What You Need to Know about Digitally Printing Textiles for Upholstery
When the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone home in March of 2020, many people realized how much they needed to remodel or upgrade their homes. Thus began a huge push for redecorating, and the popularity of customized home décor grew rapidly. From personalized lamp shades to cool new curtains, there are a variety of options to create custom interior designs.
But homes weren’t the only places getting a revamp. Restaurants, shopping malls, and retail locations are all in constant need of interior décor, and that includes textile products like upholstery. While COVID might have pushed people to redecorate their homes for the first time in years, upholstery for high-traffic areas constantly needs to be produced or redone. They have to stand up to everything from constant use to spills, ripping, and even UV exposure. So, for those print service providers (PSPs) providing textile printing for upholstery, how do you ensure you’re creating a durable and attractive product?
The Role of Fabric and Ink
For the purposes of this article, let’s examine upholstery in the lens of restaurant and retail spaces. Everything from booths to table chairs, to mall seating and waiting room furniture needs to not only be comfortable and convey a message about the location, but it also has to stand up to extreme wear and tear.
For a PSP printing textiles for upholstery, knowing which fabric will be best for a certain use is a good starting point to creating a great end product. According to Brian Vieweg, program director of apparel and home décor at TVF — which has offices in Carson, California, and Carmel, Indiana — durability is top priority. “[The fabric should be] heavy duty with sturdy construction, using quality yarns, so that the fabric can withstand constant abrasion and wear associated with upholstery,” he says. He adds that stain and soil release finishes should also be considered, which can help to add protection to the fabric against spills and stains.
Other qualities like flame and UV resistance are also key in outdoor upholstery (think patio seating) and other settings. When on the hunt for fabrics, ask plenty of questions. “Ask your supplier about the construction of the fabric and if there are any abrasion tests, like Wyzenbeek, for the fabric you’re interested in,” Vieweg suggests. “For high-use upholstery, it is best to seek out a fabric with higher durability or [a] heavy duty rating, and check the corresponding double rub specs. Even though a fabric is considered heavy duty with 50,000 double rubs, a rating of 100,000 or 150,000 double rubs would be a better choice for high-use upholstery.”
Equally important in the fabric conversation is the digital printing method. In this case, dye-sublimation is generally the method of choice. “The conditions of use of the upholstered furniture will drive the printed process choice as it will determine what properties are part of the design and the durability requirements,” states Eric Beyeler, global marketing manager — DuPont Artistri Digital Inks, which is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware. “For example, water repellency, stain resistance, and wet and dry crock are all properties that will vary in importance depending on what the printed fabric will be exposed to.”
“It is best to use a fabric that has been engineered for digital printing,” adds Vieweg. “It is extremely critical that the fabric surface is smooth and clean of excess threads, lint, and surface neps/slubs. These extra fibers and lint can collect on the printhead and smear the print, or the fiber could fall off the surface after printing, leaving a white spot in your pattern where the fiber once laid.”
Additionally, it’s crucial to address ink and how it plays a role in upholstery printing. “Dye-sublimation printing allows [you] to print on the fabric already possessing a stain and soil release finish,” Vieweg suggests. “If pigment printing, then the stain and soil release finish can only be added after printing. Pigment inks on natural fibers and polyesters can help provide better lightfastness results.”
When it comes to upholstery, you also have to drill down even further based on use. For instance, outdoor furniture that’s used in patio seating at restaurants will not only be in high use, but also exposed to UV rays and changing weather conditions. “The ink characteristics impact the UV resistance, with pigment inks outperforming dye-based inks, but post-processing can significantly impact the UV performance,” Beyeler says.
Once a PSP has a good grasp on the fabric and printing method used to create printed textiles for upholstery, they must work closely with all parties to understand final use and produce a top-notch product. “Developing a complete understanding of the wear patterns by application will help the printer select the right fabrics, inks, and printing process for the application,” Beyeler states. “By providing this application feedback to ink suppliers such as DuPont, [the PSP] ensures that future generations of water-based inkjet inks [and others] incorporate the full understanding of the application requirements.”
On the flip side, it’s also crucial to establish long-time clients by providing excellent service and products that withstand any environment. Locations such as hospitals, restaurants, and commercial waiting rooms all have a continuous need for upholstered items. This is where digital printing really shines. “The advantage of digital printing is the ability to print small runs,” Vieweg says. “If a restaurant needs to replace the fabric in one booth, then it’s simple to print the needed quantity to replace the damaged fabric. If furniture in a hotel room is damaged, the specific color theme and scale print can be quickly printed and replaced.”
And, to really elevate the partnership, a PSP shouldn’t be afraid to add some creative advice. “Commercial hotels or hospitality often like to have a recurring theme, but change the color scheme or scale between rooms, floors, or locations within a site,” Vieweg suggests.
“One of the unique features of digital textile printing — beyond the ability to customize the image and being a cost-effective process for short runs — is that the designer has full freedom to select the pattern or even photo image to be used,” Beyeler adds. “In addition, pattern development and sample printing can happen in a fraction of the time needed for analog printing.”
Even in the harshest environments, digitally printing textiles that will be used for upholstery will land great opportunities for those PSPs who are willing to understand the technology and products as well as build customer relationships. “There is opportunity to cultivate long-term relationships within the commercial and hospitality industries,” Vieweg concludes.