Sign & Digital Graphics

August '16

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S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S • August 2016 • 37 steam and post-washing in some dye ink applications." Martin says direct printing does cre- ate a few limitations in your choice of printable products, so don't go out and buy a million cotton t-shirts before you do your research. "Fabrics for direct printing need to be coated, which increases the cost of the fabric, and coated fabrics are limited in types and weights," he says. "Each differ- ent fabric has to be individually profiled and ink limits need to be set. And when directly printing to the fabric, the images are not as sharp and colors don't 'pop' like they do with transfer printing." Tim Check, product manager with Epson's direct printing unit, says direct printing's key application is in polyester products, so keep that in mind when thinking about the projects you'd like to do. "Polyester is definitely the strong spot, though blended material does work —especially a 50 percent polyester with a rayon/cotton blend," he says. "You're not competing, but complementing with your ability to do performance apparel, or swimsuits. And it's still extremely ver- satile—you can do water bottles, pillows, upholstery or even table tops." So what can first-time professionals expect in the shop when they start out with a new direct printing rig, and what are the easiest and most profitable appli- cations, to help justify the investment? "The most profitable applications are probably custom silks and fashion/ custom clothing," Anderson says. Once you've mastered the basics, coated fabrics for home furnishings or soft signage are the next step. "The easiest fabric applications are the ones with no stretch or light stretch, so pre-shrunk fabrics are best," Hunter adds. "And the most profitable fabric applications are highly customizable specialty products, where you're not competing against low-priced screen- printed products. The value comes from the high level of customization and/or short production runs." Martin says you can also get creative with your direct printing projects, open- ing up a much larger range of print media with better profit possibilities. He sug- gests name and number drop projects such as sports jerseys and special event shirts (the classic "over the hill" birthday shirts or family reunions). "But you can also get into coated hard substrate items, such as phone cases, metal pictures, ceramic tiles, or even print special awards (e.g., crystal, metal, wood)," he says. SDG e most profitable applications are probably custom silks and fashion/custom clothing.

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