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More Options Than Ever Before

Wallcovering Media Options


By Melissa Donovan


There is a growing variety of wallcovering media to decide between when it comes to promoting a product/brand or decorating a home, office, or school. Whether commercial- or consumer-based, these graphics continue to evolve as an attractive alternative to traditional wallpaper and basic signage. Advancements in media, such as easy-to-remove peel-and-stick products, provide do-it-yourself installation options for the less-knowledgeable audience.


Print service providers (PSPs) and creative professionals—even moms—are helping themselves to a piece of this profitable pie. Recognizing the need for short- to medium-term decorative solutions, many are patenting one-of-a-kind wallcovering products. These are made up of materials from PVC-based vinyl, to fabric, and even magnets. Long-term products are available from manufacturers familiar with the advantage of digitally printed wallcoverings.


With the introduction of new solutions, the ability to create a wallcovering for any type of surface is a reality. “Now the print provider has more solutions to choose from than ever before to overcome obstacles such as surface type, finishes, or various textures,” shares Matt Edwards, concept product manager, General Formulations Inc. Depending on a host of reasons, including environment, longevity, and cost; the best solution is available for any job.


Project-Based Decision Making

There isn’t just one factor that determines the type of media used in a wallcovering application. Environment, useful life or longevity, durability, cost, volume, design complexity, ease of installation, printer compatibility, and final removal are important considerations for PSPs and end users. A product is chosen based on the specifics of a particular job.


An important driver is useful life and its relationship with the environment a wallcovering is placed in. Short-term projects generally necessitate a calendered or non-PVC film. Removable or changeable adhesives are ideal for short-term graphics. If a customer wishes to use film for a long-term project, a cast vinyl or non-PVC film is ideal, suggests Tim Boxeth, business manager, 3M Graphics Market Center.


Architectural graphics are typically long-term applications. A PSP may recommend a cast vinyl or non-calendered film because ease of application is less of an issue, points out Mary Ann L. Kucera, product marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products. She says this is because most architectural graphics require high durability and are applied by professionals.


Useful life and environment have a dual hand in determining the material used for a wallcovering. “For example, rarely would you see a conference room or lobby of a corporation done with adhesive-backed vinyl. Those jobs are usually longer in duration and require a more appealing finished product, such as fabric-backed wallcovering,” explains Garry Hollis, business manager, KoroGraphics, a division of RJF International Corp.


Lisa Humrich, marketing manager, Oracal USA, provides another example. A wall mural exposed to direct sunlight and applied to painted drywall may require using a permanent adhesive-backed vinyl; rather than the more commonly used removable adhesive-backed vinyl. “It really is dependent on the environment and managing the expectations of the customer,” she continues.


Retail wall graphics require short-term durability to accommodate changing promotions and products. Although sometimes applied professionally, ease of application and removal is a necessity, which would make a changeable vinyl adhesive an excellent choice.


Consumer wall graphics should also be easily installable and removable. “For smooth installation, media characteristics should include films that are slightly thicker, which allow for increased ease of handling, and repositionable adhesives so graphics can be repositioned on painted drywall. Durability is less of a priority because they tend to be changed out fairly frequently as consumers’ tastes change,” shares Kucera.


Peter Spotto, manager, international sales, DreamScape, recognizes that vinyl continues to be a popular choice for wallcovering media. PSPs are familiar with adhesive-backed materials and more comfortable with the idea of a peel-and-stick application. However, he suggests that commercial-grade fabric-backed wallcovering media is an ideal long-term solution that provides durability, value, and flexibility for custom wall décor.


Alternatively, short-term fabric-based wallcovering products provide an ease of use and removability comparable to vinyl. Hilary Chandler, artist/owner, KiDECALS, began her business when she recognized a need for affordable, hand-painted murals that could be changed out quickly as a child grows and his or her interests change. She turned to a phthalate-free self-adhesive wall fabric that is printed through a Roland DGA Corporation eco-solvent printer.


“I wanted to provide the feeling of a hand-painted mural in a room for a fraction of the price. I also wanted the buyer to be involved in the creative process by creating—peel, stick, and arrange—their mural in a way they liked. The adhesive in the media allows the decals to be removable and repositionable without damaging paint or surfaces,” explains Chandler. Part of the Instant Murals line, this CO-based crafter creates themed alphabet, sport, colorful polka dot, planet, and frog ballet wallcoverings.


Not to diminish other key factors in media decision, color consistency and price point also come into play depending on the environment and application. “Often times wallpaper bids are for large hotels or retail chains, which can result in high volumes—so price is critical. As for consistency, it is crucial that the white point of multiple media rolls are exact. Wallpaper is traditionally butted up in panels and if the color is off, the project is unsuccessful,” adds Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.


Trending Now

The graphic arts is not in a bubble, we influence other industries. Digital printing’s effect on the wallcovering market, especially with introduction of variable printing, is revolutionizing the consumer and commercial markets. “The availability of personalized wallcovering solutions in sizes, design, and content customized by the consumer or business changes the perception and use of wallpaper in the home or commercial environment,” shares Benjamin Matlock, product manager, Hewlett-Packard (HP).


In turn, our market is affected by multiple influencers; for example the economic climate—whether good or bad—is one such driver. Many PSPs look for ways to cut costs and help customers do so as well.


An up and coming trend in wallcoverings is the introduction of magnetic-backed wall murals. Visual Magnetics LP’s Visual Magnetics Graphic System allows users flexibility to change graphics on the fly without expensive labor costs. “The current economic climate provides additional incentive to switch to magnetic-receptive graphic solutions,” says Joe Deetz, CEO, Visual Magnetics. The system includes a magnetic backer that affixes to the wall. New graphics, printed on a variety of materials, are changed out easily at any time.


Cost is a watch word. Eric Tischer, director of textiles and specialty products, Verseidag seemee US Inc., comments that the economy has caused the wallcovering market to become price sensitive. This includes the rise in popularity of vinyl-based products that provide easy installation at a low cost.


“Vinyl wallcoverings are a cost-effective way to advertise. Wall wraps do not need costly framing systems or light boxes and can be frontlit for 24 hour exposure. Landlords often request that tenants use wall graphics instead of banners and other hardware fastened signs for promotional advertising so that the fascias of buildings aren’t damaged,” adds Ritchie Daize, international account manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC.


John D. Peterman, executive VP sales and marketing, Big Systems LLC, agrees. Citing that one of the best ways to produce graphics with superior quality and eliminate costly redo work and excessive labor is with peel-and-stick products, both vinyl and fabric based. Influential factors include less wall preparation, faster installation, no messy paste or wet applications, and no wall repair after removal.


Plenty of PSPs recognize the cost-effectiveness of wallcoverings. For example, Inkjet International, based in Dallas, TX, considers the digital décor business as a growing part of its portfolio. They recently invested in an HP Scitex LX600 to complement its existing equipment and help grow its wallcovering business. When planning a project, they research the environment and surfaces before deciding on the correct media. In the case of a recent project for NHL team the Dallas Stars, they turned to Avery Dennison Graphics’ MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply and DOL 1360 Gloss Overlaminate.


In the players’ practice facility, the Dr. Pepper Arena, Inkjet International installed a large graphic of children playing pond hockey. This served to instill new energy in the players and provide them with confidence to try and make it to this year’s NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.


“The pond hockey image connected players with their childhood dreams, which they realize as they come on and off the practice rink. This image brings the needed dose of reality and appreciation for the journey,” explains Alok Sarna, VP, Inkjet International. Images of the players, names of previous captains, and more were also installed throughout the players’ lounge area using Avery wallcovering media.


Other popular trends in wallcoverings include murals for rough textured walls—such as concrete, brick, and stone—which when applied correctly appear as paint on a wall. Additionally, environmentally friendly products find popularity in the wallcovering niche.


“The selection of eco-friendly wallcoverings is growing with more choices in materials and textures. Materials that do not contain PVC, phthalates, and possess a low volatile organic compound (VOC) emission are being specified for new buildings, retail chains, schools, museums, and others,” explains Spotto.


Deforest, WI-based Imagination Trends, LLC tries to use environmentally friendly wallcovering products when they can, but Lisa Pertzborn-Whiting, founder/CEO, Imagination Trends, explains that sometimes it comes down to cost and not everyone opts for the higher priced item. “We test VOC gasses on a regular basis as a concern for our employees working with them, as well as concern for what we put into the environment. Whether it is for indoor or outdoor use, we have identified certain materials that work well in the most extreme conditions,” she adds.


Most of the company’s clients ask for microsphere-based adhesive wall graphic materials, usually designed for UV printing. These include 6- or 4-mil PVC or 3- and 5-mil fabric-based media. Pertzborn-Whiting says the PVC-based products are slightly less expensive, yield a higher contrast print due to a brighter white base, but do not perform well in situations where the wall paint has grit on the surface. In those cases, fabric-based media is a better choice.


Imagination Trends began as a mapping business, but when map marketing demographics changed, they were forced to adapt to market demands. Under the name Whooping Big Prints and Images, they began selling display posters and progressed to vehicle graphics and large format wall murals.


Its murals caught the attention of the ABC television network’s reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. They designed and created a wallcovering of a world map with passport stamps, making it a signature product for travel-themed rooms.


Recognizing the need for a wallcovering product that stuck and was easily removable, and riding on the success and notoriety from the ABC television show, the company created and patented an interactive wall graphic and manufactured it under a national license in 2009—with which they have plans to expand to other brands as it gains popularity. Pertzborn-Whiting predicts that because of this one product line, Imagination Trend’s sales volume should increase by 400 percent year end 2011.


Comparing by Square Feet

Pricing for media ranges based on material type. Self-adhesive vinyl is generally inexpensive and fabric-based wall systems are higher priced. Films for short-term products are generally lower priced than those designed for long term. “The price the end user pays is directly related to the quality and value created,” suggests Matlock.


For example, Big Systems’ SeraMark removable adhesive wall fabric runs about $.78 per square foot. DreamScape’s pricing ranges from vinyl wallcovering media around $.48 per square foot, to its higher priced eco-media product—$.65 per square foot because of recycled content, and for peel-and-stick media $.95 per square foot. HP’s PVC-free Wall Paper runs at a list price of $.43 per square foot. KoroGraphics’ commercial-grade fabric-based products are in the high $.40s and low $.50s per square foot.


PSPs cannot consider media cost on its own, but must look at the whole picture. “The difference in materials in respect of print cost is usually a one to two dollar per square foot difference when looking at a good, better, best scenario. However, the installation cost varies based on PSA, framing, or heat gun application. Total cost has to be considered, above and beyond substrates,” recommends Sarna.


Cost is an interesting thing, as Wayne Moda, president, Nu Graphics Etc., Inc. observes. About ten percent of the Woburn, MA-based company’s business is wallcoverings. On smaller projects, those ranging from 75 to 100 square feet, price per square foot does not factor in. “The life and durability of the product far outweigh cost concerns. On larger projects price becomes more of a factor,” he explains.


Nu Graphics recently acquired an HP Scitex FB6100 flatbed printer, which helps them provide high-resolution graphics with UV-curable inks. Lamination is generally not necessary with the machine, because the graphics come right off the printer completely cured and ready to be trimmed, packaged, and shipped.


At Imagination Trends, its 4-mil PVC product is sold retail for seven to nine dollars depending on overall square footage, including adhesive, ink, and finishing. Fabric retails at eight to $14 and is dependent on the same factors. The company works with media from various manufacturers—from Big Systems, 3M, to MACtac, but the majority sold is its proprietary product, SmartArt. “SmartArt outperforms regardless of environment, ink coverage, laser cutting, or texture. While it is not as cost-effective; having the confidence, predictability, and proven track record often outweigh the cost of the project,” explains Pertzborn-Whiting.


Match Appropriately

While it truly depends on a host of factors, the environment a wallcovering will be placed in and useful life weighs heavily on media decision. The most appropriate material must match the job at hand, from indoor to outdoor environments and everything in between. Recognizing this early on helps to prepare customers for what a PSP can offer them, without over—or under—selling a project.


Education plays a large role in promoting niche products. That is one reason why digitally printed wallcoverings are popular today. Many industry trade shows and organizations have taken it upon themselves to introduce PSPs to the world of wall graphics. Traditional media—from newer vinyl that is easily removable for the experienced or the novice—is often highlighted at these events. Brand owners and agencies must now be educated on the increasing digital media options available to them, such as magnetics and digitally printable fabric-backed media, to see these types of applications soar.


Jun2011, Digital Output

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