Digital printing on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao.

by Pierre Wouters

In issue 95 of Eurostitch Magazine, I wrote about our companies on the island of Curaçao: Stitch One, Grafitex and DP+D (Digital Print and Design). Grafitex started as a silkscreen company 25 years ago printing textiles and vinyl stickers (decals). In 1998 we started with embroidery (Stitch One) and 2½ years ago we made the decision to start with digital printing (DP+D).

Because we were not familiar with this type of printing, we delayed our investment in this, for us a new and unknown technique, for a couple of years. However, at the same time we were also facing a dramatic drop in our screenprinted decals (vinyl stickers), which made up 40% of our sales.

We could not believe that our decal screenprint market was moving so quickly to digital printing. Therefore, we made the decision to buy a high-quality branded digital printing machine and started up with digital printing. Once we saw the possibilities this machine gave us, we were happy that we made this investment. We still use our 3/4 automatic screenprinting machine for bigger orders printed on vinyl.

Possibilities of digital printing

At present, the market demands a large quantity of stickers for use for all kind of purposes. Most of these stickers are given away for special campaigns and are stuck on the back of cars. We still print these larger orders in silkscreen simply because this is cheaper than digital print. Of course, it also depends on the design whether we choose to use silkscreen or digital print. Not everything can be printed in screenprint and also not everything is possible in digital print. It is our experience that the combination of silkscreen print and digital print is perfect; we should have taken this step a few years earlier.

We were, and still are, very surprised of the possibilities of the digital printing machine. In the beginning we just stocked vinyl but later we tried out other materials. For example, now we do digital printing on canvas, car shades, poster material and heat transfers for smaller textile orders. Picture digital printing on canvas. Sometimes we combine a digital heat-transfer order with embroidery on the front. Most of the time we use heat transfers for smaller orders and also for caps.

We created new possibilities for our companies in a market we were never in. Now, we can also offer the client banners, posters or even print a picture on canvas that looks like a real painting.

Sometimes a client walks in for an embroidery order and will also place an order for a digital print job if we offer that. That is what most clients want. They don’t want to drive around the island to get their orders done, but want one address where they can do everything. Because we can offer this one-stop-shopping concept, it has definitely worked to our advantage.

Once we bought the digital printing machine we employed someone who was already familiar with Photoshop and other graphic-design programs. He also prints the films we need for screenprinting.

When the digital printer is operating you can do other work, especially if you have large orders that require a lot of machine time. Of course you have to check on the quality and also when you use the pre-cut option you have to check if the cut is deep enough to peel out the sticker. We once had an order that was finished on time but the knife did not cut deep enough.

Because we live on an island we do need to stock a lot of different types of materials, including the inks. All these products are not available on the island and have to be imported from the USA. Sometimes we use couriers such as FedEx or DHL to get the merchandise in very quickly. When the stock of one typical type of material is too low, we do need to take these steps. It depends of course if the customer wants to pay for these extra costs. Normally, we ship our materials by ocean freight, which is much cheaper but takes around two weeks to arrive on the island.

Operation of the digital printing machine

To operate the digital machine is not too difficult: you do need to know how to use Photoshop and you also need to know how to advise the client on the type of material his/her order can be best printed on. Because there is a very large variety of materials, you need to know what the specific possibilities of each material are. For example, we print large quantities of pre-cut digital stickers used for locally prepared frozen and bakery food products. Pictures pre-cut decal for bakery products and pre-cut decal for frozen products.

We did a lot of tests to be sure the decal would stick well on the packed product and it was also necessary that the client could write on the decal the expiry date of the product. Even after the product is defrosted, the decal should still stick well on the product.

We have also bought a machine to laminate some of our orders. Pictures machine to laminate and laminated sign.

The Sun (which we do have shining almost all year around) has a big impact on the product. For example, for car decals or any other items that will be used outdoors, we always advise the client to laminate it – this will protect the product for a long time and the ink will not fade away. Of course, it’s an extra handling process to laminate the product, which will cost more.

We do not often have problems with the digital printing machine. Once a year a technician flies over from the USA and services all machines of the same brand on the island. Once, we had a problem with the machine but solved this problem ourselves via e-mail and telephone. However, we realised that in the case of a big technical problem the production with the digital printing machine would come to a complete standstill. This would mean a big problem for both us and our clients. That is why we made the decision to buy our second digital printer this year. Even though it is not the right time to make these kinds of investment, we do need a backup if the main machine isn’t working.

It is all about giving our clients good service so we can keep them in the future. In combination with screenprint and embroidery we can offer the client a total service for what he/she needs.

Market information        

Number of digital printing companies or sign companies on Curaçao: 7.

Two or three specialise in signs or neon signs, billboards and larger sizes of digital printing for exhibitions and fairs.

The others do business similar to us but not in combination with other activities.

Most of the business is for the local market and some for the other Caribbean Islands, including Bonaire, Aruba and St Maarten – for example: billboards, signs, neon signs, flags, car decals, posters, banners etc.

Of course there is competition in the market. The island is small and everyone knows each other. Even though it is not the right time to make these kinds of investment, we invested in a new digital printing machine. We do need a backup if the main machine does not work. It is a matter of respecting each other’s business and trying for yourself to be always one step ahead of your competitors.

Curaçao does have a lot of business opportunities for the future. But of course, there is more than just work. The island has beautiful beaches, great food, friendly people and much more to enjoy. Willemstad, our capital, is a UNESCO world heritage city. That’s why more and more people are discovering Curaçao.

Our future plans include expanding our various business lines. For this reason we are also looking for investment partners who wish to grow with us. Also, we do not exclude the possibility of selling the businesses altogether if we receive an attractive proposal. Interested parties can always contact us at ++ 5999 736 3422 or ++ 5999 767 1874  or by email at . Please ask for Pierre Wouters