By Olivia Cahoon
For textile printing, digital print technology is a unique alternative to traditional equipment like rotary screen machines. It offers a cost-effective solution for producing custom, short runs of fabric like cotton, polyester, and even leather. An investment in digital offers an opportunity to enter new markets while providing existing clients with value.
Above: Suntex Printing of Woodruff, SC printed on Tana-Tex’s proprietary mesh base cloth using a Mimaki TS500P-3200 sublimation printer. The finished product was used as privacy curtains in pediatric healthcare facilities. The client, Tana-Tex, develops specialty fabrics for healthcare applications.
Printing to Perfection
Suntex Printing, Inc. began in 1995 as a fabric transfer service for the hospitality market. While it still offers transfer services, it also provides design, digital printing, fabric treatments, large format printing, and small yardage orders out of a 75,000 square foot location in Woodruff, SC with 20 employees.
When the company started, customers purchased printed transfer paper and fabric, which was shipped for a commission fee to Suntex Printing’s 50,000 square foot facility. The print provider primarily served the East and West coast with 15 employees. Finished products included bedspreads, draperies, and shower curtains for hotel, industrial, and healthcare.
“The hospitality industry would create designs, which were printed with disperse inks by offset means to transfer paper,” says Tiffany Dill, COO, Suntex Printing. At the time, the print provider used multiple 135-inch wide heat transfer calendars.
Suntex Printing’s market share grew fast and soon it transferred 15,000 to 20,000 yards per day. In the mid 2000’s, Dill noticed a drastic change in the market caused by the unfair trade acts with China and Mexico. “The American textile industry was devasted and over 400,000 jobs were lost in just a few years. Large transfer orders went to offshore companies and we needed to find another solution to survive,” she explains.
Soon after, the company investigated opportunities for small yardage orders used in sample rooms, catalogs, and orders too small to fill a shipping container. In 2009, Suntex Printing partnered with Sawgrass Inc. and invested in a Mimaki USA, Inc. JV33-160 printer, Sawgrass ink, ErgoSoft RIP software, and Beaver Paper & Graphic Media, Inc. transfer paper.
The Mimaki JV33-160 printer offers a 63.4-inch width capability with up to 1,440 dpi. It features a triple stage intelligent heater that automatically heats media to the appropriate temperature followed by a post heater that quickens drying time. It’s available in four- or six-color mode and prints up to 193.75 square feet per hour.
Pleased with the printer’s performance, the company continued adding Mimaki devices to its portfolio as order requests rose. As they became more familiar with digital, Suntex Printing’s customers’ began to appreciate the technology even more. “After they saw the quality, turnaround times, and ease of ordering, they slowly transitioned to printing complete productions,” explains Dill.
Today, Suntex Printing uses several Mimaki 64-inch digital printers and recently added the Mimaki JV5-320DS—a superwide direct and dye-sublimation transfer printer. With an investment in digital printing, its capacity is currently 3,200 linear yards per day with 80 percent of its work considered digitally printed textile applications.
The print provider offers a variety of services for textiles including fabric treatments, five styles of stocked blockout fabric, fabric sourcing, and printing to cotton, leather, and vinyl. Suntex Printing produces backdrops, bedspreads and bed runners, barstools, carpet, curtains, fabric and vinyl upholstery, headboards, large soft signage, pillows, privacy curtains, roller shades, shower curtains, tablecloths, theater curtains, and offers specialty printing on substrates like wood, stone, and plexiglass. Its services are available to Bangkok, Dubai, New Zealand, Singapore, and the U.S.
For fabric printing, Suntex Printing relies on Mimaki inks for compatibility, quality, and low cost; ErgoSoft RIP software, and transfer paper from Neenah Coldenhove for reduced ink consumption. The company offers single- or double-sided fabric printing for widths from 45 to 135 inches in blackout, dimmer, non-woven, polyester, poly/cotton blends, shear, and woven synthetics.
In 2014, Suntex Printing added an additional company, Coloronik, to pursue different markets and materials like acrylic, glass, leather, and vinyl. Coloronik uses a Mimaki JFX500-2131 flatbed and several direct-to-fabric printers for acoustic panels, acrylic ceiling tiles, ceramic tiles, custom t-shirts, decorative light panels, fine leathers, leather upholstery, LED backlit prints, outdoor banners, and window graphics. Recently, Dill says the company added pigment inks to print cotton, silk, and other natural fibers.
For digitally printed textile applications, Dill notices many trends including large designs not limited to traditional repeat screen sizes, gradients/ombre, watercolor paintings turned into digital print files, denim textures on blackout fabric, and double-sided curtains. With these in mind, Suntex Printing aims to provide the cost-effective and high-quality digitally printed textile solutions.
Pediatric Privacy Curtains
Recently, repeat customer Tana-Tex Inc. in Chicago, IL approached Suntex Printing for seamless privacy curtains used in pediatric healthcare facilities. Tana-Tex develops specialty fabrics for healthcare applications that are sold domestically and internationally for trade only. The client selected its in-house base cloth for the privacy curtains.
“We manufacture a proprietary integral mesh base cloth that offers twice the durability as a typical privacy curtain fabric,” says Michael Cook, president, Tana-Tex. “Digital print design and capacity offers a wider range of color, repeat, scale, and composition options that elevate our design options beyond the typical—allowing us nearly endless creative license.”
Tana-Tex requested 24,300 square feet of seamless privacy curtains printed on a Mimaki TS500P-3200 3.2-meter sublimation printer using OEM inks. According to Cook, the absence of vertical and horizontal seams on the privacy curtains creates a curtain with greater dimensional stability and less opportunity to harbor microbes. He adds, “print production is virtually flawless once a color or pattern standard is approved. Suntex Printing’s knowledgeable staff and fast turnaround times meet today’s fast paced expectations.”
The printed curtains featured cartoon images of birds, hot air balloons, rainbows, and rivers. Cook says the bright colors and whimsical content are a fun departure from Tana-Tex’s typical pattern work. “Digital printing allowed us to create two related patterns—the front is more active and is intended as the visitor side while the patient side is more serene.”
Due to a long sales cycle in the architectural and design specifications market, concept to installation was approximately one year. Each curtain was four yards in length at 900 yards total. The final job consisted of 225 curtains.
Tana-Tex was pleased with the final privacy curtains and continues to work with Suntex Printing. Cook offers, “this pattern work on a privacy curtain lifts the spirits of patients, visitors, and staff. The power of good design combined with exceptional print range and quality positively affects the healthcare interior.”
Design As You Please
Digital print technology presents print providers and fabric manufacturers with a variety of design possibilities and fast turnaround for textiles. With its Mimaki printers, Suntex Printing continues to keep clients satisfied and expand its digital textile offering.
Sep2018, Industrial Print Magazine