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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

Another advantage, he says, is the fact these materials require no special handling to preserve and protect the print. Fabric can be folded up, rolled, packed away, and re-used without damage. “That’s the durability they need and expect,” he says.

In fact, the drum design worked so well for its Airbrush printer that Schafer later adapted it to inkjet with the company’s other proprietary press, the BopJet. This machine is used to print on specialty fabric up to 16-feet wide.

“The drum puts less stress and tension on the fabric during printing so we can print on fabrics that are not strong enough for a conventional printer,” says Lindqvist. “There are a number of fabrics that work only or best on the Bopjet: Cloth 201 muslin, sheer fabrics like voile, and PVC flooring, which is fairly stretchy.”

All the world’s a stage
As word of the company’s capabilities spread, clients throughout Europe turned to the company as a large-format solutions provider. The theater community, especially, learned how to tap imaging on fabric as a superior solution for stage and set design.

“Theaters were used to working with craftspeople in scene shops, and not with print shops,” notes Lindqvist. “To become their supplier, Big Image had to develop an understanding of how the images were used, and master craft skills like theatrical sewing and edge finishing.”

Demand from that sector eventually proved so great that Schafer added the Berlin operations center in 1995. Then, in 1998, he relocated the Swedish production center to a former aircraft hanger outside Stockholm, which now serves as the company’s headquarters.

By the time the American sales office opened in 2001, Big Images already had a following within the American theater community, too. “We had been selling to clients in the US prior to 2001, and saw an opportunity here,” recalls Lindqvist. “We had a strong reputation in the theater world for grand-format printing on fabric. Soon people on the corporate event side heard of us, as well.”

The American office now serves a client base that is half theater and entertainment, and half corporate events. “Some know what they want, and turn to us simply to print their files,” he notes. “Others need our help from start to finish, figuring out what will work best, what fabrics to use, and how to handle the installations.”