Soft Signage is Having Another Banner Year

Faster print speeds and in-house finishing options provide quicker turnaround 

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When a business is looking to get the word out on a new product or service, promote an event or announce a grand opening for a new location; nothing makes more of a visual impact than a custom made banner. Over the years, banners have become the most commonly utilized application for sign shops and have come a long way in form and function from cut-vinyl to four-color printed vinyl to dye-sub fabrics.

The growing popularity of custom-made fabric banners has really pushed the envelope in this market. With a plethora of indoor to outdoor applications, fabric banners make excellent advertising solutions, not only because they are lightweight, but because they also have become much more easier to install.

Fabulous Fabrics

“The trend over the past five years has been the shift to fabric and soft banners,” says Todd Freeman, president, Beautiful Displays, Carbondale, Illinois. “Fabric has many advantages over vinyl such as it can be folded up smaller and is cheaper to ship. Its also easier to handle and you can throw it in a washing machine if it gets dirty. Vinyl on the other hand is very stiff and if you fold it, it creases. However, there are still many applications where vinyl is king such as with pole banners and other outdoor uses,” he adds.

Freeman says they specialize in dye sub fabric, which is well-suited for short-term use for outdoors such as with teardrops and outdoor flags. “It’s a product that’s in huge demand. Event banners are another big area and ideal vehicles for promoting concerts and festivals. Lastly, the trade show market is still big for us with retractable banner stands and hanging banners,” he explains.

Freeman reports that the banner market today is being driven by the web. “Clients need everything faster than ever before. The bottom certainly has dropped out on pricing over the years and it has gotten tougher to compete on larger jobs with some of the bigger shops turning out vinyl super cheap.”

Trending Upward

Michael Compton, product marketing manager at Top Value Fabrics, a Carmel, Indiana-based distributor of banner materials, says the current state of the banner printing market is trending upward with explosive growth. He reports that while the vinyl banner printing market continues to show steady growth, there is rapid growth in digital banner textile printing for many types of soft signage, banner applications and increasing creative applications.

“Current trends show rapid growth in the textile banner market for environments such as in-store retail, tradeshow graphics, backlit applications, banner stands, backdrops, pop-up displays as well as stretch frame systems and interior décor,” Compton points out. “High quality digitally printable textiles offer printers and end users tremendous variety in look, texture and feel and provide designers the ability to create brilliant graphics for a multitude of applications,” he adds.

Tight Turnaround Times and Tighter Margins

Compton says that print-on-demand and the need for tighter turnaround times from clients continues to increase. “With this comes the increase in speed-to-market of printed product. Latex printing has grown tremendously due to versatility in printing substrates and continuing increases in technology that allows printers to print finished product on board the printers with turnaround time decreasing significantly. The same is true of high-speed dye sublimation printer technology. The growth and placement of new high-speed printers has given end users the flexibility to print multiple designs and large volume jobs for immediate shipping to end users.”

Compton agrees that while tighter margins are more common in the vinyl banner market, margins on digitally printed textile are relative to the quality of the fabric being utilized. “This is especially true as print providers and end use customers have become highly educated in textile quality relative to consistent white point from batch to batch, consistently rolled, dependable fabrics sourced from their vendors which provide high quality graphics and presentation,” he adds.

A Stitch in Time

One way that shops are gaining more control over turnaround times on banner projects is through in-house banner finishing capabilities. Steven L. Kaplan, owner and president at S. Kaplan Sewing Machine Co., Newark, New Jersey, says that it’s a real production hurdle for sign shops to take a banner or a large-format graphic panel and send it out to be sewn or finished and then have to wait for it to be returned.

“We provide industrial sewing equipment for banner finishing. Our customers are printers and graphics companies who realize that taping banners has significant limitations. They typically start out by contracting out the sewing required to finish their banners or large format graphics. However, tight scheduling makes this a production hurdle, often delaying completion as banners have to leave their facility, be sewn by an outside contractor and then returned back to the printer or graphics house,” he explains.

Sewing Solutions

Kaplan states they have found success in providing easy to use sewing equipment at a variety of price points, which allow customers to bring the sewing operation in-house, dramatically reducing production time and allowing a significant increase in profit and flexibility. The company also supplies training on the machines.

“Our entry level SK-Highlead GC20518-PUL machine is a simple double-needle sewing workstation that allows for virtually all banner finishing operations to be done economically with a small investment. For customers requiring larger scale sewing capabilities, we can offer the Miller Weldmaster Digitran, a complete digital transport sewing system for high volume production with a variety of automation options,” he says.

Kaplan adds that one popular application that their customers are asking for is the sewing of a silicone rubber edge onto printed material for display applications, also know as silicon-edge graphics. “Both the simpler manual machines and the automated Digitran system can be equipped for SEG sewing, greatly increasing production flexibility,” he concludes.  

Standing Out

Compton reports that their clients are always looking for new substrates to differentiate themselves from their competition. “At Top Value Fabrics we pride ourselves on bringing the newest, most innovative print media to the banner display market. Some of these include our DigiPanorama, DigiCompetition and Midnight Blockout.”

He says that DigiPanorama was created specifically for the latex print market with their proprietary coating to enhance scratch and scuff resistance of latex inks providing the printer with a finished product off the printer that doesn’t require the extra steps and cost of heat pressing, transfer paper and tissue paper.

“Our new DigiCompetition is a lightweight knit polyester that provides outstanding color consistency and image sharpness as well as wrinkle resistance for printers requiring a high performance yet competitive banner display product. Midnight Blockout is a knit polyester engineered with a durable black back to insure opacity for applications that require blockout providing outstanding color consistency, image sharpness and a wide color range. This fabric as well as our additional banner display fabrics fit a wide variety of banner display applications,” he explains.

He adds it is also important that the printer work with their trusted print media vendor to choose the substrate that provides the optimal finished product for their clients.

Planet Tradeshow Takes Banners to New Heights

Compton says one of their cutting edge customers in this area is Planet Tradeshow, a digital dye sublimation firm based in Ball Ground, Georgia that specializes in fabric printing. “We currently produce point of purchase materials for the bedding, banking, retail, and tradeshow industries,” explains Jared Hager, project manager at Planet Tradeshow. “We have printed on a variety of Top Value Fabrics print media including Midnight Blockout for roll-up banners stands and framed wall displays, DigiCompetition for banner displays, DigiHeavy for multipurpose banners and Supernova for backlit displays. All of the product prints and provides our clients with the highest quality and performance.”

Hager says they are also seeing a huge increase in Backlit and non Backlit Silicone Edge Graphics. “With recent price reductions, what was once available to large corporations has become affordable to end users. Whether permanently mounted extruded aluminum frames, large extruded trade show displays or the new more modular and portable pop up SEG, these frames offer a clean, modern, fantastic way to stand out from the competition,” he adds.

Freeman sums it up by saying the market for banners is still on the rise compared to other markets because they are so simple and they are still very affordable. “People will be buying banners until the end of time because they are still the most economical way to get your message out there,” he concludes.

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Bill Schiffner

Bill Schiffner is a freelance writer/editor based in Holbrook, N.Y. He has covered the imaging industry for 25 years and has reported on many evolving digital imaging technologies including wide-format printing and newer electronic digital signage. He was the editor for a number of imaging publications and websites. He can be reached at bschiffner@optonline.net.

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