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The Art of a Wall

Digitally Printed Wallcoverings

By Melissa Donovan

On demand, short-run digital printing allows for smaller inventories—equaling less waste. Efficient print service providers (PSPs) find that digital offers growth into new business. Time spent cleaning plates or changing screens is freed for more projects and customers.

Printing wallcoverings—or wallpaper—digitally is no exception. High demand in consumer and commercial sectors is pushing many PSPs into this niche.

Growth by Digital
York Wallcoverings, of York, PA, began in 1895. Today, the company’s craftsmanship and dedication to preserving history is evident in everything they do. Serving the U.S. and 50 countries internationally, York’s pressroom plays home to surface, gravure, rotary screen, flexograph, and digital printers.

“The diversity is evident in our range of wallcoverings and customers,” explains LeRue Brown, director of marketing, York. York serves high-end to mid-and mass-market, including residential and commercial. Direct sales forces carry certain brands into the market and others go through independent distributors. Well-known designers such as Tommy Bahama and Candice Olson collaborate with York to provide brand aesthetics through printed wallcoverings.

The company was introduced to digital print in 2005, purchasing a Xeikon DCP 500 D press for wallpaper borders and prototypes. A variety of factors contributed to the purchase. It was increasingly important to produce shorter runs of borders in order to maintain smaller inventory levels, which was not financially feasible with analog presses. The DCP 500 D also offered the ability to print extended repeats for murals and unique border designs.

The Xeikon prints variable data. John Frie, digital printing manager, York, says the company creates custom-made borders. Customers visit stores and fill out a form that indicates the graphics and name to appear on the media.

In 2009 York bought a wide format SOLJET PRO III from Roland DGA Corporation. It was intended for prototypes, but the RoomMates division of the company quickly identified a need for short runs of consumer products.

RoomMates and York offer XL Murals in 9x15 and 6x10.5 feet. Available at local hardware stores such as Lowe’s or through the company’s Web site, these murals depict licensed characters such as Barbie, Batman, Spiderman, Star Trek, Superman, and Thomas the Tank Engine.

XL Murals are printed on a proprietary substrate, branded Surestrip. It is a prepasted material with adhesive on the back. To activate, users dip the paper in a lukewarm bucket of water, then apply to the wall. A brush is used to firmly attach and smooth out air bubbles. The mural is easily removed by pulling at the two corners, and no residue is left over.

Borders printed on the Xeikon use a repositionable peel-and-stick medium. PJ Delaye, COO, RoomMates division, York, likens it to a dry adhesive or a “sticker on steroids” that can be used repeatedly.

Inspired by the personalized borders, RoomMates recently launched a custom decal option. Users upload photos, specify the print area—up to 48x74 inches, and submit. The decals are printed digitally and use peel-and-stick technology.

Another endeavor of York’s involves the licensed properties the company pays royalties for use. There are a variety of characters with limited life at retail. However, the Web provides a concentration of customers with interest in rare cartoons. If they enter the character’s name into a search engine, the RoomMates Web site pops up, and customers can order a digitally produced wall graphic.

“It might not sell hundreds of thousands, but it makes sense to sell hundreds. We leverage our digital capabilities with niche items on the Internet,” says Delaye.

The direction of technology is of great debate at York. Both Delaye and Frie feel the industry is headed toward inkjet. As manufacturers expand past the four-color process and add additional hues, they foresee everything going digital. “Why go through the cost of burning plates and committing to long runs when you have a machine devoted to efficiently managing inventory levels?” asks Delaye.

York plans to add more digital presses to the mix in the near future. However, they continue to use analog. “We still print on presses obtained in 1895. They provide a unique look that digital will never replicate. Although it is an expensive way to print, it is a different style and truly a strength of our company,” says Brown.

Delaye agrees. “If you want to be a player in the wallcovering industry, you have to explore multiple branches of printing processes. This allows for flexibility in terms of look, feel, and design.”

Demanding Trends
Commercial and consumer segments demand digitally printed wallcoverings. Cost savings and customization are concrete reasons wallcoverings are a growing niche.

“Retail, restaurant, and hospitality venues are primary sites for high-volume installations. If a national chain department store, restaurant, or hotel adopts wall graphics into its design, it can easily develop into a very large production printing opportunity,” explains Ed McCarron, director of marketing, InteliCoat Technologies.

Peter Spotto, sales manager, DreamScape, agrees that there is a higher demand for wallcoverings in the commercial sector. Besides large corporate-funded businesses, localized demand can also be found in smaller work places, such as daycare centers, local restaurants, grocery, offices, churches, and amusement parks.

Museums increasingly utilize wall murals for exhibits, says Lisa Humrich, marketing product analyst, Oracal USA. As do hotels, digital offers competitive pricing, versus traditional forms of decorating, notes John Coyne, sales manager, Lintec Corporation of America.

“The highest demand comes from retail and office environments given the low-cost, high-impact opportunities and ease of working with the material,” shares John D. Peterman, executive VP, Big Systems LLC.

As inexpensive personalized home decor options expand, consumer interest grows. Digital allows users to customize bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and home offices. PSPs cost effectively create items on demand, while minimizing inventory.

“Much of consumer demand is driven by personalization. People easily decorate rooms with removable, interchangeable graphics—avoiding the more permanent, traditional solutions, such as wallpaper and paint,” shares Tracy Bonvino Black, promotional products business manager, 3M Graphics Market Center. Digitally printed wallcoverings are an economic solution to redecorating.

Design Aesthetic
Unique artwork sets PSPs and their customers apart from competitors. It doesn’t matter if it’s an academic environment, retail shop, or large corporation—wallcoverings serve as a showcase for art creatives of all experience levels.

Sporting venues highlight prominent teams or star players; promoting school pride and ticket sales. Children’s hospitals, according to Peter Allard, Southeastern sales manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc., use wallcoverings to create a pleasant atmosphere—in stark contrast to the sparse, cold feeling a hospital may convey to a child.

Corporations utilize wall patterns to brighten up office space. “In the commercial or retail settings you often see a company mission statement or promotional advertising,” says Jason Yard, marketing specialist, MACtac Graphic Products.

To create powerful messages, artwork must be large. Wall murals come in all widths, but the larger the final output, an image with a higher quality must be submitted. Vector graphics are scalable, says Spotto, but photo images do have their limitations.

More often than not, these limitations are overcome. The high-quality artwork displayed in wallcoverings gives many the feeling that these works of art should be placed in museums. Jim Manelski, president, BullDog Digital Imaging Products, Inc., argues that custom wallcoverings will eventually be positioned as original or limited edition art.

Ink Compatibility
With a variety of digital print processes available—aqueous, eco-solvent, latex, solvent, UV-curable—which works best for a wallcovering?

As a whole, digital printing is the more economical decision for short turnaround, low inventory jobs. “Typically digital printers warrant three to five years. Screenprint and electrostatic printing can achieve longer lifecycles, but are based on very high-volumes. Electrostatic printing uses a toner to pigment the substrate and is costly,” explains Ritchie Daize, international digital account manager, Arlon, Inc.

McCarron argues that key components to a graphic’s lifespan are stable substrates that won’t yellow or discolor and pigmented inks. “This ensures the longevity, whether printed on eco-solvent, UV-curable, or water-based printers.”

Eco-solvent, solvent, and UV-curable ink is recommended for the outdoors—where greater durability is required. Indoor applications that don’t give off solvent odors are a huge plus, says Peterman. He comments that the new latex options are versatile for both indoor and outdoor projects, and offers the performance of eco-solvent without the odors and other solvent-based issues.

“Films that are compatible with latex, solvent, and UV inkjet platforms provide the best durability,” according to Tim Boxeth, marketing manager, 3M.

Not all inks are created equal, PSPs should test inks with substrates regularly. Just because brand X’s aqueous ink works well, doesn’t mean brand Y’s will. Fade and durability are something users need to check with their ink supplier about as well, advises Spotto.

Counting the Years
In addition to ink, substrate type and positioning of the final application play a role in a wallcovering’s lifespan. “It varies depending on the application. For branding anywhere from two to five years, for sports venues one year,” stresses Allard. Ultraflex’s Wallscapes, available in 56-inch by 300-foot rolls, are for commercial spaces and upscale banner applications.

The lifespan of a typical wallcovering really depends on its purpose, agrees Yard. If it’s designed for aesthetics, then it’s usually a long-term application and MACtac’s IMAGin JT5828P is ideally suited. On an indoor wall, you can expect three to five years. Promotional graphics are short term and require a removable adhesive.

For example, BullDog Digital’s Applique is an adhesive-backed, respositionable product intended for short durations. Applique works with water-based inkjet printers.

The standard Type II commercial grade wallcovering is fade resistant for 25 years. InteliCoat’s Magic brand offers a series of latex-saturated papers. The most popular are Mural Pro by MagiclŽe for water-based printers and GFIOP212 for latex, eco-solvent, and UV-curable printers.

3M Wall Decorating Film IJ86E is a 6-mil product. It offers a two year shelf life. 3M Controltac Graphic Film IJ180 is common for medium- to long-term wall murals along with 3M Scotchcal Matte Overlaminate 8520 for reducing glare common with artificial lighting.

Arlon’s most popular wall graphic media is DPF 8000, which features a five year indoor service life and an outdoor service life of two to three years.

Wall Wrap, from DreamScape, is a textured, adhesive-backed wallcovering. Repositionable and removable, it is used for short-term projects ranging from six to 12 months. The company’s Type I and II wallcoverings are warranted for five years to be free of defects in manufacture.

EnviroScape Mural Plus! from conVerd, LLC is an environmentally sustainable product that incorporates up to 65 percent post-consumer waste fiber.

Lintec’s Printerior PVC-free wallcoverings are designed for aqueous and UV-curable inks with liquid lamination.

Oracal’s ORAJET 3268 Movable Wall Graphics Inkjet Media is a 6-mil film with two year durability. Great for wall murals, the company’s 3628 Low Tack Wall & Window Graphics Inkjet Media is warranted for three years.

“Home and office decor installations easily last from one to three years. Depending on the surface, indoor applications can remain indefinitely. The type of substrate plays a major role, whether it is a vinyl, film, or fabric. Customers may choose a less expensive media, only to pay the price with a shorter lifespan, adhesive issues, or failure,” explains Peterman. Big Systems’ SeraMark wallcovering fabric celebrates both interior and exterior installations in place for over a year without the use of an overlaminate.

Wall Art

The benefits of digitally printed wallcoverings are real, as proven by PA-based York. Although consumer demand is slow, the interest is there. Entrepreneurial ventures such as RoomMates provide buyers with choices. Digital printing creates options. The combination of speed to market and personalization are viable reasons for the growth of digital wallcoverings.

Jun2010, Digital Output

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