Digital Textile Printing 'Opens Up the Possibilities'
Rainier Industries houses a mix of dye-sub and direct technologies.
Established in 1896, the company now known as Rainier Industries got its start by providing tents and camping supplies for prospectors who were headed north for the Alaskan Gold Rush. The Seattle-based company has come a long way from its beginnings, but still has a soft spot in its heart for tents and awnings.
With a diverse business base, Rainier currently manufactures fabric and display products. It’s divided into two divisions: the company’s Fabric group produces awnings, canopies, tensile structures, tents, and industrial products; the Display/Graphics group produces banners, signage, custom retail displays, theater and television-news sets, wall murals, framed art, and vehicle graphics. Located in a 100,000-square-foot facility, Rainier employs 160 workers, ranging from graphic designers and engineers to woodworking, metal, fabric, and print craftsmen as well as install experts.
Rainier first broke into wide-format printing with a 3M Scotchprint machine and then tried fabric printing in the early 1990s using a Nur printer. Not surprisingly, the initial experiments, says vice president Bruce Dickinson, "were on non-traditional applications such as awnings and tents."
Today, the company houses a mix of dye-sub as well as direct-print solutions, and tends to favor the latter-including an array of EFI Vutek printers (the company owns several 3360s, a QS2000, and a QS3200, plus a dye-sub 3360) with Inkware solvent and UV-curable inks, and water-based HP Designjet 5000 and 5200 printers.
In addition, Rainier has a heat press for dye-sub imaging and executes all of its laminating, grommeting, sewing, seaming, and other finishing work in-house. The company also installs a majority of its projects.
Generally, the company works directly with an end user, such as a restaurant owner, although much of its business does come from designers and architects. An average print job, Dickinson reports, involves approximately 500 square feet of goods, with turnaround time varying significantly with the job (although the company has been known to provide overnight service, if that’s what’s called for).
Digital-textile printing has significantly impacted Rainier: "It has really opened possibilities with the crossover of printing on tensile structures and large exterior banner displays," says Dickinson.
"We have pulled from our knowledge of fabric engineering to develop attachment methods for large exterior displays."
When Arizona State University Bookstore recently needed a shade structure for its entrance (left), the Tempe-based school called upon Rainier. Dickinson and crew utilized its Vutek 3360s to produce the resultant 25 x 50-foot structure that features a simple graphic design repeating the letters "A," "S," and "U" in a random pattern on a solid background. Panels of Ferrari 502 mesh fabric were printed in various lengths; the panels were seamed and hemmed and attached to the structure with a tensioned fabric system.