Going soft - How dye-sublimation soft signage has completed the impressive service offerings at Ottimo Digital

July 05, 2019
“We've always benefited from investing in the best technology and the best print machinery that we could buy, and that has brought work along with it.” - Nick Lindwall “We've always benefited from investing in the best technology and the best print machinery that we could buy, and that has brought work along with it.” - Nick Lindwall

Ottimo Digital has a full array of wide format service provision, which according to its two founder directors Lee Crew and Nick Lindwall are offerings you simply can’t refuse. Whatever you require from super-wide graphics, through to PVC banners, Foamex, backlits, POP and everything in between, this Newport, South Wales-based print shop has got it covered.

Underpinning this 360 wrap around service is the simple but uncompromising driver – to ensure forward, successful growth.

In its ten years, forward successful growth is a leading characteristic of this wide-format trade services company.

Founded by boyhood pals, (the aforementioned Nick Lindwall and Lee Crew) to service the exhibitions sector, in the great tradition of humble beginnings, the company started off in premises the size of a back bedroom with a 1600mm wide Mutoh inkjet printer.

Since those days the company has grown year on year, has new premises, a staff of 15 and turnover of £2 million. Exhibition work still accounts for more than half its output.

However, it seems that Ottimo is about to take another leap forward, thanks to the arrival of a significant piece of kit, the EFI VUTEk FabriVu 340i dye sublimation printer, purchased through independent wide-format digital print specialist CMYUK.

The FabriVu 340i is a new variant of the EFI VUTEk 340 FabriVu soft signage printer. Crew and Lindwall first saw the machine when it made its debut at FESPA in Berlin last year.

Featuring an inline fixation unit, which negates the need for a separate calendaring unit, the 340i was designed for PSPs like Ottimo that wish to grow the soft signage part of their business but with a one-step approach.

Says Crew: “The FabriVu 340i has its own in-line sublimation so print comes off the machine as a finished piece ready for converting. That takes a lot of the dark art away and makes it a lot less scary prospect to get into, especially as this is our first foray into dye sublimation print .”

It may be the company’s first experience of in-house dye sublimation work, but Ottimo had already been outputting soft signage i.e. backlit fabric through its 5m wide EFI VUTEk Quantum 5LXr UV printer generally for single use work, but felt that the UV was limited and the output simply wasn’t good enough.

The reason for finally deciding to purchase the FabriVu 340i was down to increasing customer demand, reflecting the growing trend in the event, retail and exhibition spaces towards fabric dye-sublimation. The benefits here are well known i.e ease of transport – fabric is light can be folded, isn’t prone to damage and can be reused. Then add color vibrancy, the ability to produce a fresh and highly impactful aesthetic that doesn’t suffer from lighting issues. No wonder soft signage is one of the fastest growing segments in digital printing.

These benefits were not lost on Ottimo’s clients who started to specifically ask for this type of printing process.

“The FabriVu 340i is a proper textile printer,” says Lindwall. “Our fabric prints before were ok but very much single use, whereas with a dye sublimation printer everything is so much better. The ink becomes part of the fabric. You can fold the fabric and it’s easy to transport. Everything can be reused.

Crew adds: “Customers were insisting they wanted dye-sublimated printing. They wanted the material to be folded. They wanted the look and feel of something much softer. They were also after the vibrancy of the print, you can’t get anywhere near the colour vibrancy with UV, whereas with dye sublimation you get really, really, punchy colours.”

The company is using CMYUK accredited premium textile materials from Pongs for Frontlit, Backlit, Blockout, Black Back and Flag applications. These have been calibrated to the machine to provide exceptional output quality.

Says Lindwall, “We have been very impressed with how the Pongs fabrics have performed on our FabriVu and coupled with the profiling support that both CMYUK and Pongs have provided, we can be assured of consistently high-quality print results across all of these textiles.”

The EFi VUTEK FabriVu 340i is the third EFI VUTEK machine the company has bought through CYMUK in as many years, representing an investment of nearly £1 million. However, the plant list also includes a high-speed EFI LX3 Pro Flatbed, Esko Kongsberg C64 digital cutting table, as well as its 5m wide UV printer and solvent printing capabilities.

Very shortly the company is to take delivery of a new AE automated conveyor sewing machine that will complement the soft signage work from the FabriVu 340i. Staff are being retrained to use this machine, but due to its semi automatic capability, the machine is able to do a great deal of the work itself, is faster and finishes fabrics to a far higher standard.

Ottimo Digital too, has just expanded its premises to accommodate the new machine, and has taken on an additional member of staff and retrained another to work on it.

However, rather than moving into new market sectors such as fast fashion and décor for example, the company’s focus is still very much targeted towards exhibition work. It expects to be able to service its regular customer base in a deeper way that matches current trends and client expectation.

“There’s also an obvious business benefit,” says Lindwall. “We're basically targeting work that we were missing out on before because we didn't have this technology. So we're hoping it will add a fair amount to our turnover.”

Likewise, it is expected that the dye sublimation capability will bring in new customers, and in turn expose them to the other processes and services that Ottimo Digital has to offer.

At present, the company is working with a few close clients to navigate the learning curve that bringing dye sublimation in-house has rendered. Says Lindwall: “We’re going at this one quite slowly because we want to get it absolutely spot on. Once we’ve got our new sewing capability in, and it’s up and running and we're happy with everything, we’ll start the promotional work. We just want to make sure that we get this right for our customers.”

Existing UV fabric backlit work will be migrated to the VUTEk 340i because the machine will do a better job. However, both directors point out that the FabriVu 340i is part of an impressive arsenal of equipment that can service all customers comprehensively.

It was really like the last machine for us to buy,” says Lindwall. “We've got the five meter wide printer so we can print as wide as possible in a single piece. We've got a high-speed flatbed and now we've got a textile printer as well plus we've got digital cutting.”

Adds Crew: “We’ve got all the assets now so our customers have no excuses to go anywhere else. We can do everything, you know, everything.”

The EFI VUTEk FabriVu 340i at a glance (box out)

  • 3.4-metre wide aqueous-based soft signage printer with inline sublimation
  • Vibrant four-colour printing with a wide colour gamut and deep colour saturation for exceptional fabric display graphics
  • Ultra-high resolution up to 2,400 dpi and four level greyscale printing with 4pL to 18pL drop sizes
  • Production speeds up to 250 m2 per hour
  • Auto printhead cleaning station increases printer uptime
  • Capping station to keep your system up and running
  • Medium-viscosity ink, high-resolution printheads, and ink recirculation for improved ink yield
  • Fiery® proServer SE with Fiery XF production digital front end and colour management workflow
  • Water-based CMYK dispersed-dye Genuine EFI Inks
  • Enhanced Service Program (ESP) warranty for your printer, Fiery proServer hardware, and Fiery XF software

For further information on Ottimo Digital, please visit www.ottimodigital.co.uk.

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