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Off the Wall

Transform Ordinary Spaces

By Amber E. Watson

There is a growing market for customized wallcoverings, from retail to corporate environments, interior design, and personal decor. Wallcoverings offer an effective method of enhancing a blank wall, and most graphics are easily removed for consistent change out.

Whether vinyl, paper, magnetic, or fabric, media manufacturers design wallcovering material with key factors in mind, understanding that print service providers (PSPs) seek quality, easy installation, as well as eco-friendly options, when selecting a material with which to work.

With the proper equipment and material, PSPs knowledgeable in wallcoverings assist customers with the task of transforming a large blank space into an aesthetic display for all viewers.

On the Surface
Smartfilms opened shop in 1997 in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where a 2,800 square foot facility now houses ten employees.

The company offers a range of products for almost any application related to glass surface and film—from decorative and frosted, custom printed, to solar and security windows. Digitally printed large format wall graphics are a key component of the business and the shop is quickly transitioning to other custom wallcovering applications.

Branching Out
According to Justin Kashiwagi, business development manager, Smartfilms, wallpaper application is not as popular as it used to be, however there is a large market for custom wallcoverings. “This new model relies on meeting with clients face to face on a regular basis and educating them about the creative possibilities,” he shares. One of the main challenges for PSPs offering custom wallcoverings is finding the time to cultivate trusted relationships with customers. “It takes time to develop this with each client,” adds Kashiwagi.

Smartfilms currently uses Roland DGA Corporation VersaUV LEC-540 and LEJ-640 UV devices. “These machines allow us to create textures and print full color graphics and images,” explains Kashiwagi. A layered clear coat produces unique textures and finishes, including matte and gloss varnish and embossing effects as well.

Partnering with Media Makers
Smartfilms began utilizing a number of Lintec of America’s specialty films and built a strong relationship with the manufacturer. The PSP works with several architectural firms, so its design team approached Lintec for help offering vinyl alternatives to clients working on LEED projects.

“We currently print directly to Lintec’s optically clear polyester film, which we promote to architects and designers,” says Kashiwagi. “Due to LEED requirements, the number of architects and interior designers inquiring about alternatives to vinyl film is growing, and this side of the business is doing well in the market.”

In addition, the shop uses Lintec’s PRINTERIOR collection because the material is recyclable as opposed to traditional PVC-based wallcovering media. It offers a non-PVC film for end users requiring an eco-friendly alternative.

Sustainable Graphics
In addition to architects and interior designers, Smartfilms works with a number of dental office design teams with a large clientele base, as well as corporate businesses that operate multiple locations across Canada.

In partnership with the architectural firm, Perkins+Will, Smartfilms completed a high-profile wall graphics project for The Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Built to exceed LEED Platinum certification and Living Building Challenge standards, CIRS was designed through collaboration between Perkins+Will and UBC to focus on “green” building design and operations, environmental policy, and community engagement.

With the architect’s design team’s goal to exceed LEED Platinum, vinyl wallcovering media wasn't an option for the PSP or the client. “We were asked to find alternative materials for the wallcovering and glass coating, so we proposed Lintec’s PRINTERIOR linen wallcovering media, which we printed on a Roland UV printer,” shares Kashiwagi.

Sample mock ups were exchanged between all parties until the final look and color was approved. “Color match is always challenging to achieve from tile to tile,” notes Kashiwagi.

Two completed wall graphics were installed on 36-inch panels using commercial grade pastes. “Images were overlapped and cut to appear seamless, which is another advantage compared to large format wall vinyl applications that require one-inch overlap seams,” he adds.

Departmental Changes
Primary Color offers pre-media, litho printing, large format digital printing, flatbed printing, variable data printing, display systems, and photography services out of its facilities in Costa Mesa and El Segundo, CA, totaling over 130,000 square feet. The company has 247 employees.

The PSP began producing wallcoverings in 2002 after forming a department dedicated to large format printing. Typical clients in this market include advertising agencies, corporate brands, retailers, and the entertainment industry.

An Eco-Friendly Alternative
Primary Color prints wallcoverings on EnviroScape Mural Plus! by conVerd, LLC because of its eco-friendly benefits. It purchases the media through a conVerd distributor, Neschen Americas.

"This media is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, as is our company,” explains John Shaffer, director of large format applications, Primary Color. “It meets strict CA standards for indoor air quality—a prerequisite for LEED credit qualification, and it carries a Class A fire rating.” Enviroscape Mural Plus! features a 100 percent removable adhesive system for easy installation and removal.

Some PSPs underestimate the importance of high resolution when printing wallcoverings because of the scope and size of the output. However, shops like Primary Color understand that wallcoverings are also viewed close up, so it uses high-resolution eco-solvent or UV printers such as the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 and the EFI VUTEK GS3200.

Hospital Display
Hoag Hospital recently enlisted Primary Color to complete a set of wallcoverings for the inside of its facility located in Newport Beach, CA.

The hospital required a fire-certified material during construction. “We provided a green option with EnviroScape Mural Plus!, which also allowed the hospital to easily remove and update the graphics over time,” explains Shaffer.

The EFI VUTEk GS3200 printer was used for this application because of the durability of the UV ink. In addition, no laminate was needed.

The project, consisting of seven walls totaling 200 feet in 50 panels, took two days to install and was completed at night during construction off hours. Primary Color used water to activate the adhesive, and squeegees and rollers to apply the material to the surface.

An Expanding Client Base
Opening its doors in 1995, Atlanta, GA-based PSP, Express Color, runs out of a 26,000 square foot facility with 20 employees. The shop offers large format digital printing, installation, and custom finishing—services that make it an ideal fit for wallcovering production.

While Express Color printed wall murals with adhesive-backed vinyl since its inception, it jumped into the wallpaper arena for greater aesthetic options approximately five years ago. “The wallpaper arena gives us a new selling tool to offer current clients a higher end finished product,” shares Tonya Krajc, GM, Express Color. “It fits exceptionally well within the retail environment,” she adds. 

Express Color prints wallcoverings for a variety of clientele including corporate offices, retailers, museums, universities, attraction sites, and sporting venues. “We exclusively use CET Color, Inc.’s X-Press 500H UV hybrid printer due to the reliability, color vibrancy, and ease of use,” says Krajc.

The shop’s wallcovering media of choice is DreamScape’s line of strippable, commercial-grade, type II vinyl media, which features an easy install and removal system. Suede is the shop’s preferred texture in the DreamScape line.

Aquatic Images
The world’s largest aquarium, Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, GA, regularly partners with Express Color to create large-scale wall graphics for installation inside the facility.

The aquarium, which rests on 20 acres of land, opened in 2005 and is home to more than 120,000 animals. “The aquarium is always looking for ways to stay fresh and update attractions,” says Krajc.

Wallcoverings provide the ability to easily change out images and displays when needed. “These are installed like traditional wallpaper with paste around scenic elements to enhance the aquarium’s exhibits,” she adds.

Trusted Media
Walls 360, Inc. began in San Francisco, CA and operates a 4,300 square foot facility in Las Vegas, NV. Nine employees work diligently to print on demand licensed content direct to consumer via the Web, and custom logos, badges, and wall murals for business customers.

Four years ago, the shop started selling on demand limited edition prints by emerging artists. Upon discovering the ease of use and potential opportunities associated with Photo Tex Group, Inc.’s Photo Tex material, Walls 360 formed a strong working relationship with the media manufacturer.

“Photo Tex is a forgiving material. It can be moved and reused up to 200 times. It is easy to install and smooth out air bubbles. The material sticks to a variety of surfaces including brick, stucco, cinderblock, painted walls, metal, glass, and wood. It is perfect for our business model selling direct to consumers,” shares Tavia Campbell, COO, Walls 360.

With the help of an Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 and UltraChome GS ink, the shop produces prints that pop with a broad color gamut.

Walls 360’s diverse, creative, and ever-expanding customer base includes parents who buy Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar wall graphics for children’s rooms, buyers who purchase six-foot vintage Topps Sports cards for their basements, and avid gamers who deck out dens with life-size graphics from Mass Effect 3. “We also work with a number of artists and photographers who use our product to redefine gallery spaces,” adds Campbell.

Creative Clientele
Wyatt Neumann, a professional creative director, photographer, copywriter, screenwriter, and director, is a regular customer of Walls 360. Neumann recently requested the shop’s help in transforming space at Gallery Bar in New York City, NY to showcase his photography.

“Neumann wanted several photographs printed in large format—some to hang by themselves, and two large wall murals on which to hang his framed prints,” explains Campbell. “We helped him choose images with sufficient resolution that would fit the different wall sizes at Gallery Bar.”

The artist first sent his files to the PSP, who set to work printing them right away. The finished wallcoverings were overnighted to NY and Wyatt and the crew at Gallery Bar installed the graphics the same day as the show. Campbell encourages customers to have extra hands on deck during installation as pieces of large graphics often stick together.

With the help of the trusted Epson printer and Photo Tex media, the wallcovering project was printed and installed in less than one week.

Wall-to-Wall Possibilities
An expanding base of clients including design firms, businesses, architects, and artists share an interest in user-friendly wallcovering applications.  The PSPs profiled are ideal examples of what is out there.

Smartfilms works closely with specialty clients such as the CIRS at the UBC to create unique graphics that are also eco-friendly.

Primary Color has a keen understanding of how important the quality of a graphic is when viewed closely, as seen in it’s work with Hoag Hospital.

Express Color regularly partners with the Georgia Aquarium to accentuate the exhibits in a innovative way.

Walls 360 is finding success via the web selling it’s wallcoverings to consumers and licensing popular brands.

PSPs are in a unique position to educate customers about the many possibilities achievable with wallcoverings. Whether creating an exhibit, outfitting a LEED-certified building, or adding creative décor to one’s home, wallcoverings take ordinary spaces and transform them into eye-pleasing displays.

Jun2012, Digital Output

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