Opaque, transparent………. Or translucent? When buying custom made stage draperies or backdrops, what type of fabric should I choose and when?

This IS a great question – and in fact one which we are asked very frequently.  One of the first conversations I like to have when a new client connects with me is in fact – where is the drape going and how do you intend to use it?

So here are some tips and tricks for selecting an appropriate flame retardant fabric for your stage, theatre or event, as well as some key product fabric names to put in the mix for each category.

OPAQUE:

o·paque

adjective

1. not able to be seen through; not transparent.

So let’s start with the heavy weight of the industry – the OPAQUE textiles that allow absolutely NO light through them. To determine if you have an opaque fabric, set it against a window, and if you can’t see any light passing through it then it is indeed opaque.  Opaque materials have uses in theatre and special events where you have a need to completely mask a light source, or to hide any all activity or action going on behind the drape.

An example – an upstage masking drape on a theatre stage where there is an artist walkway or passage way behind it.  You may have some low level lighting back there for the cast to move safely – and you won’t want to see the light or the people as they cross from stage left to stage right behind the drape.

A second example
– portable dressing room spaces or artist rest zones…. Such as pipe and drape setups in an arena that are designed to provide privacy. You won’t want everyone seeing the shadows through the drape if there are people changing in there – you want privacy for the artist and certainly don’t need to encourage any peeping – so again – an opaque material would be the right choice here.

Lastly – a main stage grand drape in a traditional theatre installation needs to be opaque.  When the drape is closed and in audience view – you don’t want to see any set changes taking place on stage – so the drape needs to be opaque.  Bear in mind, however – you can make a drape opaque by LINING it with a second fabric….. so don’t eliminate a cloth choice just because it is not opaque in and of itself.  If budget permits, then a lining will indeed do the trick.

Here are some fabrics that are OPAQUE:

22oz Encore Velour (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/vel_22encore.php)

13oz Apollo Velour (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/vel_apollo.php)

Roadura (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/masking_roadura.php)

And an OPAQUE LINING option: Ranger Lining Cloth: (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/masking_ranger.php)

TRANSLUCENT:

trans·lu·cent

adjective

1. (of a substance) allowing light, but not detailed images, to pass through; semitransparent.

TRANSLUCENT fabrics are very often lighter to the touch and fall into the silky and soft categories. Usually medium to light weight, these more translucent materials are typically polyesters, poly blends or nylons; however, there are some finely milled cottons that are also translucent.  Translucency is important in scenarios such as these:

1) you plan to “back light” the drapery and you want the drapes to glow with the lighting effects from behind

2) you are going to create a silhouette effect with artists or props……… in these scenarios we put a person behind the translucent drapes and then light them from behind – what we the audience will see is in fact the shadow or silhouette of the action.  This is a dramatic effect often used at the start of concerts.

3) you won’t have any backlight at all to contend with – in this case it really isn’t an issue if a fabric is a medium or light weight or if it is translucent – if you are always using front light – and have no concern that back lighting will impact the effect, then you have many fabrics to choose from

4) you plan to rear project video onto the backdrop or drapery – for a “poor man’s” projection screen, we often see translucent fabrics used for rear (and of course front) projection.  It is an affordable way to get a large surface to project video or images onto from behind.

AIC_Silhouette

Some TRANSLUCENT fabrics we represent that are popular in the marketplace are:

Poly Silk (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/sss_poly_silk.php)

Stretch Cambio: (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/stretch_cambio.php)

Textura: (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/sss_textura.php)

TRANSPARENT:

trans·par·ent

adjective

1. (of a material or article) allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.

Flame retardant fabrics that are transparent are a unique lineup of textiles.  The most common materials that are used are the “magic fabrics” such Sharkstooth Scrim, Opera Net, Bobinette or Gauze.  Other materials such as Voile (pronounced Voy-el) are also transparent.  I like to compare transparent to sheer – or “very see through”.

There are of course plenty of opportunities to use these transparent materials – in particular the “magic fabrics” such as sharkstooth scrim.  What makes this an interesting and popular cloth is that when front lit it will take on the appearance of being opaque – but it is in fact an optical illusion due to the coarse weave of the cotton threads.  When you remove the front light from the cloth and light whatever object is on the stage behind the cloth then you will see right through it! And there is the magic.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  Traditional theatre productions love scrim and bobinettes for these special effects.  The fabrics tend however to be more fragile than their translucent or opaque counterparts – so for a touring environment they aren’t as well suited.

Sharkstooth Scrim: (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/scrim_sharkstooth.php)

Bobinette: (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/scrim_bobinette.php)

Voile: (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/sss_voile.php)

For those who want to read a little more about scrims – or are undure of how the effect works – we have a white paper on it on our website: http://www.sewwhatinc.com/faq_cyclorama_scrim_backdrop.php

For a downloadable whitepaper answering questions on fabric choice, see our whitepaper, “Making the Best Fabric Choice for Stage Draperies