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4 02, 2015

Opaque, Transparent, or Translucent…Understanding Different Theatrical Fabrics

By |February 4th, 2015|Education, Fabrics, Products|6 Comments

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.




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 (

13oz Apollo Velour (

Roadura (

And an OPAQUE LINING option: Ranger Lining Cloth: (




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.


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

Poly Silk (

Stretch Cambio: (

Textura: (




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: (

Bobinette: (

Voile: (

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:

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

27 01, 2015

Preparing an Image for Digital Backdrop Printing

By |January 27th, 2015|Digital Printing, Products|2 Comments

I want a backdrop with an image on it – but I don’t have the image. What are my options?

Often we meet clients who have a vision for a backdrop image – but they don’t physically have the image itself as a digital file. Unlike a painted backdrop – where a sketch and some artistic licence leaves the finished product in the hands of your artist – today’s “wide format digital printing” methods are a different approach to customized backdrops and require some high-tech image delivery methods.

Jason Ald_7

Some benefits of digital printing include short turnaround times, photo finish quality, the ability to regenerate a backdrop with “exactly” the art or design you had hoped for – and simple and accurate replication of logos and branding in a large scale.

The downside however is that you get “out” of the printer” what you put “in” to the printer.  In other words – the quality of the printed output is directly in relation to the quality and resolution of the file that you provide to us at the time you order your digitally printed backdrop.

Here are some tips and tricks when providing – or building – your digital printing file.

  1. Whenever possible provide a file that is a vector based file.  Vector art can be scaled endlessly – therefore a vector file will always look clean and crisp even when enlarged to grand format sizing. You may hear it called “line art” or “vector art” – most professional graphic designers will be able to produce vector art for you, especially if your file is a logo.
  2. If you are buying photos or images to reproduce, check first that the file size will be adequate.  Ideally we like to print at around 72 dpi MINIMUM when we print a backdrop – so that means that when the art is scaled smaller in dimensions for delivery, the dpi must be exponentially higher…. so that when enlarged to full size the file is at a minimum of 72 dpi.
  3. Try to avoid at all costs “up-ressing” your art files or “unnaturally forcing” dots per inch into the file.  Some programs such as Photoshop allow you to take a low res image and then tell it to “have more dots per inch”.  The problem is that the file then becomes muddy and blurry – it’s really not ideal and won’t lead to a great output.  Try to start with a file that is the right size.
  4. When building art (for ANY of your promotional materials), ask your graphic artist to create the logos in a way that they will be scale-able for many different uses – for example if you create your CD cover art as vector art – then you would be able to print the file as a backdrop, too!  BUT if you build your CD art to scale at 6″ x 6″ (the size of the CD Cover) and if you build it as a flattened jpeg – then no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to print a good looking backdrop from the file.
  5. If you want it done professionally – and your artist isn’t familiar with wide format printing requirements – then consider contracting directly with one of our preferred graphic artists.  Sometimes it is just easier and faster to go straight to the right resource!

There’s plenty more to it – and many more details on our website, on our Digital Printing page, as well as on the pdf version of our File Preparation Guidelines. This is just a little starter tips and tricks for you to get the conversation rolling – let us know how we can help!

If you want some inspiration then check out our Digital Printing Portfolio………..if you can dream it, we can print it! LARGER THAN LIFE BACKDROPS by Sew What? Inc.

3 04, 2014

Customize Your Show with a Digitally Printed Backdrop

By |April 3rd, 2014|Digital Printing, Products, Projects|0 Comments

There are many different ways to customize stage drapery to fit your design vision for the tour set design, but one of the best ways to really make the audience remember the show (and the band) is through the use of a custom digitally printed backdrop.

Here are just a few ideas when considering what type of image to feature on a digitally printed scenic backdrop.

The Artist’s or Band’s Name

Jason Ald_7

The audience won’t forget who they came to see when you feature the artist’s name, front and center, as shown above in this backdrop made for country music star Jason Aldean.  Adding some color and graphic elements makes the backdrop even more eye-catching and unique.

The Tour Name / Theme

Ken Ches_28

For each tour, designers for Kenny Chesney focus on a new theme – complete with digital backdrops highlighting new and exciting artwork.

Whether it’s the Poets and Pirates Tour of 2008 or the Goin’ Coastal 2011 Tour, faithful fans will be delighted year after year.

Repeated Graphic Elements

She Cro_2

Another option is to move away from literal images and feature graphic elements instead.  Designers for Sheryl Crow choose this eye-catching design of repeating circles to make the set pop.

She Cro_1

By using a seemingly simple graphic design, but backlighting the backdrop with different colored lights, the design changes throughout the show.

These are just three of the many different directions you can go with a custom digitally printed backdrop.  The great thing is, when you (or your graphic artist) create the artwork, the only limit is your imagination!

8 10, 2013

Appliqued Backdrop For Panic! at the Disco

By |October 8th, 2013|Products, Projects|2 Comments

Back in late August, we made a gorgeous custom backdrop for Panic! at the Disco.  We all knew it looked beautiful in our sewing shop, but after looking at the amazing concert photos of Panic at the Disco that that our graphics coordinator Andrea Rennard found on Flickr and built a Gallery around, I knew I had to post on the project.

The process started with an apparently simple brief – make a black backdrop that prominently displayed the band’s logo in a reflective material.  Sew What Senior Sales and Creative Director Shane Nelsen dove in head first.  The solution to the underlying black backdrop was readily apparent – IFR Black 22oz Encore.  Selecting the best applique material was a little more challenging, but Shane was up to the task, working with our purchasing agent Greg Bowles to come up with a variety of samples of reflective materials for production to choose from.  The final choice? A pearlescent mylar cloth that looked beautiful as-is while also taking on colored lighting like a dream.

Our sewing shop began the project with building the flat black 24′ h x 40′ w backdrop. Then, our graphics coordinator Andrea Rennard utilized the band’s logo file to print a vinyl pattern of the 17′ h x 23′ w logo on our grand format digital printer.  This vinyl pattern was used by our sewing shop staff to cut out the appliqué from the pearlescent mylar. Then came the painstaking work of carefully sewing the appliqué onto the backdrop.  Sounds easy, but as the logo is nearly all curves, meticulous sewing was required to minimize shirring and puckering of the fabric.

The final project turned out to be gorgeous, as I’m sure you will agree after seeing these amazing photographs taken by Marion Mirou-Sirot at the band’s concert in Toronto in September.

 Panic! At The Disco

 Photo Courtesy © Marion Mirou-Sirot

Panic! At The Disco

 Photo Courtesy © Marion Mirou-Sirot

I love the way that the contrast of the black and white photo highlights the appliqué, while the color photo shows the versatility of the fabric when lit with colored lights.

There are many more beautiful photos of this backdrop.  If you’d like to see more, check out our Panic! at the Disco Gallery on Flickr.


4 10, 2013

Rediscovering a cool Motley Crue project

By |October 4th, 2013|Digital Printing, Projects|2 Comments

I have been spending some time sorting the Sew What? image archives, and it’s such a blast to walk down “drapery” lane. We really have had some stellar opportunities to put our stage backdrops both behind, and in front of, some top artists.

This project takes us back to June of 2006…………… when our very favorite graphic artist and master of imagery, Mr John Rios of Grafix Jam, prepared art for this MOTLEY CRUE tour – bringing about the design vision of Scott Holthaus.

There were various components in this stage set, all of textiles, making it a real showcase project for us!

At the start of the show, there was a SINGLE KABUKI, 34’0″h x 64’0″w sewn of FR Rip Stop, Black. This was a utility drape – used to hide the Motley Crue set during walk in time and also while the opening act was on stage. A basic black single kabuki is usually used for this type of scenario – it is an affordable soft good solution to mask the stage. With the Kabuki solenoids offering quick electrical deployment, they are a wonderfully easy and fast solution to “now you see it now you don’t!”

The main drapery elements for the stage set were the digitally printed kabuki drop and matching main drape kabuki legs. The body of the drop was designed to look like hospital ward, with aging tiles walls, frightening scars and scratches – real “cuckoo’s nest” feeling. The larger drape element being a 33’h x 60’w section – digitally printed on our Vutek Direct UV Printer, and the leg segments having graphic elements that matched up and overlapped for a seamless image. Digital printing certainly offers so many opportunities to bring large scale graphics to the stage. It’s very dynamic to have a concert stage backdrop that can be seen by the audience no matter where they are sitting.

Mot Crue_4

Dimensional staging gave lots of depth to the design and by creatively using digitally printed textile covers and facades for the staging elements, the feeling of a hospital ward was achieved. It allowed the lighting designer to select a single area on the stage to focus light – and draw the attention of the audience to a smaller area. Use of other textures such as vinyl coated mesh with digital printing to match, as well as some printed gaming suede, was used. The suede, when printed, takes on a very weathered and antiqued look. The vinyl coated mesh is transparent to sound allowing it to be used on the speaker stack fronts.

The upstage riser element gave a place for the artists to showcase while performing; beneath the risers, the various instrument technicians were able to house their equipment, all hidden behind over 500 square feet of printed stage skirting. We embedded Velcro doors and portholes into the design so that the technicians had access to the stage when needed – and it appeared seamless to the audience during show time.

Mot Crue_1

Part of the stage “flew in” on motors, creating what was referred to as the WONKA ROOM. This was fabric that was padded and upholstered to give the effect of a white padded cell room – with flickering fluorescent lights and all! The roof piece that flew in on motors spanned 20’w x 24’d, and we used a vinyl backing, then padded the face with a gaming suede front – buttons and studs gave a “white walled” effect. It was a great scene when all the stage lights went out and just the flickering padded room was left in lighting……… and let there be music!


As always there were lots of other generic stage drape and black masking softgoods, all sewn from our IFR Encore velour. It’s a really great textile – durable, washable and perfect for the rigors of the road.

Good times for all – gotta love the Crue – and what a Crue Fest it was!