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Fabric’s Endless Possibilities

(January 2012) posted on Tue Jan 24, 2012

Big Image Systems pursues fabric printing on a grand scale.

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By Mike Antoniak

For most shops, that hardware roster might seem like a pretty comprehensive printer lineup. But it’s only part of the picture at Big Image. As a pioneer in digital printing on fabric, the company has also designed and developed its own print systems, pushing the definition of grand-format printing to its limits.

When photographer and company founder Werner Schäfer first encountered large-format printing while on assignment in Australia in 1981, he immediately recognized its potential appeal. Early on, though, he believed digital printing on fabric, rather than paper or other rigid substrates, could be a superior solution for some applications and settings. Flexible images, he reasoned, could be easily installed and removed, and re-used again and again without damaging the print.

Schafer introduced digital large-format graphics to many in his market area while working as the Scandinavian sales rep for a Liverpool-based printer. Success there only strengthened his conviction, and eventually Schafer set out on to pursue his vision of printing on fabric. He purchased an early digital airbrush printer in 1987, launching the company that became Big Image as ScanaPrint AB. When that press proved too complicated to reliably deliver consistent, he decided to design and build his own fabric press.

Working with students at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, Schafer designed and developed the digital Airbrush printer, which now allows Big Image to print seamless images on fabric at sizes few companies can approach, Big Image Systems reports. Key to its performance is the Airbrush printer’s large drum design. Fabric is taped to the drum, which slowly rotates beneath the printhead during printing.

“The ink is applied by four spray nozzles in a vertical row, spraying out all four colors at the same time on top of each other,” explains Lindqvist. “The print is actually a spiral, with each line only a few millimeters apart.” Big Image Systems has three of these Airbrush fabric printers, which use water-based inks. Two presses can print images on fabric up to 20 x 20-feet; the third unit can image up to 20 x 40-feet.

“We use our Airbrush printer almost exclusively for the theater work,” he continues. “We print on the same materials these clients have been using for their set designs – muslin, velour, scrim, and PVC foil – to create a seamless image.”