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Form and Function: Digitally Decorated Textiles

(April 2013) posted on Wed Apr 24, 2013

A variety of unique and lucrative applications await those who print digitally onto fabrics.

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By Dan Naumovich

Offshore production is a contentious subject in the U.S., especially when the economy is down and unemployment is high. Revitalizing a diminished manufacturing base is most often seen as a political endeavor, but to Ann Sawchak of Expand Systems, and others, the problem can also be addressed entrepreneurially (Figures 1A-1E). Given the right equipment and know-how, it only makes sense to keep direct digital textile printing within the U.S.

Made in the USA
Together with her husband, Mark, Sawchak created the Rosewell, GA-based company Expand Systems to educate the domestic market on the benefits and opportunities associated with digital textile printing, not just on polyester, but on natural fibers as well. Along with championing the process, Expand also ventured into the equipment and supplies side of the market.

“As the economy goes down, the interest [in digital textile printing] goes up because of several factors. Number one, everybody wants American-made. So if they can make something here, they want to make it here. Another factor is that a lot of people were getting things out of China, and China now has its own middle class to support. So they’ve raised minimums, raised lead times. They don’t care as much about meeting our needs,” Sawchak says.

With China no longer providing cheap labor on the same scale it had in the past, a door has opened for domestic printers to fill the void. Sawchak said that for the market to take off, designers need to be made aware that they no longer need to think in terms of one screen per color, and that producing short runs or samples doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive. She recalls meeting a dealer at an Atlanta trade show who was selling wall hangings and pillows, and she was able to convince him that he could handle some of the printing himself.

“He bought a printer, and within six months he bought a second one. He said that being able to print his short runs and his samples himself saved $12,000,” she says.

Another major factor that is driving digital textile printing in this country is its ability to create a more efficient supply chain and a more cost-effective inventory management system.


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