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The Whys and Wherefores of Interior Décor

Why your shop should consider printed interior-decoration opportunities.

Düsseldorf, Germany isn’t a location I would typically refer to as my ideal vacation spot in November. After all, I’m used to temperatures in the mid-50s and sunny skies at that time of the year here in Vegas.

Yet this is just what I’m considering. Why? Because the Printed Interior Decoration (PID) conference (www.printedinteriordecoration.org) takes place there, November 26-27 this year.

“The conference will look closer at the state-of-the-art printing solutions on home textiles, ceramics, flooring, wallpapers, wallcoverings, wall murals, glass-decoration solutions, furniture, upholstery, and many other solutions,” according to the event’s website. Cool!

I want to be there for two reasons. First, I love going to international conferences. It’s great to meet colleagues from outside the US; plus I get a fresh perspective on our industry and fresh ideas to bring home to make our company better. I’ve never gone to a European show where the benefits have not clearly outweighed the cost.

Second, our company has been producing printed interior-decoration products for nearly 20 years and this has become a very important market segment for us. I’m hoping by going to PID I can mingle with company owners and managers who are experts in this arena – I still have a lot to learn.

I’ll admit to a bit of a subjective mindset on this topic: I believe it’s simply unwise for anyone who owns a large- or grand-format digital printer to ignore the interior-decorating market. There are plenty of reasonably easy-to-produce, printed interior-decorating products available. And as this is written, profit margins in this market niche are significantly better than selling printing signs or vehicle wraps, to name just two product categories.

It’s all about the wall
Wallcoverings – aka wallpaper – are the natural starting point when it comes to printed interior décor. The good news is almost anyone with a wide-format printer can produce wallcoverings, but keep in mind that I’m not talking about sheets of decal vinyl like we would use for a bus wrap. I don’t consider decal vinyl stuck on walls to be interior decorating. Sheets of sticky-back vinyl are fine for temporary wall graphics – love them, do them all the time. But the big problem with “decal-based” wallcoverings is that they’re so thin they’ll reveal every surface irregularity. True wallcoverings come in multiple textures from suede to stucco, up to an 18-mil thickness.

Digitally printed, interior-decorating wallcoverings really require panels that install with wallpaper paste or other adhesive and have a perfect butt seam. The standard widths for wallcoverings are 27 and 54 inches; digitally printed wallcoverings are typically 55 to 56 inches in width and are cut down to 54 inches for installation.

Now, in considering a digitally printed wall, the first thing that might naturally come to mind is a mural. And although wall murals were once very popular, these supersized pictures on walls have become somewhat passé for interior décor. Instead, the growing demand is for decorative and step-and-repeat patterns – visually appealing designs (that might also include a client’s company logo, by the way) featuring exacting color palettes.

A few more points about wallcoverings:

• Most of the walls we produce are 10-feet tall or less; so wide expanses of printed wallcoverings can be produced without a seam. Admittedly, it takes an amazing paperhanger to work with pieces this big, but we’ve found that customers go nuts over printed walls with no seams.

• The availability of printable metallic and chrome substrates has been a hot development in wallcoverings. When these are used in conjunction with white ink, you can produce some truly amazing effects. Our shop recently produced a gold chrome wallcoverings project with a step-and-repeat of the names of all of Michael Jackson’s songs in white.

• Other substrate finishes like brushed metal are also available, but keep in mind you’re not limited to off-the-shelf products: You can also create your own finishes. In one project, for instance, we took ordinary vinyl wallcovering media and added a hand-applied silver leaf. We printed over the silver-leaf face with floral patterns using an underlayment of white ink. The designers were careful to leave considerable silver leaf exposed. The end result: accent wallcoverings that looked handmade and were used throughout a large performing arts center. The graphics continue to receive rave reviews and, best of all, no one guesses these wallcoverings accents were actually digitally printed.

Additional wall possibilities
Beyond the more standard wallcoverings, we’ve pursued and produced a variety of other interior-décor solutions, all geared around a client’s walls.

For instance, one option is to create magnetic walls and magnetic-receptive graphics. A client’s wall can be covered with magnetic sheeting or painted with a magnetic primer – this allows a print shop to output onto paper sheeting that comes with a metalized layer; the paper magnetically clings to the wall. We like this technology for commercial applications and children’s rooms where entire walls or design elements can be changed quickly and easily – all without any professional installation.

We’re also at the early stages of producing fabric tension walls and ceilings that have been digitally printed. These boast a variety of advantages for your shop as well as the client, including: 10-foot-wide panels; quick and clean installations; and a resultant perfect fabric wall.

Our recent purchase of a large dye-sub, flatbed heat press was made with interior decorating in mind. We’re developing dye-sublimated architectural sheet-metal panels by sublimating digital images into the polyester powder-coated surface of the metal. As a result, the image becomes as durable as the powder coating itself. This is great for walls in hallways, bathrooms, and elevators – any place where image durability can be a problem. We’re also producing smaller, thicker panels similar in size to gallery-wrapped canvases – these can be mounted to walls with standoffs or French cleats.

Keep in mind, however, that you don’t need dye-sub capability to print metal. Much of this kind of work can be done direct printing with a UV printer. Still, I believe that the sublimated metal results in various advantages, including: a more continuous-toned look; brighter and more vibrant colors; very high resolution; and better control over surface sheen.

And, of course, metal isn’t your only materials option. We’ve also generated acrylic, polycarbonate, wood, and glass pieces. For the National Geographic Museum, we recently produced a “50 greatest images” exhibit using second surface UV-cured printing to acrylic. They were stunning – plus, it’s always nice to start a job with the world’s best photographs.

Opening up the décor umbrella
I’m enthusiastic about a number of other printed interior-decoration opportunities as well. Don’t neglect, for instance, the floor: floors decorated with printed carpet, as well as clear PVC and ceramic tile.

And what about printed doors, table tops, window treatments, cabinet faces, even appliance pancels? These all fall under the “interior-décor umbrella” – and within each of these categories you can probably find dozens of profit opportunities for your shop. In the window-treatment segment, for instance, there’s printed optically clear polyester, direct print to glass, and digital print laminated into safety glass; window treatments could also include shades, curtains, blinds, and shutters.

So, now do you see why I want to brace the cold and make the winter trip to Düsseldorf?

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