Profitable by Design

Customize. Personalize. Have it your own way. Digital printing allows print service providers to give their customers exactly what they want, every time. No wonder décor printing is an area highly attractive to print service providers.

Because it provides an opportunity to decorate bottom lines with profit, the décor market can tempt many PSPs into serving this growing marketplace. Still, those already meeting the needs of décor clients come to the debate with wide-ranging thoughts on trends, opportunities, and pitfalls in interior décor printing.

This month, we’re out to give you a cross section of their thinking on the kinds of interior décor clients that make sense, the equipment strategies best suited to novices, and trends to consider in this swiftly-evolving market niche.

Asked if décor printing is a market that should be considered by print service providers, DeAnn Strenke, marketing manager for Stillwater, MN-based Modernistic, responds with a qualified yes. Some pluses include a movement toward repeatability and sustainability, as well as the pop-up store trend.

“Many retail chains are going to repeatability, so the stores can use decor elements across the chain, both nationwide and throughout the world, to provide each location with a consistent look and feel,” says Strenke, whose company is a third-generation, family-owned wide-format graphics supplier that primarily serves the retail market with point-of-sale items and branded décor.

As a subset of the national and worldwide repeatability, many store chains want regional graphics and décor items for more local store groupings, she says.

Interest in sustainable materials and inks is another trend that may make this the right market niche for PSPs with green inclinations. “People are looking for sustainable substrates, recyclable plastics,” Strenke says. “Sustainable design is one of the fastest growing trends in the decor market. The LEED certification is encouraging use of recyclable materials and earth-friendly inks...For instance, there is a wallpaper that’s paper-based and uses a potato starch for the paste part, as opposed to non-environmentally friendly vinyl.”

One big factor weighing in favor of entering the décor printing market is the growth of the pop-up store concept, in which retail operations designed to be in business only for a few weeks pop up shortly before holidays. “Because regular stores have folded, they can get good space,” she says. “They need décor items they can use to quickly fill up that space. This is a prime market.”

Other trends to be aware of in the décor market include an increasing level of customization and the use of larger sizes, says Debbie Green, owner of Pittsburgh’s Perspectives in Print, a 30-year-old firm that started as a T-shirt printer, then later segued into banners. Perspectives in Print now produces everything from wallpaper to pillows, lampshades, ottomans, and tablecloths for department stores across the country. “That’s our niche,” says Green, who has been working in the décor printing field for perhaps 10 or 12 years.

Green believes clients and customers are seeing décor printing as a way to differentiate themselves and boost their brand. “It’s more custom,” she says.

In addition, wallpaper that is digitally produced “is getting very big,” Green says, noting traditional wallpaper comes in 27-inch wide rolls, while digital can be as wide as 54 inches, making changing out an interior faster and easier.

 

DIY Wallpaper

One décor printing development just now gaining momentum is custom “do it yourself” wallpaper, says Paul Kranabetter, partner in Surrey, BC’s Tower Graphics. “Up to this point, production costs, difficult installation, and trying to find proper high-quality images have made it almost impossible for a DIY home owner or business owner to do a custom wall mural,” he says.

“But with HP offering a product for Latex printers called HP PVC-Free Wallpaper, high-res digital cameras, and the explosion of inexpensive, high-quality stock images available on the Internet, all that is going to change.”

The wallpaper Kranabetter references is a pre-pasted product that, once printed, is applied using nothing more than water, a sponge, and simple cutting tools. From an installation standpoint, the material is similar to the wallpaper purchased from paint and hardware stores for years. Kranabetter reports it’s very easy to install, and is highly forgiving for even inexperienced installers.

“Print quality, resolution, and color consistency panel-to-panel exceeds expectations,” he adds. “The price I sell it for is very palatable to end users.”

Millions of images are available for reasonable prices of perhaps $20 at sites such as istockphoto.com and shutterstock.com. Or a high-resolution digital SLR camera can be used to produce images for a truly unique mural, he says.

Kranabetter finds hobbyists from all walks of life locating his company, then ordering full-sized murals created from image files they supply. The murals are picked up by the customer or shipped in the mail. The recipient happily ends up installing “something unique and custom on a Saturday afternoon,” he says.

 

Keys to Success

Success in conveying to customers the full range of possibilities available in décor printing is often a differentiator between triumph and failure in this market. So says Todd Landry, CEO and owner of Pixus Digital printing in Lafayette, LA. The company has been in business 20 years, starting as a digital imaging company. Today, it turns out a wide variety of print materials, and its décor printing is usually produced on behalf of interior designers and architects.

“The challenge is the education part,” he says. “We tell people we can print just about anything, including wood blinds, wall murals, stretch canvas, fabric and different textiles. But the problem is getting them educated to that.

“That’s been a challenge, getting the word out and training the clients to understand the methods we can employ.”

That challenge is daunting, and for good reason. The dramatic revolution in what’s possible in décor printing these days vis--vis yesteryear’s techniques can be difficult to fully grasp even for a professional, says Green. “You can get the reproductions, the detail, that you can’t do with screen printing,” she says. “We love it. We print our images on paper first, then sublimate those images to fabric for tablecloths and curtains. You can get a much larger dpi that way.”

Retail clients, in particular, have to be alerted to the fact that digitally-printed wallpaper is a very inexpensive way of decorating a dull or dirty space, Green adds. The beauty of digital, she says, is its ability to generate the small, very economical run that couldn’t be achieved with earlier print methods.

“You have dressing rooms, all beat up, and you put that wallpaper in and they become little jewels. Branding is another factor. We can reproduce wallpaper with a logo or a theme that is distinct to that store, and then they roll it out as needed. Before, you had to make large runs to get a cost break.”

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