Retail's Softer Side: Textile Signage in the Retail Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the face of retail. With many restaurants, event venues, shopping centers, and more getting hit hard by waves of shutdowns, mask mandates, and people not leaving their homes, most in-person retail businesses have had to rethink the way they operate.
For those that survived the storm, many are now seeing some resurgence, though any kind of determination about the future has yet to be made. As retailers continue to retool their business model, one area that has continued to play a crucial role is signage. We’ve all seen the safety signage: the sandwich boards outlining safe health practices, the floor graphics indicating how much distance is, indeed, six feet apart, and even those signs indicating new hours and operating procedures. But what about the role of textile signage?
Always a staple in the trade show and events industries, textile signage creates a bold, colorful presence that any brand or event wants associated with its name. Luckily, retailers have continued to utilize this type of signage throughout the pandemic, and with great success.
A Bold, Unique Look
Let’s start with the basics. In the past, present, and foreseeable future, textile signage plays a key role in retail environments, especially in today’s digital world. Why? Because it makes an excellent medium to work with.
“Visual merchandising and creative leaders choose textile graphics because they are naturally a more elegant visual solution than traditional alternatives, such as vinyl or rigid polystyrene-type products,” says Hoddy Peck, the Southwest sales manager at Fisher Textiles, headquartered out of Matthews, North Carolina. “It just looks better, both from the surface texture standpoint, to the presentation options that utilize the draping aspects of fabric materials.” For example, a silky display fabric can be dye-sublimated to demonstrate a silky apparel or home décor product.
Jeff Nonte, vice president of sales for the print media division of TVF with locations in Indiana and California, agrees about the unique look digitally printed textiles add to a retail environment. “High-quality fabrics allow for high-definition images and provide an upscale appearance in the retail world,” he states. “A retail environment [must be] presented in the best way possible.”
Nonte notes that the benefits of textile signage don’t stop there. He adds that fabrics are lighter in weight than traditional media, making them easier to install in retail environments and not requiring expert installation. “Traditionally PVC ships on pallets that are heavy and expensive,” he says. “If someone needs to do a retail rollout, banners and fabric ship quickly to all the stores for uniform branding and messaging.”
The benefits even extend into sustainability, which is top-of-mind for nearly every printing business right now. “Fabric is a great ‘green’ alternative to PVC-based signage,” says Lily Hunter, senior product manager for Roland DGA, headquartered in Irvine, California. “This factor often comes into play, as many brands now require eco-friendly and sustainable products to be displayed in their retail outlets … Dye-sublimated fabrics can be washed and refreshed for reuse. Fabric signs printed with eco-solvent or UV inks can also be refreshed (using steam to get the wrinkles out) before they are displayed.”
Of course, like anything, there are a few minor drawbacks to utilizing textiles in the retail signage space. “Not all fabrics are ideal for outdoor applications and uses,” Nonte says. “For outdoor, you need fabrics that are coated and treated a certain way, and need to last. Especially in today’s world where so many people now do business outside with COVID, fabrics are somewhat limited.”
Peck notes that while the drawbacks are few, there can be a learning curve when it comes to digitally printing these substrates. “Wide-format producers considering dye-sublimation textile printing for the first time may feel it is a complicated manufacturing process,” he states. But that’s pretty much where it stops. “However, with the newest printing technology, process equipment, and color management techniques, it is a simpler process than it may seem.”
Textile Signage in a Retail World
The benefits of offering digitally printed textile signage are clear. What may not be so clear is what the landscape of retail looks like today and how that signage fits in. COVID changed everything from how people interact with each other in a retail environment, to their shopping habits in general. This even carried beyond fashion into the worlds of automotive, restaurants/foodservice, healthcare, and more. So where does digital textile signage fit in today’s retail environment?
“Fashion has always been a favorable spot for interior dye-sub graphics because it seems to be appropriate to have textile products (say, apparel) depicted by textile graphics,” Peck begins. “Dye-sub graphics have been widely used for years in sporting goods retail, especially for athletic apparel, shoes, golf apparel, exercise apparel, etc. Not only does it work from an image standpoint, but it gives a lot of flexibility for size and display.”
“Many industries, beyond retail stores, have opted for textile signage, including hospitality, healthcare, and schools,” Hunter continues. Even in a pandemic era, signage is still crucial in all of these industries and then some.
“2020 led to a lot of pivoting, and textile displays helped retailers diversify their applications,” Nonte notes. Social distancing signage was a must in nearly every indoor location, retail or otherwise, and even digitally printed masks became a huge service for print service providers (PSPs).
So even though retail patterns and habits may have changed, signage, textile signage in particular, really haven’t. “I don’t think there is a huge change, other than marketing budget conservation steps,” Peck states. “Banners pushing sales are also [still] frequently used. There are some cases where textile graphics have been used in retail spaces to implement or aid the normal COVID protective steps of social distancing, etc.”
Diversifying a Retail Environment
What that boils down to for the PSP servicing the retail client is to continue doing what they do best in the digital printing space. From sophisticated branding messages to presenting a storefront that looks clean and approachable, digitally printed textile signage will remain a staple in the retail industry.
“Banners, mesh banner, POP, advertising flags, art reproductions … there are so many different applications,” Nonte says. “It’s a competitive space and using textiles to display messages is an opportunity for retailers to differentiate themselves. Retail displays must be unique, and textiles give them a chance to stand out.”
“In retail settings, it’s important that the retailer use textile signage that not only looks good and complements the existing décor, but also captures attention and achieves the intended purpose,” Hunter adds.
From eye-catching window displays to a sales special, she notes that a digital print is the way to go. “While eco-solvent and UV inks can be used for creating fabric signage, dye-sublimated fabrics yield the best results when it comes to overall appearance, vibrancy, wash durability, and versatility.”
And that perhaps is the ultimate allure on the PSP side. “In today’s wide-format world, most printers will have multiple technologies, and may want the capability to produce a few textile graphics to complement their core line,” Peck says. And while sources agree that dye-sub is ultimately the most ideal way to go, having options is never a bad thing in a world that requires flexibility. “Using existing assets for textiles is a great and economical way to broaden the printer’s product offering,” Peck adds.
At the end of the day, it’s all about what is the best fit for the application, and in a retail environment, digital textile signage is a near-perfect match. “Companies will focus on how they can be more sustainable and safer,” Nonte finishes. “Textile displays not only look great but can be easily switched out with new graphics. New opportunities for textile display is the silver lining, the good that came from the bad.”