Digital Textiles Transform Retail Environments
Interest and usage of digital textile printing is rising fast. Printers like having more material options because it means more high-quality solutions for their customers. And retailers? Well, everyone wants their signs to stand out in a bold way, with better color reproduction, and no wrinkling or creasing. Opportunities exist for companies — both PSPs and fabric suppliers — to meet the increasing demand, particularly in the retail space.
Defining (and Redefining) Retail Spaces with Fabric
To more effectively compete with e-commerce, retailers have sought to create more unique brand experiences for their customers at the point-of-purchase. Signage has become an important part of enhancing a store’s use of colors, logo placement, and other branding elements.
“Textiles provide a new opportunity for retail spaces to provide vibrant, expensive looking graphics,” Kylie Schleicher, product manager at Randolph, N.J-based Ultraflex Systems, says. “The graphics can be used for backlit displays or hanging signs, and provide a softer feel than traditional PVC banner graphics.”
“SEG is heavily used because of its clean look and wow factor,” says Sharon Roland, advertising and PR manager at Fisher Textiles, based in Matthews, N.C. “It is very popular for mounted wall graphics or as a free-standing structure to designate areas such as pop up shops and temporary retail spaces. SEG structures give just the right amount of definition and privacy, while also providing the necessary area for brands to promote messaging and enhance the consumer experience.”
The majority of digital textile printing applications include backlit graphics, and stretch or SEG for display frame systems, Michael Compton, print media product marketing manager, Top Value Fabrics in Carmel, Ind., says. Brands with an extensive store presence or reach have a need for identical graphics at all of their locations. Their print vendor should, “utilize consistent fabrics for each application, record, and store precise measurements of frontlit and backlit frame systems, as well as properly profile each fabric,” he says, in order to win repeat business and recurring revenue streams.
Besides a high-quality, vivid, glare-free, and borderless image, Silicone Edge Graphics (SEG) provide a versatile and hassle-free solution for retailers. It eases bottom-line concerns like convenience, set up, storage, and cleaning.
Roland cites one big advantage of SEG graphics: “Due to the stretch of fabrics, fabric install/dismantle is very easy and unskilled labor can change out the graphics.” Additionally, because, “the framing systems are made out of lightweight aluminum,” shipping is less expensive.
That said, there are additional applications that offer opportunities for PSPs serving the retail industry. For example, “interior and exterior storefront banners, double-sided blockout graphics, retractable banner stands, tablecloths, pillowcase displays, flags, and more,” all help brands expand their retail environment, Compton states.
He adds that there’s another application designed to grab the attention of shoppers: the storefront window graphic. It uses attention-getting images, “often in frontlit SEG frames or banners sewn with pole loops at the top and bottom of the graphics to keep the finished prints tight and wrinkle-free,” to bring customers into a store.
As digital textile printing technologies advance, PSPs can offer more quick-to-market options for retail customers, according to Compton. Printers, he says, “can queue up graphics for multiple campaigns and make quick adjustments within digital design files. Since the printed graphics are lightweight, they can easily be drop-shipped to multiple locations, on demand, to meet requirements of clients and end users.”
Why Choose Fabric Over Vinyl?
Brands look at a variety of factors when considering digital textile signage for retail spaces. These factors have increasingly led to great adoption of fabrics. For one, it has a greater appeal to the senses of shoppers. “Fabric is more visually appealing than vinyl, and it also introduces the sense of touch,” Roland says.
She points out that, “certain fabrics also have light dispersion properties and can be backlit or frontlit,” which makes those printed signs pop in a retail environment.
“Textiles for retail display have various looks, feels, and textures, allowing retailers and PSPs to select the best fabric for the appropriate application, Compton says. Regardless of which options a brand might prefer, he adds that printers should work with fabric suppliers on the best textile for each specific application.
Another important factor is how it provides a reduction in costs at several points in the process. According to Schleicher, “Fabrics that are being used for SEG frames are easy to install, and can be done at the store level as opposed to requiring professional installers,” and perhaps require only minimal training. And as Roland points out, “[fabric] can be engineered for wrinkle resistance, to fold and ship in small boxes and save on shipping and handling costs.”
Schleicher also notes that environmental awareness, as well as Californian and European regulations, are leading companies to seek alternatives to vinyl usage. “Fabrics typically do not contain phthalates, heavy metals, or other compounds that would be restricted under Proposition 65 and REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals),” she says.
More broadly, Compton calls the growing worldwide focus on sustainability a major reason for the move toward digital textile printing. “Sustainability is critical to fabric suppliers and PSPs as major brands are pushing these initiatives” at many points in their supply chain, he says.
A lighter and more flexible substrate results in lower fuel and labor costs. Fabric can be made from recycled products, such as plastic bottles, and may also be recyclable depending on the vendor. And water-based inks typically mean a reduced carbon footprint.
“It is critical to be aware of manufacturing processes and certifications if you want to capture and keep retail textile graphic business,” Compton says. “Become members of and follow SGIA (Specialty Graphic Imaging Association) Government Affairs and become SGP (Sustainable Green Printing Partnership) Certified,” he advises, as it’s slowly becoming a retailer requirement for companies in their supply chain.
How to Serve the Retail Textile Marketplace
When compared with traditional vinyl work, the increased adoption of digital textile printing gives printers additional options for retail customers. For example, merchandising leasing programs are becoming more common.
Roland explains, “PSPs provide the SEG install with a contract agreement for so many graphic change outs in order to guarantee print business without a large upfront cost for the install. The framing system still belongs to the PSP, but they lock in more print work over a longer timeline versus a one-time print.”
The end result is that fabric applications are a potentially explosive growth opportunity for wide-format printers with the capabilities to print them digitally. As the world of retail continues to lose ground to the convenience and ease-of-use of online shopping, retail brands will need to get more creative, not just with their branding, but also with the materials they use to create eye-catching and engaging experiences that draw consumers in. Digital textiles are a perfect medium for those applications, and shops that specialize in them will find it is not a wasted investment.