is a backlit textile that works with UV and latex inks to create lightbox displays.

Also new from Soyang Technologies is Muses ST-607, a knitted backlit product that it is testing in the UK. Muses is a 100% polyester warp knitted fabric, resin coated on one side for UV printing with the other side being compatible for dye-sub printing, but ST-607 is also suitable for printing with latex inks.

Talking trade

If you like the idea of a move into fabric work, but are unsure over the costs of doing so, then working with a trade partner could be the solution. BrandStand UK is one company that offers fabric signage and print services, and its sales manager, Alex Brice, says that the fabric market is experiencing huge growth in the UK.

BrandStand UK uses dye-sublimation printing for its fabric signage and print applications

Brice says: “The use of fabric for pop-up solutions, fixed installs and especially hanging displays is quickly becoming a staple of the print industry. Fabric also allows us to do more custom designs and shapes at a faster turn around with fewer materials and at less weight.

“Working with a trade company for fabric printing can be a great way to offer fabric products to your clients without having to make any upfront investment. All of our fabric products are produced using dye-sublimation, and then finished by hand, a process that requires a huge amount of space, financial investment and expertise.”

Brice goes on to speak more about how BrandStand can help, saying those in this market, thinking of a move into the sector, should remember that it is not only the fabric that is important, but also the process. Brice says BrandStand uses dye-sublimation printing, which is to print in reverse onto paper and heat transfer the image onto the fabric.

BrandStand UK was in attendance at The Print Show 2019 to speak with visitors about how it can help them win work in the fabric sign and print markets

Brice comments: “This process permeates the ink into the fibres of the fabric for a higher definition and more durable graphic image. We also take the extra step to top-stitch all our prints for a clean edge. Combine this with our stronger 32mm cold drawn aluminium pipe framing and the result is a superior quality display.”

Growth opportunities

As its name may suggest, another trade company heavily involved in both fabric signage and printing is Venture Banners. Scott Conway, director at Venture, says the company works with a wide range of businesses across the sign industry, helping them move into new markets and grow their service offerings, allowing them to both win new customers and retain existing clients.

Conway comments: “The market for textiles is an exciting one. We are starting to see real growth in our textile sales and product ranges being offered by manufacturers, and these are increasingly favouring fabric units, which is giving end-users a great choice.”

Venture Banners counts flags among the various fabric sign and print applications it produces for clients

As to why sign-making businesses should work with a trade company such as Venture Banners, Conway says investing in dye-sublimation fabric printing is “not for the faint hearted” and can often prove costly. By partnering up with a trade company, Conway says sign-makers can save on costs but still grow their business.

Conway expands: “Apart from being more complex, the cost to entry into fabric printing is significantly higher than traditional digital printing and with a much steeper learning curve.

On the subject of investment, Conway explains Venture Banners is committed to bolstering its own services to help keep up with the ever changing demands of its customers and their own clients.

Venture recently invested heavily in its textile capabilities, now boasting two Vutek FabriVu 2.3m wide dye-sublimation print machines, as well as an Mtex 3.2m in-line sublimation printer that it uses exclusively for flags as well as a huge calendar unit to fixate the inks.

Venture Banners recently invested heavily in its textile printing capabilities and now runs two Vutek FabriVu 2.3m wide dye-sublimation print machines

Venture also runs a digital cutter with fabric cutting capabilities, as well as a completely humidified production area specifically for textile printing.

Conway adds: “My advice would be to find a trade partner like Venture Display and use our economies of scale to access this exciting and lucrative market.”

Exciting expansion

Another trade company in the form of Very Displays also weighs in, with Stevie McLaughlin, operations manager, saying with the development of fabric printing technology seen in recent years, the industry has seen improvements in speed, a broader colour gamut and range of materials to print on.

Very Displays says expansion opportunities are available in markets such as exhibition stands and the accompanying graphics

McLaughlin says the market has also seen the introduction of 5m print machines, whereas previously the maximum was 3.2m. He says this will enable printing seamlessly on wider graphics, cutting down on production time and sewing and finishing.

He expands: “Very Displays envisages expansion opportunities in many areas, such as offering a full exhibition service or experience, a complete one-stop-shop for all our customers’ exhibition and display requirements complete with printing and finishing.”

Very Displays says expansion opportunities are available in markets such as exhibition stands and the accompanying graphics

In terms of how companies such as Very Displays can help sign-makers take full advantage of these trends, managing director Andrew Burdett says working with a trade company can alleviate the pressures and stress of sourcing quality products at the best prices.

Burdett expands: “You will have access to a much wider range of products and services than an individual business would. Very Displays will also take care of any quality issues on your behalf whilst also providing you with a full ‘cradle to grave’ service.

“A trade supplier has invested in high-class hardware and printing facilities along with top quality printing materials so you don’t have to. Very Displays has also invested in knowledgeable staff to support you in all aspects of purchasing the right product and the most suitable printing process for any job you may have.”

O Factoid: The UK is the world’s fifth largest producer of printed products O

From speaking to companies involved in this market, it is clear that there are a number of ways to enter into the fabric signage and printing sector. While it may be quite costly to invest in kit to take on this sort of work, companies with the funds to do so have plenty of options to choose from.

On the other hand, if you are working to a tighter budget, but still fancy your chances at making it in fabric signage, then partnering up with a trade company could be the best way forward. This means lower cost and instant access to expert knowledge of a competitive, yet rewarding, market sector.

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