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Designer Walls

Accent Rooms with Digital Wallcoverings

By Melissa Donovan

Wallcoverings are used across home, retail, and corporate locations to convey a certain emotion, promote a brand, or support a company’s core values.

Wallpaper was once a thing of the past, or so many thought. The hassle of pasting sheets of paper on walls with glue, which runs a good chance of ruining the underlying wall, was considered time consuming and expensive.

Wallpapers sat on stock shelves begging to be used—not everyone enjoys a large blue floral pattern adorning their living room. When the wallpaper fad died down, consumers looked to paint—dreading the task of stripping wallpaper.

Today, thanks to short run, on demand digital printing, inventory issues are a thing of the past. New adhesive-backed materials make the installation and removal of digital wallcoverings easier than ever.

The concept of designing a wall is evolving, explains John D. Peterman, executive VP, Big Systems, LLC. “Designers transform their ideas to an ever-changing, dynamic space. As a result, customers benefit from a continually fresh look and greater cost savings.”

Essential Efficiency
“Two of the most prominent factors pushing the growth of digital wallcoverings are speed to market and reduced inventory. Print service providers (PSPs) dramatically reduce inventory by using software to design different styles/patterns on media instead of stocking several different products,” says John Coyne, sales manager, Lintec of America.

A lighter inventory means less waste. Many consumers are looking to go “green” in their homes and workplaces by instituting leaner warehouses. Also environmentally—and wallet—friendly is the idea of refurbishment instead of starting from scratch.

“Brand owners, designers, and architects are looking for creative, low-cost solutions to create or enhance brand experience. Economic challenges force many to focus on reuse and modernization programs,” admit Jeff Bradley, global business development manager and Robyn Strauss, interior solutions business development manager, 3M Graphics Market Center.

Many of Lancaster, PA-based Advanced Sign & Graphics’ customers use wallcoverings because they are versatile and cost-efficient. Powertrain Gym originally requested a complicated application involving numerous dimensions and mounting procedures. Nancy Seibert, president and Bill Felter, production manager, Advanced Sign, suggested wallcoverings instead, citing their reusability and affordability.

Printed with an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 on Photo Tex media from LexJet Corporation, the gym now displays three wall murals—one at 40 feet across and two smaller eight- by 14-foot graphics—and 100 feet of border material. The entire installation took all of six hours, including the border.

Refurbishing a Classic
Wallcovering media underwent many developments throughout the last ten years. Original products, still widely in use today, require wallpaper pastes to be applied directly to the media prior to installation, similar to traditional wallpaper. This type of media can be printed digitally, but the application process takes an extended amount of time due to the media’s limited repositionability once the glue is adhered.

“The evolution of wallcoverings led to a convenient adhesive-backed media providing a peel-and-stick option for users. This textured, easy-to-install material hides wall imperfections and provides a softer look,” explains Peter Spotto, manager, worldwide sales, DreamScape.

New adhesive-backed media leaves less room for error, as many products feature repositionability. Chemicals in the adhesives also limit cosmetic mishaps. “Substrates and adhesives evolved from a heavy board stock with double-sided tape as the attachment medium to thin, flexible films equipped with self-adhesive,” claims Chuck Bules, technical service manager, Arlon Inc.

Changes in the make-up of the adhesives provide options. Walls no longer need to be stripped of paint prior to the application of a graphic, suggests Lance Hutt, global product manager, Avery Dennison.

“Additionally, consumers are now presented with a wider range of material choices including vinyl, paper, and fabrics,” adds David Grant, VP of marketing, Oracal USA. Textures are also evolving, enhancements including embossments “provide more options for the aesthetic appeal of the final application,” shares Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.

Justin Jansing, graphics design manager, Speedpro Imaging, based in Indianapolis, IN offers his insight. “Digitally printed wallcoverings play a larger part in advertising as more creative minds enter the industry. As equipment and materials advance in accessibility, graphic artists and interior designers integrate themselves into this ever-expanding business. When you combine creativity with improved technology and materials it becomes an endless stream of revenue.”

Feeling the Effects
Hardware and ink improvements coincide with media advancements. Speed and heightened resolution pave the way for high-quality output viewed up close and at a distance.

“The changes in printing technologies, including durable inkjet inks and significantly improved image quality, make digitally printed wallcoverings much more appealing even at close viewing,” remarks Jeffrey Stadelman, technical marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products.

The evolution of UV-curable printing particularly effects wallcoverings. Traditionally, UV-curable inks were used for rigid prints, because of the cracking that ensued when media was bent. “The introduction of UV-curable roll-to-roll printers and hybrids, with more flexible inks, extend the printer base for wallcoverings. Some UV-curable machines also possess greater ink adhesion, which reduces the possibility of scuffing and abrasions in the printed surface,” says Spotto.

“UV printing can reduce edge curling and speed up production time. Some consumers may prefer the low-gloss level typically associated with UV inks for interior applications,” shares Grant.

UV-curable inks aren’t the only option for wallcoverings. Grant points out that many PSPs achieve great results using solvent inks, but they must allow adequate time after printing for the solvents in the ink to outgas before trimming or laminating to reduce the incidence of edge curl.

“Solvent or eco-solvent leads in advantages including fairly inexpensive equipment costs, low ink costs, brilliant high-resolution image capabilities, durability, and weather resistance,” agrees Peterman.

Aqueous inks can also reduce curing time, however this typically requires a more expensive coated media that may not be ideally suited for wallcoverings.

“Aqueous inks are used for wallcoverings in areas such as Asia, where fire and environmental concerns are becoming paramount,” says Coyne.

Custom Wallcoverings
Custom relates to client taste, location, brand, or message. The limited run of a wallcovering is adaptable to a location’s selling points and adds value, according to Tom Reid, executive VP, Catalina Graphic Films, Inc.

A customized product equals higher profit value. “End users simply place more value on a custom dŽcor-like finish. Expect $15 to $25 per square foot for wallcovering applications,” says Jeff Leto, product manager, LexJet.

“Wallcoverings reproduce common and exotic woods, metal, marble, leather, stone, stucco, and many other traditional and unique construction or decorating materials. Designers can get the look and feel of real materials without the price,” add Bradley and Strauss.

“Custom wallcoverings for both retail and corporate situations are far more attractive and applicable to a business model than off-the-shelf wallpaper,” comments Richard Cappelletti, president, Andres Imaging & Graphics, Inc. “In the corporate office environment, custom branding also applies. A company can display a message or create an attractive working environment.”

Chicago, IL-based Andres Imaging started producing wallcoverings in the early 1990s using electrostatic four-color print process on canvas media. The company soon evolved to solvent ink on artist canvas and then moved to UV-curing inks, expanding available media options.

15 to 20 percent of their output is wallcoverings. Wallcovering media utilized includes Avery, Catalina, DreamScape, KoroGraphics, and Photo Tex. With over 35 years in business the shop’s production space clocks in at 44,000 square feet.

Recently Andres Imaging completed a job for The Warranty Group’s global headquarters in Chicago, IL. The company wanted to remodel its workspace by adding warmth, color, and contemporary design without distraction while matching the company’s PMS logo colors. Cappelletti refers to it as corporate branding.

The shop used its EFI VUTEk large format roll-to-roll printers with UV-curable ink to produce a variety of wallcoverings and cut plexi, acrylic, and vinyl. Cappelletti reports that the branding project received such a positive response, the above floor adopted new decor as well.

The Long and the Short of It
Depending on media type, digital wallcoverings are used in both short- and long-term situations. Many applications are shorter due to easy installation, lack of removability issues, and retailers constantly promoting new products.

“In our market, customers look for short- to mid-term life from the materials, which means they want clean removability—without damage to the wall—for up to a year or so,” shares Reid.

Wallcoverings can transform a retail space for a short period of time for a number of reasons, including highlighting a sale, promoting a holiday, or a new product launch, says Robert Rundle, viscom market manager, Ritrama Inc.

Despite the amount of time a wallcovering adheres to a wall, all vendors define a wallcovering as one that sticks moderately well to a wide variety of surfaces. In addition, the adhesive must remove cleanly with no visible—or invisible—residue, according to Arlon’s Bules. “Invisible residue affects the ability of the next coat of paint to wet out or flow properly. Then the outline of the graphic appears different than the surrounding wall,” he cautions.

Ease of installation creates a user-friendly application with little challenges. PSPs once shied away from wallcovering media because of installation, a challenge Spotto says is successfully addressed. “With the introduction of peel-and-stick products we see this segment being aggressively adapted,” he suggests.

“Looks can be deceiving,” says LexJet’s Leto. “Wallcovering applications are much simpler than a vehicle wrap, a trade show booth, or a print applied 20 feet high outdoors. With wallcoverings PSPs simply print, hang, and get paid.”

Possible issues revolve around preparation. “Every wall is different. You have to consider the type of surface, finish, and condition. Each of these variables affect surface preparation and vinyl graphic performance,” shares Bules.

Cappelletti suggests surveying sites prior to installation. “The biggest challenge associated with installing wallcoverings is new construction. Site surveys alert installers to any conditions that may affect image placement, wall condition, or interruptions from construction,” he explains.

Speedpro’s Jansing agrees that the state of a wall truly factors into application. “Any existing flaw in the paint or drywall can be sanded down to where it feels smooth, but still appears after the graphic is installed due to the laminate sheen.”

Avocado Sports Marketing hired Speedpro to customize their Indianapolis Motor Speedway suite. Using a Roland DGA Corporation SOLJET PRO III XC-540 with eco-solvent inks they created a wall mural and bar wrap with Oracal ORAJET Series 3628 media and ORAGUARD 200 matte laminate. Matty Bennett of Sequences Design created the design.

The goal was to enhance the look of the suite, separating it from neighboring rooms. Avocado wanted something that would last as long as their three year lease and never lose impact, according to Jansing. The 3,600 square foot IN-based shop—a branch of the six-year-old business with locations throughout the U.S. and Canada—printed the graphics in about six hours. Casey Weaver of Just-Install applied the graphics in less than five hours.

Less is More
Digital wallcoverings cost less, use less application time, and take up less inventory. Less translates to profit opportunity. Print and capitalize on this one-of-a-kind, off-the-shelf novelty item applicable to corporate, home, and retail settings.

Aug2009, Digital Output

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