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17 06, 2010

Digital Backdrop Tips

By |June 17th, 2010|Digital Printing, Education|1 Comment

So, you’re the manager of an up and coming indie band about to start their first club tour.  Or you have a trade show booth and you want your booth to stand out from the crowd.  Or you are with a church or school about to debut a new production.  You think you want a digitally printed backdrop, but you’re feeling a little intimidated because you don’t know much about the process of purchasing a custom digital backdrop.   Well, I hope this post starts you on the path and relieves that intimidation just a bit!


The first thing to consider is how the backdrop will be used, as different fabric substrates work better for different applications.  Will it be frontlit or backlit?  Will you be using it indoors or outdoors?  Do you want it opaque or sheer? Do you plan to use it as a kabuki?  Are you planning to project on it?  Are you looking for a traditional fabric substrate, or something along the lines of a vinyl or vinyl mesh?  Think about these issues, and then discuss your needs with us so that we can recommend the substrate that is most appropriate for your project.

Print Method

There are two basic methods of digital printing – direct print and dye sublimation.  Some factors to consider when choosing between the two methods are: fabric feel (stiffer or softer), maximum seamless width, image resolution, color saturation, and budget.    I’ve posted about the difference between the two in a prior post, so I won’t repeat myself here, but this is definitely a item to consider.


Because traditional stage backdrops and custom stage curtains are priced on an individual basis, according to a variety of factors including size, face fabric, lining fabric (if any), fullness, design complexity, and much more, it is difficult (if not impossible) to give a “ballpark” on the price of a stage curtain.  There is not an “average”, because there is no such thing as an “average” theatre drape – there are just too many variables.  

However, digitally printed backdrops tend to have much fewer variables.  Nearly all of them are sewn flat (unpleated), and the number of available substrates is relatively limited.  For that reason, digitally printed backdrops are typically priced by the square foot, based on the substrate and print method.  This allows you to have a rough idea of the price as you make decisions on size and substrate.  

One substrate and/or print method might have a higher price per square foot, whereas another substrate and/or print method might have a lower price per square foot.   If budget is an issue (which I think it is for everyone these days – even though the budget may be higher for some than for others), then you should keep in mind the


Other than a small number of “special offer” stock digital backdrops, the custom digital backdrops that we produce are based on print-ready artwork provided by the customer (though we do offer limited graphic services to assist in preparing or repairing your file).  You may purchase the image from a stock image source (there are a number on the Internet), you may create it yourself, or you may utilize the services of a commercial graphic designer.  Keep in mind that, due to copyright laws, you must be the copyright owner (or have permission from the copyright owner) to print an image.

Typically, you will be asked to provide the artwork to Sew What? in a digital file.  At Sew What, we work with Windows PC-based files only (rather than Mac files), and we prefer that files be saved as an EPS or a PSD file, as we work primarily in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.  All files should be in layers, in CMYK color mode.  We can also work with Vector art that is delivered as an EPS or .AI file.  Files may be delivered in a variety of methods, including floppy disk, Zip disk, CD/DVD, e-mail, or FTP, depending on the size of the file.  More detailed information may be found in our File Preparation Guidelines.

Well, I hope this post gives you the information that you need to start planning your digital backdrop.  Feel free to call us with any questions  – we’d be happy to help.

14 06, 2010

Stage Backdrops

By |June 14th, 2010|Education, Products|0 Comments

I realized today that I have posted a number of times about digitally printed backdrops, but I haven’t spent much time on the other types of backdrops that we make – specifically theatrical backdrops, painters backdrops and painted scenic stage backdrops.

Theatre Backdrops

Theatre backdrops are typically made flat (unpleated) utilizing flame retardant natural muslin.  Depending on budget and the size of the backdrop, the stage backdrop may be made seamless or with horizontal or vertical seams.  Typically, a stage backdrop will have webbing, grommets and ties on top, with a pipe pocket on the bottom (which allows a pipe to be inserted to pull the backdrop flat and taut).

Painters Backdrop

A painters backdrop is basically the same as a theatre backdrop, but is provided as “ready to paint.”  Most often chosen by schools and colleges, these are usually scenically painted in-house by members of the theatre or art department.   Because the addition of paint will render a flame retardant muslin backdrop as non-flame retardant, painters backdrops are typically made with non-flame retardant muslin.  In order to ensure that the finished painted backdrop is flame retardant, special flame retardant chemicals are added to the paint, and the back of the painted backdrop is also sprayed with flame retardant chemicals.

Occasionally, flame retardant muslin is chosen for a painters backdrop (even with the knowledge that it will no longer be flame retardant once painted) to reduce the possibility that the backdrop will shrink once painted.  The addition of flame retardant chemicals to the surface of the raw fabric helps “size” the fabric, thereby reducing shrinkage once painted.  However, the painted backdrop will still need to be treated for flame retardancy in the manner described above.

Scenic Stage Backdrops

A Scenic Stage Backdrop starts out as a regular stage backdrop or painters backdrop, but is handpainted by an artist at the time of manufacture, according to artwork supplied by the customer.  Scenic artists use a variety of techniques and paints to achieve just the right look as desired by the customer, will apply all the necessary flame retardant chemicals and will provide a Certificate of Flame Retardancy for the completed piece.  With this option, the customer receives a “turnkey” piece without needing to find an artist or worry about applying flame retardant chemicals.

As you can see, there are a variety of types of theatrical backdrops available to choose from – plain and ready to paint and painted (and, of course, digitally printed, as I’ve posted on before) – and something for just about everyone’s budget.

11 06, 2010

Nashville Flood

By |June 11th, 2010|News|0 Comments

By now, I am sure that you know about last month’s flooding in Nashville.  The area was devastated, with many homes and businesses affected.  One area that really hit home for us here was the effect the flooding had on Soundcheck and other music related businesses in the area (many of whom are our customers and friends).

You might not be familiar with Soundcheck, but it is a music rehearsal and storage facility utilized by many, many recording artists, both from country music and from rock and roll, to store their instruments, amps, equipment, and even stage drapes and skirting.

The effect of the flooding of Soundcheck was tremendous – millions of dollars in losses, much of it not covered by insurance.  Instruments belonging to artists such as Brad Paisley and Keith Urban (and needed for their upcoming tours) – ruined in the flooding.  Vintage guitars – irreplaceable – ruined in the flooding.  Historic instruments played by legends like Jimi Hendrix and Hank Williams Sr., recently donated to the newly created Musicians Hall of Fame – ruined in the flooding.

And Soundcheck is just one example.  Nashville is a city with a tremendous focus on music, and so there are a number of staging companies, storage facilities, rehearsal facilities, and the like that have been affected by the flooding. 

And the losses aren’t limited to instruments and amps.  There’s lighting equipment and sound boards and a host of other equipment pieces.  And there are soft goods.  You don’t read about that in the newspapers, but there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in stage drapery and skirting stored in Soundcheck and various other places in Nashville. 

In some cases, unique custom drapery pieces, designed specifically for an artist or band, were lost in the flood.  That is one type of soft goods loss – a few pieces, each with a relatively high dollar value.  But in many cases, the loss was one of quantity – a single stage skirt or basic masking drape is relatively inexpensive to replace, but for a company that has lost their entire inventory (hundreds of skirts and masking drapes) in the flooding, the dollar loss can add up to a devastating financial hit.  And that is just on the soft goods.  That isn’t including damage to other equipment or to their offices and facilities.

One of our long-time customers with a facility in Nashville sent us some photos of the flooding – I just had to share:

Pretty bad, isn’t it?

So, the next time you head out to a concert, and you start to complain (either silently to yourself or to the person next to you) about the price of the concert, think about all that has been lost in the Nashville flooding – millions of dollars worth of instruments, equipment, and soft goods (much of it not insured), and priceless pieces of history. 

And think about the fact that maybe, just maybe, a little bit of the price of your ticket is going to pay a staging company that is trying to recover from flood losses, or to pay (for the second time) for the instruments and equipment and drapery that is all on stage, designed to give you a memorable experience.  Maybe then the price of admission won’t seem that high.

9 06, 2010

June & July Anniversaries

By |June 9th, 2010|Sew What Team|0 Comments

For those who are regular readers of this blog, you know that every month I post on employee anniversaries.

Since we have just one anniversary per month in June & July, I thought I’d combine the two into a single post.  Next month, I’ll bring you a post on another related topic instead.


Tammy, Bookkeeper – 2 years


Maria B, Sewing Machine Operator – 4 years

7 06, 2010

Working with “Glee” Live

By |June 7th, 2010|News, Projects|1 Comment

We got another opportunity recently to work in conjunction with our sister company, Rent What?, and this was a particuarly fun project – the three-week, four city touring show of the hit Fox television series “Glee.”  This is a bit of a novelty for us – we work with music tours all the time, but most aren’t associated with a hit TV show!

This tour had a wealth of industry powerhitters working on the design and production of the show, including Butch Allen, Ray Woodbury and Peter Morse, so we knew from the start that it would be a great project to work on.

The tour used a variety of custom stage curtains and set pieces to set the mood and highlight the performers.  One scene was highlighted by the use of the “Crimson Cabaret” drape, part of Rent What’s “Timeless and Traditional” series (those of you who follow this blog know that I have posted on this drape on several occasions – it is amazing how versatile it is).

Sew What? got into the act as well.  In addition to a couple of 30′ h x 60′ w Double Kabukis (one in White Voile and the other in Black Poly Silk), Sew What? provided some fun custom stage set elements, including several “rock chic” tuck and roll “vintage amp covers” in a red glitter vinyl.

Unfortunately, the show is over – it opened in Phoenix on May 13th and finished up at Radio City Music Hall in New York City at the end of May – but based on the reviews, it sounds like it was a great show.  Let’s hope for another (and longer) tour in the future – we’d love to work on it again!