The Growth In The Soft Signage Sector – What is it? And What Technology is Available?
The market for soft-signage. That is wide-format printing onto a vast array of soft-substrates is one that is growing. Influenced by changes in our artistic sensibilities as consumers and our desires for high-quality, vivid visual aids this market encompasses various sectors and a plethora of media.
Pushed by growth in the garment, interior design and visual communication industries; this is a sector that is not only experiencing rapid growth but prompting wide-format print houses to look at the profit enhancing feasibility of adopting these technologies.
Purchasing of a dye-sublimation printer that is suitable for soft-substrates is – unfortunately – only the initial investment to produce eminently appealing and vivid colorful textile prints.
Some companies have sought to consolidated these technologies as the cost of some materials fall.
Gandy Digital confirms this trend with the development of the ‘softjet’ signage printer for textile applications. This machine is unique as it provides print, curing (sublimation heaters) and cutting capabilities in a total solution package. The advantage is that a separate finishing heat process is not required therefore there is no additional purchase. Firms like Gandy Digital provide a small and affordable solution for wide format printers. They claim that:
‘As a roll-to-roll, direct to fabric printer available in, 6ft2in (1.88m), 8ft4in (2.54m) and 11ft (3.35m) print widths, the Gandy Digital Softjet is ideal for applications including indoor and outdoor soft signage, wall graphics, wall coverings, flags and tradeshow displays (…) it is an ideal platform for new print suppliers to enter the soft signage market, or existing suppliers to upgrade their service capability.’ Large Format Review- Gandy Digital Launches ‘SoftJet’ Printer.
The cost of digital equipment is decreasing, including dye sublimation printers suitable for wide format printing and the various inks and media that accompany this. This means less barriers to entry for small to medium businesses. In an article detailing the launch of the new Roland Texart CS-64 – the author talk of this finishing machine as one that compliments the launch of the Roland RT 640 printer. Stating the very affordable cost of both products:
‘The kit costs £12,999 and, according to Newman, alongside the RT-640 would offer the industry a complete textile print-to-finish package – software, printer and calendar - for £25,998.’
This presents a complete industry-leading package for £25,000.
Sign and Digital UK 2015
Duncan Jeffries of Ultra Violet Creative based in Crewe offers some valued insights into the trends in this market following his involvement in the Sign and Digital 2015 Exhibition this year. He was part of the team that produced stunning visual aids for Soyang’s Europe stand. The company produced floor graphics that were reverse printed onto their highly regarded G-Floor product using an LED UV curing grand format printer.
‘This resulted in a spectacular graphic that’s protected, easily fitted and removed and completely seamless. The walls of the stand were created with a combination of Endutex’s Terra Heavy and Terra Light fabrics. These are European made coated polyesters with strong green credentials and are UV printable. The Terra Light was used for the central backlit section and as they’re available in widths up to 5m, we were able to achieve an unbroken full-height graphic along the 10m run.’ Duncan Jeffries – Ultra Violet Creative.
During his description he says the progression within the soft-signage market, he says:
'Soft signage is a huge growth sector for within wide format printing and it’s being driven by not only the availability and ease of use of new printers and fabrics, but by customer demand too. Our clients see benefit from using it in retail environments and exhibition stands not just creatively but logistically as well. The fact you can transport printed textiles easily, with reduced potential for damage and simply construct the stand or fit the graphic to the light box is a major advantage over alternative media.' Duncan Jeffries – Ultra Violet Creative.
For exhibitions where companies are presenting a new product or service, pushing the brand, or publically exhibiting upcoming prototypes – for example – they are obvious scenarios where you can see the prevalence and dramatic effect that this type of soft-substrate printing demonstrates. The vivid nature of these print products is key and this is due to the processes employed.
Dye-sublimation printers ensure that the ink is deeply embedded into the fabric meaning it has stunningly vibrant quality, extremely good lightfastness (which is important for signage that may be exposed to excessive sunlight) and durability. Although it toughens fabric it allows for considerably less margins for error. It decreases transport and setup costs of wide-format prints and retains its colour exceptionally well.
It is also true – and should be noted – that printing onto soft-substrates nearly always performs best when the substrate has been treated or coated in some way. Neschen Products sold by ArtSystems provides a comprehensive selection of media and combinations of media suitable for soft-substrates.
For print houses wishing to diversify into this sector and achieve profit in untapped markets a consideration of the pros and cons of soft-substrate print technology as well as future proofing that tech with the right combinations of media is essential. However as the demand for high-quality visual aids - that soft-signage media combinations satisfy - becomes ever-more prevalent there is certainly some unexploited market growth to be honed in on.