Textile Finishing Equipment
If you digitally print on vinyl and/or papers, then you may remember that you require a laminator in order to offer properly finished products. It may have been a shock that you needed to pony up another $10K or more to fully use your new printer. If you are contemplating getting on board the growing textile-printing train, then you will quickly learn that finishing equipment is necessary again to turn the material into deliverable products. So what do you need? That depends on what you intend to offer your customers. In addition, the type of textile printer will dictate some of the finishing equipment, too.
While shopping for a textile printer, you will find that you can acquire printers that print directly to a roll of fabric or to a transfer paper. There are advantages to both types of printer, but let’s assume you purchased a printer that images on transfer paper. How will you transfer the image onto a roll of fabric? Dye sublimation requires heat and pressure. In order to make the transfer, you will need a device called a calendar, which is essentially a set of pressure rollers with a heat source and take-up system. Calendars operate in a similar manner to a laminator. Speed and width are two of the features to look for when making a decision.
So now you have a printed roll of fabric – what are you going to do with it? In most cases, it needs to be cut to the appropriate shape. This could be for flags, garments, banners or soft signs. When dealing with straight or rectangular cuts, you can get away with a sharp set of scissors and a steady hand. If you start dealing with complex shapes and/or hundreds of pieces, you will need to bring in the heavy artillery, most likely a finishing machine. If you already own a machine you use with a UV printer, then it may be as simple as ordering the appropriate cutter. Many manufacturers sell textile-specific tools. There are also finishers with lasers that can do an amazing job of cutting fabrics with the added benefit of sealing the edges.
The final phase of finishing involves the dreaded “S” word. Yup, sewing. In many cases the edges will need to be hemmed or pockets created. If you are working on wearables, then a number of pieces will need to be sewn together. A common sewing machine will not be able to withstand the rigors of production, so you will want to look at a sewing station. Some of these systems are fully automated for linear work, while others include a heavy-duty sewing machine and an automated table to speed up finishing.
So we’ve covered three of the main components to get into soft signage, but what if you want to utilize existing printer equipment to do t-shirts, ceramic tiles or the like? In these cases a calendar will not work; what you need is a manual heat press. The most common design is a clam shell type that has adjustable pressure and heat settings. To finish a garment, place the item on the platform, then place the image face down on the garment and close the clam shell until the timer goes off. Peel off the backing paper and voilá, you have a finished item.
Textiles are becoming more and more common in signshops. If you are looking to enter this arena, know that the printer is not the only thing you need to succeed. Figure out how each piece will be completed, and obtain the appropriate equipment in order to be successful.