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Setting the Stage

(September 2014) posted on Tue Aug 26, 2014

Digital printing adds realism to film and TV productions.

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By Mike Antoniak

The next time you’re watching a film or television show, focus on the posters on the wall, the books, magazines, and products around the room. They may look like everyday items, but odds are some are impostors, produced on a digital printer.

“Our job is often not about making ‘pretty things’ but about mimicking reality,” says Agnieshka Jane, graphics director for Los Angeles-based HPR Graphics (, a division of The Hand Prop Room, which specializes in props for the entertainment industry.

“If you’re watching network TV and you see the actors eating, drinking or reading, unless there’s a specific product placement (by an advertiser), they’re not using real brands; those products have to be faked.”

Why? First, there are the legal issues and brand implications for products featured on the big or small screen. It’s easier for producers to turn to a company like Jane’s for a reasonable facsimile than invest the time, effort and money to secure legal clearance from a brand or trademark owner.

Then, there’s heightened demand for realism because of advances in imaging technology. “HD is just a lot more exacting,” says Jane. “People are more concerned than ever that anything an actor handles looks as real as possible.”

Prop masters, the ones charged with securing items for the set or scene, turn to companies like hers for those realistic touches. “If it’s something that can be printed, we’ve probably done it,” says Jane.

She and her eight-member staff routinely design and deliver the variety of times you expect to see on the street, in a home, or at the office: packaging for every conceivable consumer product; all types of published works; signs; business, medical, legal, or law enforcement documents; identification tags; even license plates. Sometimes the prop is something you might see today, sometimes it’s the relic of a bygone era.

“Period shows are all the rage these days,” notes Jane. “They are usually more challenging, but also more creative and fun.”

You Name It, We’ll Make It
The Hand Prop Room maintains its own inventory of more than one million items that it rents or sells to film and TV producers. The graphics department launched in the 1970s, offering custom design and fabrication of items not already available.