By Cassandra Balentine
Advancements in print quality and software automation enable wide format print to enter the mainstream, consumer market. As an Internet-based design and print facilitator, Paper Culture relies on its sophisticated and proprietary Web to print (W2P) platform, unique workflow, and print provider partnerships to enable its customers to produce personalized, photography-based wall art.
A majority of the company’s orders come from its stationery products, which include holiday cards, invitations, announcements, and labels. However, in the past few years, it has branched into wide format offerings, providing wall art in the form of both adhesive decals and bamboo art.
While customer focused, Web-based design-to-print storefronts are popular, Paper Culture differentiates itself from the competition.
Christopher Wu, co-founder/CEO, Paper Culture, describes the ecommerce company as a provider of personalized print products with a commitment to the environment and distinct design voice. “We’re not a one-size-fits-all shop, we’re more akin to a fashion company,” he states.
Eliminating the need for design skills can be both an advantage and disadvantage to consumer-focused W2P platforms. On the one hand, novice users without any design training easily manipulate a template and order a professional print. Templates are often lacking when it comes to tightening the project to 100 percent satisfaction.
To address this issue, Paper Culture builds free design help into its workflow. As a user, customers can choose a template, edit text and images, and proceed to proofing. From here they submit the order.
On the backend, the template design is taken from the Web page and converted back to native Adobe Systems Incorporated Creative Suite applications such as Adobe Illustrator where Paper Culture’s designers can communicate back and forth with the customer until the proof is satisfactory. “If you were a commercial client, you’d expect a proof, but often that process is manual. We’ve added automation and turned that experience onto the consumer,” adds Wu.
Wide Format Options
About two years ago, Paper Culture made the decision to provide wide format offerings on its site. While the concept is relatively new, Wu sees strong potential for wide format within the company.
“We look less at the technology and more at the application. The primary driver for the applications is size, and you can’t get that with narrow format presses,” says Wu.
He points out that in addition to length and width, substrate thickness is also a consideration. “We provide a bamboo wall art offering that we currently print and then laminate onto the substrate, but in the future we’d be interested in printing direct,” he adds.
For wall decal applications, Paper Culture relies on Perception Wide Format Media’s PhotoFAB ECO portfolio, which features an ultra-removable adhesive and water resistant coating ideal for both interior and exterior applications. “We looked at a lot of materials and Perception’s are the most forgiving,” says Wu. “It’s like a sticker that lets you change your mind.”
Additionally, the product line is 100 percent recycled, which fits into the company’s focus on sustainability. PhotoFAB ECO uses Repreve, a recycled fiber that contains recycled materials, including plastic bottles, to help conserve natural resources.
While Paper Culture is not a print provider itself, the company is committed to excellence and therefore partners with print providers that deliver the quality and turnaround time expected by its customers.
The company’s wide format products are printed on a variety of equipment, including EFI VUTEk grand format devices, Epson SureColor wide format systems, and some Canon U.S.A., Inc. hardware. “We do a lot of photo work so image quality is essential. Many grand format graphics are meant to be viewed at a distance, for us, it’s about two feet, so a high-quality press and RIP are critical,” says Wu.
Ease of installation is top of mind. Consumers want to be creative, and they also don’t want to read instructions. Paper Culture’s wall graphics need to be easy to apply. Many designs are modular, enabling the customer to get a little creative.
Currently, Paper Culture’s wide format products only make up a small percentage of overall sales. While wide format decals are gaining popularity, there aren’t many offering the product with the same level of personalization and photo options. Innovative companies such as Paper Culture lead the industry into a new market of Web-reliant print buyers—the consumer.
Jan2014, Digital Output