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Vinyl vs textile signs, we speak with Yoong Lee of Anitech

As previously published on Wide Format Online,  a report produced by IT Strategies (see www.it-strategies.com/news/58.html) predicts that there is huge growth for the textile printer industry with revenues expected to reach $6 billion by 2010. We asked Yoong Lee, recently appointed Business Development Manager at Anitech to expand on these findings, specifically in regard to the debate on vinyl vs textile in the signage industry and whether textile signage would be able to take over much of the vinyl signage that has mushroomed over the last few years.

IT Strategies also expects that digitally printed textiles will grow at a CAGR of 19% to more than 2 billion square feet printed on more than 5,000 dedicated digital textile printers. Today, advances in inkjet printers (eg. Direct to fabric sublimation printers), combined with the growth in textile applications such as soft signage and apparel are driving the market for digital textile printing.   

Anitech, since their appointment as distributors for the d.gen range of textile printers and also the DuPont Artistri printer have done much to hurry Australia and New Zealand along this predicted path.

To this effect Barry Grant, GM of Anitech invited Yoong Lee, d.gen's former vice president to join Anitech in Australia to help convince local sign companies that either adding a textile machine, or converting to textile can expand individual businesses and grow the signage market.

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Yoong Lee came to Australia from South Korea where he was Vice President of d.gen International. D.gen is the manufacturer of the d.gen textile printers distributing mainly in Europe and the US as well as Japan. Please refer to www.dgen.com.
Yoong has over 15 years of experiences mainly in the textile technologies field, in particular the:
- the digital textile printers themselves;
- Pre/post treatment machines like the textile coater, steamer and washer that is especially designed for digital textile printing applications
- Colour proofing and management systems
- Digital textile design and production workflow systems
- Media, substrates, inks and other necessary chemical components.

We asked Yoong if that report from IT Strategies would indicate that vinyl signs are being replaced by textile signs. "Most definately," he replied. "There is a definite trend in that direction. For good reason, fabric signs are lightweight and flexible compared to vinyl and therefore shipping is far easier. What's more the finished signs can be folded without causing damage to the product. This is especially important when hanging large signs that would be heavy if produced on vinyl.

"Then there is the cost savings with the media: Polyester media would typically cost about $10.00 per square metre vs $25-$40 for vinyl.

"Environmental concerns also favour textile due to the non toxic nature of the media, the printing process and the inks. Yoong also states that textiles such as polyester can match vinyl for outdoor durability in extreme weather, unlike PVC that can snap in cold weather and stretch in hot temperatures.

"Digital textile printing also opens new markets such as interior furnishings and apparel using both direct and sublimation printing," he said. 

"Basically the only area where vinyl is a more suitable product is vehicle wrapping," he said.

With all that going for textile, we asked Yoong to explain why textile signage is not taking off faster in Australia than it already is. He responded, "Firstly, digital textile machines are more expensive than an equivalent sized solvent printer, the main reason for this is the feeding mechanism. The feeding mechanism for a digital textile printer is far more complicated and requires extreme precision engineering as well as  needing more parts and labour in the manufacturing process.

"The sign industry should consider, however, that the increased purchase cost is more than offset by the increased income that can be generated by textile printers compared to solvent and/ or other printers. The profit generated by textile printers is far better than solvent printers. "

Yoong felt that he had the industry on his side but the dilemma was customer education. "Frankly speaking, I guess that it will take some time to convert the sign customer base. I was even surprised that these people are not very aware of textile alternatives. So we need to put a lot of effort in to educate this group of people.
"Sign makers generally love and are usually very impressed by textile soft signage application. But they simply want to take orders without any hassle. Besides, most sign makers with a couple of printers (water base/ solvent) are still paying leases to possibly around $3 to 5K/ month so it is understandable that they have some doubt and worry whether they can afford another $3 to 5K/ month for new textile venture -- they will do it if their customers specifically request jobs using textile media. So, again, it will take some time to educate the whole chain of demand/ supply structure.

We then moved onto the subject of digital textile printers competing with the versatile UV machines that can also print onto textiles. His response was, "Technically UV ink can be printed on any substrate. But the problem is that the ink will be crystalised once it is UV cured onto the substrate. This is why we can feel the texture on the printed surface and it disperses colours which means we can not perceive correct colours using UV printing.
"The crystallisation with UV cured inks does not make it a suitable ink for textile application. Some textile media can burn or even melt during the UV curing process."

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 The d.gen machine  Dupont's Artistri machine

What about colour vibrancy, could a printer expect to see the same bright colours on a textile sign as he can on a vinyl sign, we asked. He replied with an emphatic BETTER than solvent printing on vinyl.

Then lastly, when we asked about the important outdoor durability factor compared to vinyl, he replied that there would be not much difference between vinyl and polyester fabric in terms of the life time of service in outdoor applications.

So, do we wait for the customer to initiate the demand, or do we go out and sell textile and create the demand? Yoong assured us that Anitech is doing all they can to educate both the customer and the wide format printers.

Patti Williams, Consulting Partner at I.T Strategies has the last word by saying, “The market for soft signage has been around for more than 7 year and is fairly well understood in the US. However, less understood is the market for digitally printed textiles for non signage applications. In this  area some of the drivers include: the value of the brand as some leading companies use digital printing to customise textile based office structures with a customer brand or logo; new systems of parallel, low throughput inkjet printers printing simultaneously, such as the DPA system developed by Stork, Italian companies using inkjet printers to respond to Chinese competition; and designers and crafters entering the market and making investments in inkjet textile printers such as the DuPont Artistri”