If you’ve studied the wide-format market for long, you know digital printing has one huge advantage over its analog forebears. It allows print service providers to give customers exactly what they want—every single time.
There are few better examples of that capability than décor printing. This niche makes it possible for the walls of restaurants to feature gorgeous photos of the very ingredients that find their way into the restaurants’ entrees. It allows the lobbies of corporations to showcase stylish renderings of the company’s logo. And it facilitates the capability of pharmacies to place on their walls giant lifestyle shots of happy people using the stores’ products. Not just any lifestyle photos, mind you, but photos of the very ethnic groups favoring that store. No wonder décor printing is growing in popularity with print providers and their customers.
If there’s one trend impacting the décor printing niche, it’s that more and more people seem to be aware of its potential, said Lynn Krinsky, president of Seattle-based Stella Color, a 23-year-old business experienced in many areas of wide-format for applications from trade show booths to point of purchase.
“I’ve seen an uptick in people understanding it,” Krinsky said of décor printing. “It’s like they may have seen it somewhere. These people are all over the map from interior designers to more corporate clients who have done digital printing for some time now, and want to use it in stores and corporate offices.”
While décor printing can be more costly than traditional stock wallpaper, it offers benefits no pre-produced wallpaper can provide.
Stock wallpaper doesn’t tell the retail or corporate or restaurant client’s story, it only matches their chairs, Krinsky said. “If you consider branding a benefit, this is a huge one,” she adds. “It’s getting your message across and your brand across, and of course, a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Décor printing can reproduce anything from photographs to murals. It can be a custom pattern or a corporate logo. “Some of it is quite beautiful; it’s classy and classic,” Krinsky said. “And with others I say, ‘Who am I to judge?’ There’s no right or wrong, because we all have our own reaction to things.”
Most of the décor printing projects on which Stella Color works are for stores and corporate offices. The artwork may come from the in-house art department, or from a graphic designer hired outside the firm. If the customer is a lifestyle retailer, Krinsky expects to see more lifestyle images, but if it’s an outdoors outfitter, “we’re going to see mountains, skis and backpacks,” she said.
Pursuing the décor printing market has also made sense for Megaprint, a 16-year-old Plymouth, NH specialty wide-format print shop that largely focuses on production of retail and trade show graphics, says owner Jay Buckley.
“For us, it’s digitally printed wallpaper,” he said. “Whether it’s for a home or a business, it’s all the same. If you have a guy with a lot of stores, as he’s opening up new stores, [the printing] can be done quickly.”
Megaprint’s décor printing ends up in corporate lobbies and on eatery walls, but a “fair amount of work” is performed for consumers, Buckley says.
With a location “in the woods of New Hampshire,” he can’t count on a base of retail customers in the vicinity. Instead, the Internet brings the company business from around the country. Megaprint ranks high on Internet searches, which leads to potential customers calling to inquire, then sending a jpeg of the artwork they want printed, to see if it will reproduce well on wallpaper. Buckley then makes a small sample of the artwork as a means of gaining client approval.
One customer, for instance, wanted the Los Angeles skyline on his wall. He was instructed to find a photo he liked, which was downloaded at Megaprint, and cropped as needed. With the customer’s approval, it printed and shipped.
Another décor printing provider, Point Imaging of Hobart, IN, has found that while customers may know more about décor printing these days, they still have to be educated to its full potential. “It’s not just logos,” said Patrick Rose, account manager of the 20-year-old company.
“You have colors, messages, murals and photography. It opens up a lot of creative areas. As an account manager, I can tell you a lot of clients don’t realize the possibilities. You talk to them and then you see the light bulb go on.”
Devil in the Details
Performing décor printing correctly and with flair is not something that’s achieved overnight. Because jobs are custom printed, providers must ensure the panels can be put together in a way suiting the customer’s needs.
For example, if a client wants four-foot-wide sheets and doesn’t want seams showing, “we’ll overlap it by an inch,” Buckley said. “That way, they cut in the overlap, and even if it’s not cut a perfectly straight line, it still matches.”
Another concern of which providers much be aware is that walls are never straight and true, he says. If a wall measures eight by 10 feet, an additional couple of inches should be added in each direct to allow for some trim space.
“And even if the walls are straight and true, the installers are not always straight and true,” Buckley added with a laugh.
The comparative permanency of décor graphics as compared with exhibit or point-of-purchase materials also demands that providers ensure they have the right equipment and materials, Krinsky said. The greater permanency of the medium means control of quality, resolution and color is more important.
“If you are printing a trade show booth and there’s a flaw, it’s not a major problem,” Krinsky said. “But a flaw is unacceptable if someone is sitting in a corporate office six feet away from it...It’s very unforgiving. You can’t use equipment with inks that are going to be fading in six months, and you have to have the right protection, whether that’s a liquid laminate, a regular laminate or a material that doesn’t allow something to be scratched off.”
It’s also critical that the print provider know where the printing will be used. If it’s eight feet above the heads of people in a room, no problem, Krinsky said. But if it’s where a cleaning person can mar it, that problem must be addressed.
Buckley reported capturing good color fidelity is one of the things his shop had to master over time. He once printed a nighttime Manhattan skyline on textured paper for a client, but found that the image came out looking grey. Switching to smooth textured paper resulted in the image quality he sought.
“We find the textured wallpapers don’t do well with rich black,” he said. “You have this texture and the surface that tends to reflect light, and it makes it look grey as opposed to a nice black. So we went with smooth wallpaper.”
Buckley doesn’t advise carrying many types of wallpaper, recommending instead one or two. “Ask your vendor what they sell the most of,” he said. “We basically have a textured wallpaper and a smooth wallpaper.”
For her part, Krinsky believes there is no substitute for long experience in this field. “There are a lot of ways to go wrong,” she says. “It’s a minefield out there, so you have to know what you’re doing. It has to be functional, and work in its setting, and has to last as long as it’s needed to last.”