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Eye-catching tent graphics

Features, Trend Watch | June 1, 2013 | By:

Tent graphics distinguish outdoor events.

There are many techniques to dress up a tent: fabric swags, pendant lighting and LED light shows, to name a few. Add printing on tents to the list of ways to distinguish an event. Whether your client is a multinational corporation that wants to emphasize its brand presence or a bride and groom looking to personalize their wedding, tent manufacturers and rental companies can promote graphics to create a memorable event.

Tent graphics have become more sophisticated over the years, with much of the credit going to digital printing. Digital printing, in which graphics are printed directly onto a vinyl tent, leads to favorable results time after time, says Sarah Lapping, director of sales and marketing for Economy Tent International in Miami, Fla.

“With the digital printing method, you can obtain polychromatic graphics with sharp colors, fast production and durability, considering a combination of good quality machines and ink, proper software and trained personnel,” she notes.

Most permanent applications are applied to the fabric before the tent is built or assembled on the production floor, according to Alex Kouzmanoff, vice president of Aztec Tents in Torrance, Calif. “We try to steer customers into more permanent applications when the graphics are going to be used across several different events where the durability of a permanent solution will hold up better,” he says.

Printed applications are seemingly endless. “A corporation could include their logo, brand color or new slogan,” says Fred Tracy, president of Fred’s Tents & Canopies Inc. in Stillwater, N.Y. “They could also create a theme
or mood related to their brand.”

To show the possibilities of digital printing on tents, Fred’s Tents created an installation that showed an underwater scene. Three sides were printed with images of a
coral reef, and on the top three mermaids snorkeled with a starfish. Fred’s Tents even printed water drops directly onto the tent’s
aluminum frame.

Tracy completed the look by
projecting images of sea turtles “swimming” amid the coral while
incorporating music to catch all
the senses. “When it was outside and lit, it looked like you were underwater,” he says.

Alternate printing options

Some situations call for a printing method other than digital direct to fabric. Dye sublimation—a process that uses heat to transfer dye onto a material—works well for end uses such as pop-up tents, according to Scott Campbell, president of Rainier Industries in Tukwila, Wash.

“The dye-sublimation products are great for tents that travel around the country and are set up a couple of times a day,” he says. “Generally, the fabric would be polyester, which is more pliable and holds up better for repeated use.” Campbell also emphasizes that dye-sub fabrics often don’t have the strength for larger tents.

As an alternative to printing directly on tents, Fred’s Tents has manufactured removable printable panels attached to a tent using Velcro®, a clip or a buckle.

Temporary or onetime events may be good candidates for graphics backed by pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA). These decals “can last for multiple installations, but that is more the exception rather than the expected,” Kouzmanoff says. “It is certainly recommended to have a backup graphic ready to apply if you try to utilize these types of graphic applications on multiple installations.”

Additionally, Kouzmanoff recommends that end users contact a local sign and banner supplier who has experience in applying PSA decals to attach the graphic panels in the field.

Tents and their attachment issues

The nature of vinyl tents creates an inherent challenge with digital printing. “Fabric suppliers create vinyl tent fabrics that are very pliable for the rigors of rental use,” says Charlie Rueb, display division manager at Rainier.

Adds Campbell, “We want our suppliers to make vinyl tent fabrics designed so nothing sticks to the surface to reduce stains and dirt adhesion. But by the way, we do want ink to stick to that same
fabric. That obviously is a tug of war.”

All this, Rueb says, “has forced ink
suppliers to create inks that have both good adhesion and flexibility, and that
is a challenge.”

Fabric manufacturers also are doing their part to make the digital printing process more effective. “Higher-end fabric suppliers work to provide fabrics that inks adhere to better and have consistent coatings,” Rueb notes. “If the coating on the fabric is not consistent, the variation in coating can cause colors to shift, which
is a big problem.”

When in doubt about a vinyl, Kouzmanoff says that “it’s always best to test new materials or substrates prior to running to assure a quality bond of the
ink to the material.”

Many tent manufacturers have found that UV-curable inks hold up best on vinyl tents. “Any good-quality solvent ink has UV resistance, and if a top coat with extra UV protection additives is added, as we do, then you will obtain a long-lasting graphic,” Lapping says.

She also notes that any top coat must be applied after the ink is completely cured—about 12 hours after printed. “Otherwise, the ink solvents will be retained and the vinyl will stick when the cover is folded.”

Managing customer expectations

Tent manufacturers and rental companies can ensure a smooth printing process by keeping their customers informed along the way. One important factor to communicate is timing.
“For graphics that are applied during production, there is an increase in time to actually produce the tent, create layouts and align graphic
elements that might be printed across multiple panels,” Kouzmanoff says.

For its part, Economy Tent tells customers
of the lead time to process the graphics and
provide a mock-up. Once the customer approves the mock-up, printing and manufacturing can take up to four weeks.


If you’re working with a corporate client, expect color matching to be an important issue. “Every corporate company has specific Pantone® colors which are used to make up their brand, and they are very fussy about
accurate color matching,” Rueb says. “We custom match corporate colors
on each material by using color
management and proofing.”

Tent manufacturers also can provide a sample of the printing on the actual vinyl to customers, “as the registration of the colors will vary based on the material it is printed on,” explains Hal Lapping of Economy Tent.

The most difficult part of printing, according to Rainier’s Campbell, is getting the correct file. “File formats vary, but it’s important to ask for the native file and in the largest size available.”

Depending on the tent’s location and positioning, viewing distance of a graphic may become an important consideration. “A lot of it has to do with proportion,” says Tracy. For example, the mermaids featured in the underwater-themed tent were larger because of their placement at the top.

“If you did a French Riviera backdrop to a themed wedding,
the image would have to be proportionate to the size of the event,” he says. “If it is too big or too small, it loses its effectiveness.”

Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer based in Pine City, Minn.

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