by Cassandra Balentine
Digital textile printing expands opportunities for fabrics from décor to apparel. With the ability to produce vibrant, short runs cost effectively, individuals and brands alike are able to customize products without breaking the budget.
To help support the market for personalized patterns and prints, service providers that have mastered digital textile printing step up to make it available to the masses.
RealFabric Co., Ltd. is a creative community and digital fabric printing service that utilizes direct and dye-sublimation (dye-sub) to print customer designs on a range of materials. Its graphical user interface is simple to use and backed by an experienced staff on the other end.
Originating as a fabric dyeing and solid fabric manufacturing company in Daegu, South Korea in 1984, RealFabric’s ecommerce division was born in 2013. In 2017 it opened a branch in Japan, followed by a New York, NY office in 2020. While two employees make up the U.S. office, the company staffs about 120 globally.
“Our goal is to have a creative community through printed fabrics,” says Lia Kim, ecommerce strategist and creatives, RealFabric. “We can print any art/design they wish from our fabrics. We are open for designers/artists to sell their designs using our platform.”
To offer its customers a range of options, RealFabric utilizes direct digital printing for cotton and linen fabrics and dye-sub for polyester. The combination of the two technologies is essential to its main goal.
The company prints to different cottons, linens, rayons, and some polyesters. It details the fabric it carries on its website. “We prefer all the materials in our house because we know our forte,” says Kim.
For printing to natural fibers, RealFabric operates the Toshin Kogyo Ichinose 2040 and 2050 inkjet printers as well as the Epson Monna Lisa. The Monna Lisa is an industrial inkjet digital printer jointly developed by Epson and Robustelli. It is fitted with Epson’s high-density PrecisionCore printheads, which can eject droplets in three various sizes.
For dye-sub it uses Epson SureColor F-Series printers, which feature Epson PrecisionCore TFP printheads. The printers are powered by Epson print software and utilize Epson UltraChrome DS ink and dye-sub papers.
The company relies on OEM reactive and disperse dye, finding it is the best match to its printers and fabric selection. A steamer is used to set the dyes. For finishing, RealFabric utilizes an automated tentering tool. The automated tentering process is chosen to ensure consistency with its fabric tightness/finishes. Kim adds that it ends up saving time.
Community of Customers
RealFabric sets itself apart from the competition with its focus on quality. It ensures each and every one of its products is produced on the best fabric for the job. Everything is done digitally.
Kim says its team is very approachable and all of the staff value the customer experience. “User experience is a key differentiator.”
For a typical ecommerce job, a customer places an order online by uploading design images. Kim points out that for anyone not confident that a file is properly set up, it suggests emailing the design team first for a quality check.
Once the file is uploaded, a preview tool featuring a measuring ruler on the side for reference as well as zoom tool is provided so customers can double check the pattern. It also provides different pattern styles and a size adjustment tool on the system. Any other changes are performed on the customer end.
The turnaround time is about 14 business days, including shipping. It takes about six to eight business days to process from image editing to right before the shipment. Width varies by fabric. The majority of fabrics are 43 inches fixed width and length can be added with an increase of yardage, but the base is 36 inches.
A quality control team is involved throughout the process.
“Our forte is providing good printed fabrics to customers. We are growing and our customers are growing at the same time. We do have many small business owners and sharing their growth is also our joy,” comments Kim.
One of the best and most challenging aspects of the business is constant technology evolution.
By keeping an eye on trends, RealFabric is able to meet the latest customer demands. “The technology evolves every day and we can’t be staying in the same place,” admits Kim. “As the technology grows it opens up more options for the customers, and we need to accommodate all the goods and wants. We are very well systemized and we know our flow. We change as needed as time and technology changes.”
The company is excited about taking advantage of the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools, which it has integrated into its production system. “Using AI we can offer personalized design styles to the customer. This can be done once we have a good amount of users to collect their buying habits,” shares Kim.
Textiles Your Way
RealFabric offers designers a way to share and utilize unique patterns, digitally printed to enable cost-effective short runs.
“We believe everyone is an artist. We want as many artists as possible to be involved in our community,” concludes Kim. IPM
Sep2021, Industrial Print Magazine