Focused on Fabrics

Dye Into Print continues to stay one step ahead of its clients’ dye-sub needs.

Many print service providers first dally with fabric printing as a lucrative new application for their digital equipment and expertise. Dye Into Print, however, began as a digital experiment by a company already successful in textile printing, and that has made all the difference.

The Clifton, New Jersey, firm is now a leading supplier of digital dye-sublimation printing on fabric and related services, from design through fabrication. Its work for clients has dressed up building exteriors and furnishings, and helped create the air of excitement for public gatherings at trade conferences, museums, concert halls, and theaters. In its latest move, the company hopes to reach into homes and businesses with new lines of fabrics exclusively designed and printed for interior decoration.

“Our products are utilized in every market, in every industry,” says Matthew Lederman, the company’s president. “We’ve printed materials for advertising, promotions, retail displays, museum exhibits, theaters, films, conferences, special events, and party planners.”

The opportunity to develop new business
Lederman believes knowledgeable clients turn to Dye Into Print’s digital dye-sub services as a superior alternative to direct inkjet printing on textiles. “With dye-sublimation printing on fabric, you get a natural-looking product that is lightweight, easy to handle and ship, can be used repeatedly, and the print quality can’t yet be beat.” Those benefits result from the dye-sub printing process, in which the printed image bonds with a synthetic material when heat and pressure are applied, essentially becoming part of the fabric.

It’s not how dye-sub printing works, but the way it transforms a bland cut of synthetic cloth that continues to attract new clients, says Mark Munoz, Dye Into Print’s longtime art director: “From my experience, most of our customers don’t really care about the process we use. They are more concerned with the results, the quality of the material, and graphics we can deliver.”

Before digital printing on fabric and textiles even occurred to most inkjet-based print service providers, Dye Into Print was already pioneering this market. The seeds of its success were first sown by parent company Something Different Linens (www.somethingdifferentlinen.com) in the late 1990s.

As Lederman explains, Something Different Linens is a wholesale provider of specialty linens used to cover tables and chairs. At the time, the company was importing transfer paper imprinted with patterns and designs for its linens from European suppliers.

Then, in 1998, company founder Mitchell Smith purchased a Xerox ColorgrafX 8954-DS 4-color dye-sublimation printer to experiment with producing its transfers in house. Recommended for use with poly-poplin and poly-satin synthetics, the newly acquired printer streamlined the production cycle and allowed the company to design and print graphics for material up to 54-inches wide.

“That Xerox did two things for the company,” asserts Lederman. “It showed we could use dye-sub to produce our own designs, and gave the company the opportunity to develop new business printing banners and flags.”

But applications for digital dye-sub quickly outgrew the capabilities of that one printer. The first of four Raster Graphics 5442 electrostatic printers was added in 2000, when Something Different Linens relocated to its present headquarters in Clifton.

Next level: expanded capabilities
Ultimately, the digital experiment proved so successful that Dye Into Print was spun off as a separate operation. Lederman assumed responsibilities as company president in 2001. “I wanted to take the business to the next level, expand our print capacity, improve the quality, and reach a wider customer base,” he says.

“One problem with the Raster Graphics printers was that they only offered 54-inch widths, and digital dye-sub printing technology had advanced beyond its capabilities.”

To upgrade production capacity, and increase its offerings, in 2003 the company invested in the first of what would eventually become a lineup of nine Mimaki JV-series dye-sublimation printers. “We’ve always tried to stay one step ahead of our clients and anticipate their needs in print width, quality, and speed,” says Lederman.

Those first Mimaki JV3 160 printers meant Dye Into Print could offer fabric printing up to 60-inches wide, but clients were soon requesting even wider material. In response, the first of five JV-4 180s, offering 72-inch widths, were added. Then, in 2007, the company upgraded again, adding the first of two JV-5 320s, with a maximum print width of 126 inches.

That was followed by the addition of a 125-inch EFI Vutek 3360 printer. The versatile printer is used in its solvent mode for direct printing to vinyl, canvas, and wallpaper. It serves as a dye-sub printer when printing transfers for 100-percent polyester material.

Fabric printing projects are processed with the ErgoSoft RIP, and printed at 720 dpi using Sawgrass Technologies inks. For signs and banners, the company relies on the Onyx PosterShop RIP.

“We now consider anything up to 72-inches a ‘narrow-format’ project,” says Lederman. The company does a small amount of sign and banner printing on vinyl as a specialty service for clients. Everything else is on fabric, and half of it now is 72-inches wide and larger.

Narrow, deep, and focused
“Once we could start offering seamless prints up to 10-feet wide, the graphics applications for printing on fabric really began opening up,” Lederman reports.
“Today the only real limit to what we can do with dye-sub printing is we can’t print with metallic ink,” adds Munoz.

That hasn’t stemmed demand for services; even during the economic downturn of recent years, the company has registered sales gains.

“What we’ve been able to establish with our capabilities is a reputation for superior quality and speed,” says Lederman. “Since 2001, we’ve been in a position to anticipate our customers’ needs and meet their deadlines, whatever they are. We can do everything from concept to design, printing, cutting, sewing, and finishing.”

Finishing and fabrication also figure prominently in Dye Into Print’s definition of a full-service provider. “Clients send us all kinds of aluminum extrusions, steel structures, banner stands, frames, and hardware for us to fabricate to various shapes and sizes,” he explains. “We’ve made hanging structures, circular structures, steel trusses, we’ve even wrapped an entire cage with printed fabric.”

Many customers provide graphics files ready to print, while others need help from the initial design. “Some of the theatrical companies we work with provide us with the designs as well as their own fabrics for printing,” adds Munoz. “If a client comes to us with only an idea, we have the artists on staff to work with them and design whatever they need.”

Before final production begins, clients sign off on previews of the finished project. “We usually use some combination of fabric and digital proofs,” he explains. “For the layout, we’ll use PDFs. When they want to see how the color will look on the material, we’ll print a small section on the fabric and printer we’re using for that job as a sample.”

To provide its services to such a broad and diverse customer base, Dye Into Print employs more than 100 at its 60,000-square-foot facility. The staff includes 75 who work in varied aspects of production, six graphic artists, 10 salespersons, and 19 in administrative and support positions. “As a company, we are narrow and deep, strictly focused on fabric printing, and every aspect of it,” Lederman points out.

Distinct advantages
At Dye Into Print, clients can currently choose from 15 different synthetic materials for their projects. Lederman says the most popular are poly-poplin for banners, backdrops and tablecloths; soft knits for curtains, drapes and stretching over frames; heavy knits for indoor and outdoor arena backdrops; poly duck cloth for outdoor banners, flags, and simulated artist canvas; and spun polyesters for banners, table cloths, and napkins.

“Most customers know what they want in terms of the graphics. But we sometimes know from past experience that the material they’re thinking about using may not be best for their project,” he says. “If we’ve worked with them before, they know they can rely on our advice for choosing the right fabric.”

That’s one area where experience gained in years of focusing on this print specialty gives Dye Into Print a distinct competitive advantage. As Lederman elaborates, material recommendations are often based on a combination of factors newcomers to the fabric-printing business might not even consider. These include budget; type of event and setting; whether the material will be displayed under indoor or outdoor lighting; the need for opacity or translucence; whether a matte or sheen effect will work best; stretch requirements for the fabric; and the type of frame or structure that will be used in the installation.

Some projects require only a single piece or limited run. Others are truly large, whether measured in size or quantity. “We don’t have a minimum order so we do a lot of pieces requiring just one, two, or 10 prints,” notes Lederman. “Banners measuring 10 x 30-feet are now a regular occurrence for us. We also get orders that are large in number – for example, 10,000 pillow cases printed with a certain pattern.”

Routine orders for Dye Into Print might be considered milestone projects by smaller shops. Physically, the largest single piece Dye Into Print has produced was a 38 x 56-foot tradeshow banner on vinyl. For another tradeshow, the company produced a series of zippered prints of a client’s products on stretch-knit polyester then fabricated the hardware to assemble 10 x 20-foot cubes (which were suspended from the ceiling). And two years ago an order from the film industry called for a series of 10 panels on poly-poplin that were joined to create a movie-set backdrop measuring 20-feet high x 93-feet wide.

Just as typical are time-sensitive projects requiring quick turnaround to meet tight deadlines. “Our deadline is typically only four or five days,” says art director Munoz, “Often, the prints we provide for an event seem to be the last thing people think about, after they’ve planned everything else.”

Lederman agrees: “This is a very time-sensitive industry. Our customers definitely challenge us at times, but we’ve been so successful because we’re committed to doing whatever it takes to meet those challenges.”

With all its technical expertise, customer service ranks high in the company’s formula for continued growth and success. “We respond to all quotes, inquiries, and requests within hours and ask every possible question to determine the needs of our clients,” Lederman explains. “Once we get a project, we continually follow up on all aspects of it and remain in constant contact with our clients through installation, even after their event, to make sure they’re happy.”

Spreading the word
Looking ahead, Lederman is confident that commitment, as well as his staff’s technical expertise, will allow the company to grow into new markets, and convince new clients on the distinct advantages of digital printing on fabric. As an example, Munoz points to the concert industry, where the band logos, signs and stage backdrops formerly printed on paper are transitioning to fabric, with distinct benefits.

“Promoters began to realize fabric prints are so much easier to care for, store, and transport – and they look perfect every time you put them up,” he observes.

As word spreads and demand grows, as print technology improves, and the costs of systems come down, competition will intensify. “As more have gotten into it, many have discovered printing on fabric is not an easy thing to master,” notes Lederman. “Fabric printing is a specialty service, it’s not like the vinyl business, and it’s not inexpensive.”

Working with fabric “is different than other materials and you have to understand that,” agrees Munoz. “Because of the way it can stretch, particularly on larger projects when you’re combining several panels, if you’re off by as little as an inch on one print the whole project can be ruined.”

So with its proven dye-sub expertise, capabilities, and commitment to the evolving needs of clients, Dye Into Print’s future seems secure. But that doesn’t mean the company is close-minded about future technology possibilities.

“The trend in the industry has been to look at ways to do direct inkjet printing on fabric, and that’s something we’re certainly watching,” says Lederman. “But the quality isn’t there yet; you simply can’t get the same crisp images you can with dye sublimation and how it transfers the image into the fabric,” he maintains.

“If anything, we expect dye-sublimation printing will become even more diverse as we find new and intriguing ways to print on more materials.”

Freelance writer Mike Antoniak is a frequent contributor to The Big Picture magazine.


View more from this Big Picture issue