The Writing on the Wall Spells Opportunity
Wallcoverings are back, big-time. They’re brighter and bolder than ever, and they represent one of the fastest-growing markets in digital printing. Growth is projected to be 25 percent annually through 2023, with revenue climbing from $2.53 billion to $7.74 billion.
Several factors are fueling this renewed popularity for wallcoverings after decades of being passé. These include the recovery of the residential and commercial construction industry, the powerful influence of social media, the advent of eye-catching pop-up retail space, and booming demand for customized murals, vistas, and large-scale indoor and outdoor décor elements in hotels, restaurants, stores, corporate offices and conference rooms, apartment complexes, healthcare environments, and educational institutions.
Designers and interior décor professionals have their eyes out for fresh, affordable, and fast alternatives to traditional wallcoverings as a way to creatively transform spaces, provide an interactive experience, or express a unique brand image. From corporate meeting rooms and executive offices, to hotel lobbies and campus dining halls, digitally printed interior décor offers virtually infinite variety and options for creatively personalizing and customizing surroundings, including:
- Entire rooms covered with a single image over multiple panels
- Dramatic feature walls
- One-of-a-kind murals
- Dynamic die cut wall decals
- Custom ceilings – a.k.a. the “fifth” wall
Although the resurgence of wallcoverings has sparked the growth of the décor segment, the possibilities also extend to enhanced window coverings, floor graphics, custom 3D cut outs, and gallery canvas wraps.
Conventional Technologies Have Limited Business Growth Potential
For years, most designers and wallpaper manufacturers treated the décor option as a mass-market item produced using conventional analog printing and classic design parameters. Then the introduction of wide-format digital technology brought with it the possibility of efficient end-to-end printing that could accommodate custom orders and smaller press runs, faster and more economically. However, the wallcovering industry has been slower than many other segments to embrace the potential of digital printing.
But relying on existing wide-format print systems makes it difficult for print service providers (PSPs) to capitalize on the business growth opportunities these hot new design trends present, impeding their ability to compete against the growing number of specialty and online graphics providers. First of all, many existing 64” latex, eco-solvent, and UV systems are unable to address the interior décor market’s four critical requirements: design, precision, quality, and speed.
Cost. It’s expensive to own and operate UV and latex digital printers that meet exacting quality standards. Specialized wallpaper offset presses have a giant footprint and price tag to match, plus costly tooling and materials with limited shelf life.
Labor-intensive requirements. Set up is time consuming, and the entire production process requires constant hands-on management.
Color. Accuracy and consistency can be difficult to achieve with conventional processes and inks.
Production time. To be practical and profitable, analog processes require high-volume production with generous timelines, making them ill-suited for custom wallcovering projects.
Dimensional consistency. Media stretching or deforming can result from heat-based evaporative technologies used for curing and drying latex or eco-solvent inks, and inks containing water can cause media to swell.
Conventional digital and inkjet technologies also force PSPs to choose between quality and productivity. Décor applications demand precision image reproduction, smooth output with no banding, and excellent repeatable color and geometric consistency across the image and across multiple panels. But using the higher-quality print modes’ top-caliber output substantially curbs output speed. That’s because the dot gain/coalescence limits of latex and eco-solvent inkjet systems limit the volume of ink that can be laid down at one time.
Group Imaging in Mesa, Ariz., specializes in creating wide-format wallpaper, murals, and large-scale wall graphics for children’s environments in churches and youth camps, but CEO Jeff Burris found it challenging to find the right equipment to meet his needs. “The issue with printing wallpaper, and anyone who has done this seriously at all will have found the same thing, is the technologies out there have an inherent problem of print-to-print consistency,” he says. “The wallcovering we produced using latex devices was inconsistent and it did not match in quality, color accuracy, nor geometric constancy from panel to panel. Because of this, we had to do a lot of reprints, which incurred additional costs: waste in media, ink, and labor, both on site and at the installation site.”
Chuck Wingard, president and owner of Tree Towns Imaging & Color Graphics in Elmhurst, Ill., encountered similar issues relying on latex technology to print wallcoverings and other wide format materials. “In order to get a high-quality print, we had to run the machine more slowly than we would have liked. Color consistency would shift from panel over panel and so would consistency when it came to dimension because you would get some stretching when it came time to heat up a vinyl material,” he said.
Wall-to-wall Opportunity Demands Breakthrough Technology
The good news is that innovative advances in wide-format digital print technology have created outstanding opportunities for print service providers like Group Imaging and Tree Towns Imaging to quickly and cost-effectively print multi-panel wallcoverings, enabling them to capitalize on the hottest wallcovering design trends. With cutting-edge, high-speed, roll-to-roll printers featuring the latest UV technology, PSPs are uniquely positioned to deliver top-quality products that meet the high expectations of today’s wall décor customers. Here are four key reasons why:
- No more need to sacrifice speed for quality. Industrial speed plus top-notch output results in end-to-end productivity perfectly aligned with growing demand for fast-turnaround jobs, including small batches, one-offs, or high-volume projects. Previously, this productivity was possible only using multiple roll-to-roll engines or a larger flatbed print engine.
- Vibrant colors with high repeatability, excellent dimensional consistency, and reliable durability. With the most advanced UV ink technology, inks don’t coalesce. As a result, printers can deliver repeatable coverage and speed. In addition, the low-temperature curing process prevents media from stretching or deforming, no matter how long the panel. Wall décor applications are often in high-traffic and/or public areas, making durability critical.
- Outstanding media versatility allows PSPs to produce multiple décor applications using a single device. The ability to print on a wide variety of substrates, including coated and uncoated, woven and non-woven, vinyl, paper, PVC-free, and self-adhesives, enables PSPs to easily meet customer needs ranging from unique wall murals to window treatments to directional floor signage.
- Rapid return on initial capital investment and low ongoing operational costs. Greater automation, limited operator involvement, simplified production management, and on-the-fly maintenance technology support unattended printing and reduced waste and provide higher uptime. This reduces labor costs, while ink and printing costs also are much lower, on average, compared to conventional 64” roll-to-roll technologies.
For Tree Town’s Wingard and Group Imaging’s Burris, the next-generation wide format printers were game changers. “We were looking for speed and color consistency, and we were able to find that in Canon Solutions America’s Océ Colorado 1640 printer,” Wingard says. “You get an ink savings and then you get the labor save, and then add to that getting more square feet through the machine in an eight-hour day – it all adds up on the positive side.”
Burris discovered the Océ Colorado 1640 with UVgel inks when he started looking around for a printer to resolve his persistent color consistency, durability, and quality issues. “All of these prior issues have gone away, not to mention the added bonus in productivity and the automation that this product brings to the table,” he says. “We’re able to print two to three times faster. We’ve done 22-foot panels and had no problem with alignment. Having this printer has taken the knot out of my stomach.”
Burris was one of five Canon customers from around the world who participated in the company’s World of Wallcovering (WOW) Challenge. Each participant used their Colorado to produce one panel of wallcovering that lined up perfectly on a display at the 2018 SGIA Expo, demonstrating the printer’s color-matching capabilities, consistency, and geometric consistency. “That experience has allowed us to feel confident in our ability to provide reprints for customers,” he sys. “We now know that it is possible to produce prints that will match even if printed at different times.”
Another WOW Challenge participant, Bigger Printing Company, in Gloucestershire, UK, came away equally impressed. “The fact that five different companies, in five different countries, using different RIP software, using different set-ups, and working in different color spaces can all produce identical prints is unheard of,” says Operations Manager David Bowen. “Having embraced the UVgel technology provided by the Océ Colorado 1640, we haven’t looked back.”
Capturing New Opportunities Requires the Right Technology
As with any new business opportunity, generating new revenue from the burgeoning wall décor market requires strategic planning and investment in the right resources. PSPs who rely on conventional or outdated technology will find it difficult to compete successfully in today’s demanding wallcoverings marketplace. On the other hand, PSPs willing to deploy next generation digital wide-format print technology will be ideally positioned to meet customers’ skyrocketing expectations for speed, quality, color consistency, and durability – strengthening their capability to stand out from the crowd, attract new business, and enjoy speedy ROI.