By Olivia Cahoon
Digitally printed wallpaper provides homes, retail, and office spaces with custom décor. In addition to print service providers, wallpaper manufacturers use digital printing technology to create short runs of wallpaper, reducing the need for inventory.
Instead of working directly with the consumer, these products are typically sold through distribution channels. Designers partner with wallpaper manufacturers using digital printing to cost effectively bring intricate, custom creations to life.
Above: Lancashire, England Surface Print’s Madama Butterfly, released in September 2017, is a large scale floral design available in six colorways—shown here, Ebony—and printed with an HP Latex 3500.
Founded in 1990, Surface Print is a fourth generation, family-run business in Lancashire, England. The company started with 25 employees and originally offered wallpaper surface printing in a 15,000 square foot work area.
Today, it manufactures and distributes worldwide from a 55,000 square foot facility with over 80 employees. Surface Print uses a range of printing techniques including surface, Sur-Flex, flexographic, flock, beads, emboss, and digital.
Surface printing is one of the oldest automated printing methods still in use today. A machine lays down heavy amounts of ink onto paper from engraved rollers, creating the design, with no drying time in between rollers. The Sur-Flex process was developed in house at Surface Print. The hand painted effect of surface printing is mixed with the fine details of flexographic printing to create unique designs with a 3D feel.
As a wallpaper manufacturer for brands worldwide, Surface Print also has its own product line, 1838 Wallcoverings. The collection is sold on Surface Print’s website, through U.K. retailers, and international distributors.
Surface Print started using digital technology in 2013. It now houses the latest range of digital printing presses in a purpose-built room in its Lancashire facility. “Innovation is very important for the wallpaper industry and there is a large demand for digitally printed wallpaper,” says Abigail Watson, marketing director, Surface Print.
Wallpapers are designed and prepared with AVA CAD/CAM software and printed on HP, Inc. Latex 3500 printers, which handle single-roll sizes up to 126 inches and print up to 1,290 square feet per hour (sf/h). The presses include inline slitters and dual-roll split spindles for single-operator roll change. According to Watson, the company selected the HP Latex 3500 because it was the best and newest technology at the time.
Currently, ten percent of Surface Print’s wallpaper offering is digitally printed—including its most detailed and complicated designs. “Designing digitally printed wallpaper offers the opportunity to use as many colors as the design requires and produce tones and marks to the artwork without compromising the design,” explains Watson. “With digital printing, there are no repeat limitations.”
The company recently experienced an increased demand for wallpaper panels. As an alternative to traditional wallpaper, wallpaper panels are separated panels wider than standard roll wallpaper for easy application. “Wallpaper panels are a rising trend allowing people to create extraordinary effects in their home,” continues Watson. “Fewer joints are visible and creativity is unlimited. They are ideal for large scale and mural designs.”
Surface Print’s most popular wallpaper offering is Madama Butterfly, released in September 2017. Madama Butterfly is a large scale floral design available in six colorways—Blush, Coral, Denim, Ebony, Ivory, and Teal—and printed with an HP Latex 3500. According to Watson, it is often requested by home owners, interior designers, U.K. retailers, and international distributors.
Designs by AIRE
One interior designer using Surface Print’s digital wallpaper services is Lancashire, England-based designer AIRE. Founded in 2016, it is operated by one employee that designs and creates wallpaper artwork, which is then manufactured locally by Surface Print. 100 percent of AIRE’s wallpaper offerings are digitally printed.
“I print solely with digital print technology due to the flexibility it offers me as a small brand,” says Claire Williams, CEO/founder, AIRE. “In terms of developing a range in a cost-effective way, it allows for experimentation of work on a small budget and developing artwork that has the potential to be printed onto a variety of substrates.”
AIRE sells its wallpapers directly through websites, agents, and distributors. Wallpapers are printed on HP Latex 3500 machines in Surface Print’s facility. “Digitally printed wallpaper allows for achieving more complex coloration of artwork,” offers Williams.
The HP Latex 3500 prints on non-woven paper coated with Surface Print’s traditional methods in a variety of ink bases to achieve pearl, silver, and gold/silver finishes. Designs and edits are made with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and sampling and striking is completed with AVA software.
With its digital printers and software, Surface Print samples and modifies AIRE’s artwork to produce accurate colors and designs. “However, the printers and associated software are still have occasional blips, which can cause technical issues,” admits Williams.
One reason designers opt for digital printing technology is because the design and printing process is much faster than traditional printing methods. According to Williams, this enables bolder and braver designs. Additionally, the investment and overall cost is lower, which allows designers to test more innovative products.
“Printing without the need to repeat—so in panel form and at a wider width—allows for wall murals that reference larger scales of directional designs in non-repeat to become more evident in the market,” says Williams.
AIRE’s most popular wallpaper offering is the Papillon Collection, released in September 2017. It offers 48 individual SKUs based on six designs. The Papillon Collection is produced with non-woven paper in silver, mica, and foil and printed with HP Latex 3500 printers. Requested by high-end residential industries, according to Watson, the wallpaper collection is a nostalgic reference to floral bygone designs with an air of modernity.
Petronella Hall started in January 2014 in Kent, England with two partners that printed original fabric designs and cushions. The company also offered a bespoke service for custom and re-colored designs.
Today, it employs three and outsources several workers. Petronella Hall provides custom wallpaper, fabric, and a selection of cushions in addition to its bespoke service. The company also creates designs for large multinational wallpaper companies.
Wallpaper designs are sent across the U.K. to individuals, interior designers, and retailers in East Sussex, Kent, London, and Scotland. “We have sold to various states in Australia, Germany, Spain, and the U.S. At the moment we are setting up retailers stocking our product in Canada and Russia,” says Petra Hall, founder, Petronella Hall.
Hall, the designer, works from home to keep the overhead down. “The money I save on rent I can put into new designs,” she explains.
Since its inception, Petronella Hall uses digital printing for wallpaper, fabric, and cushions to avoid restrictions with color and to continue hand drawing and painting designs. “Digital printing allows the beauty of the inky line to be perfectly represented,” explains Hall. “It also means I can change designs quickly for a bespoke client.”
The designer sells its wallpaper directly to customers through its website and social media accounts. Petronella Hall participates in trade and retail shows including Tent London and The Country Homes and Interiors Show in the U.K.
Currently, Wallpaper Direct, based in the U.K., is the company’s main vendor. Wallpaper Direct is an online retailer that carries over 4,000 different wallpaper patterns. According to Hall, it allows for efficient distribution in the U.S. “We added wallpaper books, so we are expanding into interior design shops both home and worldwide,” she continues. Recently, one of the company’s wallpaper books was sent to Hong Kong.
For digital printing, the designer outsources its work to John Mark Ltd. and Muraspec Wallcoverings. “They are great companies to work with, very flexible, and the digital product is consistent and good quality,” says Hall.
John Mark is a fourth generation wallpaper manufacturer based in Lancashire, England that uses HP latex technology to print its wallpaper. According to the company’s website, John Mark uses only water-based, environmentally friendly inks for its durability, colorfastness, and ability to be printed on a range of papers. Muraspec celebrates over 135 years in business. A production facility in Kent, England includes digital printing capabilities for wallpaper manufacturing.
“Digitally printed wallpaper allows the beauty of the artwork to be visible on the printed surface and there is no limit to the number of colors I can use,” shares Hall. “It is also faster to create with no waiting for screens to be produced or rollers to be engraved.” With access to digital capabilities and printing in one run, the designer has never experienced challenges for matching wallpaper.
However, Hall points out that screen to print color can vary, which makes the sampling process expensive. “Digitally printed wallpaper is relatively expensive in comparison—but then you have unlimited colors.” With digital printing, the company also produces new collections much faster and has small amounts printed—allowing Petronella Hall to avoid warehousing stock.
Its latest wallpaper, Conkers, was released in November 2017. Available in fog, snow, and midnight blue, Conkers is printed on matte non-woven paper to avoid light reflection on nearby windows. “It’s popular because of the hand painted squirrels and wrens dotted about the design, also hidden in the foliage are caterpillars for kids to find,” offers Hall.
High Percentage of Digital
Established in 1991, Astek Wallcovering Inc., started as a wholesale wallcovering and fabrics distributor in Van Nuys, CA. With one employee, the company originally used silk screen printing methods in a 5,000 square foot workspace and distributed its products to the West Coast. Its clients mostly consisted of Hollywood set designers, art directors, and production designers seeking in-stock wallpaper for television shows and feature films in greater Los Angeles, CA.
Today, Astek operates in a 22,000 square foot facility with 50 employees. The company is a wallcovering manufacturer that sells directly to designer and retail locations. “We still sell Sherwin Williams nationally including many smaller retailers. But now we cater to architectural and design communities,” says Aaron Kirsch, president, Astek.
The wallcovering manufacturer ships its projects worldwide to China, England, Mexico, North America, and South America. Besides wallcoverings, the company also offers custom digital printing services for banners, ceiling applications, decals, flooring, labels, magnetic walls, murals, and window films. “We print many jobs for Hollywood feature films and television back drops,” adds Kirsch.
In the early 2000s, the company invested in digital printing technology to meet demands for short runs and customization as a distributor. Soon after, Astek started to produce its wallcoverings in house to gain full control of its product. “Digitally printed wallcoverings provide the flexibility of unlimited colors, no minimums, and printing large single image murals,” says Jeff Dey, director of business development, Astek.
Today, 75 percent of the business is digital with products intended for mid- to upper-end markets. Many of its wallcoverings are proprietary to Astek and are developed exclusively and in close partnership. According to Dey, the wallcoverings are designed to work for the company’s needs and its clientele base, which mostly demand type II vinyl wallcoverings.
Astek still offers silk screen printing methods but according to Kirsch, digital is taking over. “Digital gives flexibility for designs and short runs and UV provides a durability factor,” he explains. “The older method of rotogravure and machine printing is needed for larger runs to make it cost effective.”
The company uses Rho 512R Plus and Rho 312R Plus printers from Durst Image Technology US LLC. The Rho 512R Plus is a five-meter wide, 12 picoliter, UV inkjet printer with Variodrop technology. It prints up to 4,150 sf/h and offers up to 1,200 dpi. The Rho 312R Plus is a 3.2-meter device that outputs up to 2,900 sf/h. “The speed, print quality, resolution, durability, and level of support gives us the competitive edge we need to thrive in this industry,” says Dey.
A variety of substrates and materials are printed to including decorative film, foil, linen, matte vinyl, paper, and PVC. To produce clearer graphics, the company prefers to print images in matte. “Most of the time wallcoverings need a matte finish as some of the other printers create a gloss finish which, for high-end prints, will not work and looks inexpensive,” offers Kirsch.
Finishing capabilities include kiss cutting and CNC routing with a Zünd cutting system. The Zünd device allows the company to cut up to an inch of acrylic, aluminum, plywood, and rigid media.
Astek’s most recent wallpaper line is the Ukiyo collection, released in March 2018. It’s available in ten patterns and three colorways each. The wallpaper is created with various proprietary, Astek-exclusive, type II wallcovering substrates. Printed on the Durst presses, the Ukiyo collection is often requested by interior designers in residential, commercial, and hospitality industries.
Dey offers, “using the ancient Japanese marbling process of suminagashi, Ukiyo is a contemporary take on the floating ink technique.” The designs are handcrafted in house with traditional ink, water, and paper, then digitally printed on proprietary type II wallcovering substrates. “Like its namesake, each composition is a suspended microcosm, captured before it dissipates,” he adds.
Astek constantly experiments with technology. For example, at the end of 2017 it announced its Haptic printing technique, which allows for printing raised surfaces to create dimensional wallcoverings. “It gives us the ability to create textures for commercial and residential projects,” says Kirsch. “With our design team, we have created files that look and feel like machine-printed textured goods.”
Advancements in digital technology allow for the unlimited creation of custom décor items. Digitally printed wallpaper offers designers the opportunity to cost-effectively produce unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. Wallpaper manufacturers keep pace with the latest design trends while simultaneously maintaining a low, inexpensive inventory.
Jun2018, Digital Output