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Rigid Substrates

Unlimited Possibilities

By Kim Crowley

Large format print technology and specialized substrates allow print providers, artists, designers, and even the average homeowner to think outside of the box.

Inkjet flatbed printers further creative aspirations—printing directly to plastic, wood, glass, tile, foam board, metal, and hundreds of other unconventional mediums.

A sign shop can provide those clients looking for home décor with custom graphics printed directly on ceramic tile, wooden bench tops, glass shower doors, and game tables to transform living spaces.

Stellar Service
Lynn Krinsky, owner, Stella Color, based in Seattle, WA, is a visionary tapping into the enormous possibility of large format print technology. Krinsky founded Stella Color in 1988. Satisfied customers include ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Britney Spears, Japan’s Narita International Airport, Microsoft, Nordstrom, and the Seattle Mariners.

The company prides itself on standing out. "We’re more of a boutique kind of shop, a family kind of shop," says Krinsky. "I think a lot of the larger companies make huge errors in putting a big counter in their lobby and treating a sign shop as a different kind of business. All print shops are a combination of artists and print makers. You need the collaboration between the two."

Stella Color’s 14 employees produce a range of large format print products including numerous posters, fine art prints, textiles, wallpaper, portable exhibit and trade show displays, indoor and outdoor banners, and vehicle wraps in a 15,000 square foot shop. Finishing services include custom sewing and grommetting, cutting with a new 3000 series CNC router from MultiCam, Inc., mounting, lamination, as well as banner stand and display solutions.

Other large format equipment includes an Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet Z6100 printer and two HP Designjet 5000 printers, two Mimaki USA, Inc. JV4-180s, a Mimaki JV3, and a 98-inch Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies (L&P) Virtu UV flatbed printer.

Digitally Designing
Ten years ago, Krinsky envisioned a printed wallpaper and accessory solution for creative environments. With the aid of a talented design staff, artists, and innovative large format print hardware and substrates, Krinsky launched a new division called Stella Color for the Home.

Stella Color for the Home is available through design professionals and furniture retailers as a way to customize a child’s playroom or bedroom. Customers choose from a variety of designs or submit their own photographs. A room can be customized with a wallpaper mural up to 12 feet tall, window shades, comforters, pillows, area rugs, shower curtains, and ceramic tiles.

The wallpaper meets or exceeds the requirements for 15 burning and durability tests as defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Krinsky also notes the material’s abrasion resistance, colorfastness, scrubability, stain resistance, and ease of washing—all of which are important features in a child’s living space.

ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition found Stella Color through the Internet. On a 2006 episode, Ty Pennington created a bedroom using photographs of dolphins, by Phil Colla, which Stella Color printed on wallpaper. The shop has since donated home décor prints for two more of Pennington’s rooms. Commenting on her involvement in the show, Krinsky says it was exciting, but Stella Color employees were kept on their toes to produce work at a rapid, intense pace. "I have never seen anything like it in my life," she says of walking in to one of the homes during the rebuild. "There must have been 200 people in a 1,400 square foot house. You had to walk sideways. It’s a wild thing."

Continuing the development of its innovative décor offerings, Stella Color launched FACADES in 2005. A joint venture with Imagine That! Consulting Group, Inc., FACADES fuses art, home décor, and organization with printed cloth murals suspended from a track system. Designed to offer a creative and flexible solution to decorating and storage challenges, FACADES covers unsightly storage areas like a garage, creates a privacy drape around a bed, or divides a room.

So far Stella Color for the Home and FACADES are more successful commercially than publicly. Krinsky notes that interior designers are used to picking home décor elements straight from a catalog, so there is a challenge in educating them about custom printed pieces.

Now, five years after the Stella Color for the Home launch, designers are beginning to realize the benefits. "It’s easier to get graphic designers and in-house art departments at big companies on board. They’re creative people. Nothing gets in their way. They look at everything and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘picture your art here,’" explains Krinsky.

Endless Substrates
With the addition of the L&P flatbed printer, the possibilities for printing on tile, fabric, wallpaper, and rigid substrates are endless. Printing on flat substrates is changing the way the shop does business. "We’re producing a lot more tile murals and wallpaper with our flatbed. I can print faster, and if I don’t have to mount or laminate, then I save time and money too. So sometimes it’s just the mundane things—you speed it up and you can deliver it at a lower cost—where you get the advantage," explains Krinsky.

Prints made directly on rigid substrates make up more than half of Stella Color’s output these days. Krinsky says that projects include everything, "from simple things like foam core, to crazy things like printing on wood with white ink, or printing acrylic and then routing the corners out and putting holes in it to hang on walls. I have one customer who printed on acrylic and then made a huge lighting fixture for a hotel in the Midwest."

Media choices vary widely with the shop’s customers. "It’s across the board. A lot of people bring me their own stuff, which would have been impossible prior to owning the flatbed."

Krinsky only shies away from printing on mirrors with the L&P. "You’re really not supposed to print on mirrors," she says. "It reflects the light from the lamps and you could blow out the machine."

She is also wary of media that isn’t flat. "We printed on some bamboo for someone," she recalls. "They wanted a really thin bamboo, and believe it or not, it’s sort of like a balsa wood in that it just doesn’t stay flat—which means there is a possibility it will scrape the printheads."

Glass and plastics are challenging surfaces. "There might be some type of glass or plastics that appear to work, but the print might fall off later. The good news is that you can print on a lot of things, the bad news is sometimes you don’t know if it’s not going to work even if it appears to work right away," explains Krinsky.

High-End Graphics
Recently Stella Color installed a series of vibrant in-store signs for a new grocery store. The store is part of PCC Natural Markets—the largest consumer-owned natural food co-operative in the U.S. The multimedia output used in the store includes rigid panels complemented by vinyl as well as decorative banners.

The signs, designed by Bruce Hale Design Studios, utilize photography and messages such as fresh, natural, local, community, and organic. PCC is an environmentally aware company, so choosing a printing substrate, ink, and print process that fit the eco-friendly mold was important.

Stella Color offers a host of printing substrates that are environmentally friendly, including ECO-Knit, ECO-Canvas, ECO-Vinyl, ECO-Board, ECO-Banner, ECO-Wallpaper, ECO-Corn, ECO-Heavy Board, and ECO-Mesh. Krinsky believes in a sensible way of being "green." "To me being green means that you do a little bit more than you did before, but you are also very aware of what your final product needs to be. It should hold up. Do you want to use a type of paper for an outdoor sign that’s going to fall apart in 30 days?," explains Krinsky.

The shop printed ceiling signs directly onto a white eco-styrene material using the L&P flatbed for use throughout the store. PCC had black cutout metalwork frames crafted by another company to border the signs. The signs, before framing, were approximately 60 inches wide by 40 inches tall. Stella Color used the MultiCam router to drill holes into the ceiling signs. This allowed the signs to be attached to the frames and it gives PCC the flexibility of changing out the signs on its own time.

The Sky is the Limit
Stella Color is an excellent example of a sign shop embracing flatbed technology and creating innovative output.

With its L&P flatbed, the shop is able to offer creative new options to customers. With the creation of Stella Color for the Home and FACADES, Krinsky’s business proves that any print service provider with a flatbed is truly limited only by their imagination.

Nov2008, Digital Output

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