Transforming Interiors with Digitally-Printed Wallcoverings
While for decades designer paints have replaced wallpaper as the go-to backdrop for posh hotels and restaurants around the world, advances in digital printing are ushering in a new era of interior design — one in which original, custom wallcoverings are turning ordinary spaces into jaw-dropping works of art.
In fact, according to industry research, the market for digitally-printed wallpaper is expected to grow by 25% annually through 2023. And PSPs with the right skills and technologies are poised to ride this wave.
With 17 employees and two locations — a screen printing studio and digital printing shop — Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Flavor Paper combines hand-crafted artistry with the best digital has to offer, creating original designs that elevate brands and engage guests.
“Flavor Paper’s founder, Jon Sherman, lives loudly; he is an art lover and a fan of pushing the limits,” says Kalin Siegwald, the firm’s manager of creative. “Our designs take after him in that regard.”
Inside Flavor Paper’s screenprinting studio, she adds, “wild effects like glitter, scratch and sniff, dayglo and glow in the dark” are produced, while the digital printing shop creates massive UV-printed murals that “push the limits of materials like mylar to create unconventional repeating designs that cause a stir.”
Up the coast in Holderness, N.H., MegaPrint designs and prints wallcoverings for worldwide clientele, using an arsenal of wide-format printing and finishing equipment to support the industry’s fast-growing array of media.
“Advances in technology are driving growth, and the actual production machinery itself has become very accurate,” says Tim Corbitt, owner of MegaPrint. “The inks that these printers now use — from traditional to latex and modern UV — are extremely durable, and print speeds are two to four times faster than we could run five years ago.”
Fairlawn, Ohio-based Koroseal Interior Products is a designer, distributor and producer of wallcoverings and other specialty interior products. According to the company’s director of digital Marc Moss, Koroseal serves the hospitality industry with products ranging from wood veneers and wall protection systems to dry erase wallcoverings, digital wallcoverings and more.
“We provide solutions for brands,” he says, adding that the customization of hotel and restaurant interiors is trending right now. “For both common areas and guest areas, brands are looking to customize their projects regionally and locally,” he adds. “Some are looking to give a facelift to a project by using digital prints on materials like wood veneers, white media and metallics.”
All That Glitters
Siegwald notes that, while printing technology has advanced dramatically in recent years, so have photographic capabilities, which are further expanding creative options for brands.
“Since cameras continue to improve and lenses get better, we have been able to produce some really interesting work that pushes the limits of a mural so that it doesn’t just recede back into the environment – it becomes the environment,” she says.
A good example of this, she adds, is Flavor Paper’s “Lil’ Druzy” design, which is created by first photographing the inside of a gemstone with a high-end camera and macro lens. The image is then printed on the company’s “Bada Bling” material, which is embedded with glitter.
“The result is a wall that gets as close to the inside of a gemstone as possible,” Siegwald says. “The image itself is true to life, and then Bada Bling material gives the design the twinkly effect you would see if you were holding the gem in your hand.”
Inking the Deal
Designers are also making the most of new ink formulations. “Now we have printers that print with white inks, which allow us to print on clear and colored backgrounds,” Corbitt says. “It’s amazing what you can do now that we can print on every color.”
Emerging ink technologies, he adds, will yield even more compelling designs down the road. “Fluorescents will open up something in the future we haven’t taken advantage of yet. And the industry is releasing reflective, so you aren’t bound by what the substrate manufacturer made — you can create it with ink, and that is exciting.”
While new color options continue to hit the market, brands are also asking for unique textures. “We are printing on a lot of different types of materials, and on our own materials with heavy embossing and other textured effects,” Moss says. “For example, a national chain recently used our Heritage Wood standard embossed wallcovering and digitally printed wood planks as a value engineering option. Another hotel installed our standard wallcovering on three walls within its hotel rooms, and then printed an embellishment on the same wallcovering to create a feature wall.”
More is More
All of this innovation has hospitality brands designing graphics that are bigger and bolder, Siegwald says. “People are beginning to think of wallpaper, especially our wallpaper, like art pieces, which we haven’t seen in the past as much,” she says. “Rather than spending money on a quiet beige wallpaper that will be the background for a piece of art, people are investing in the paper as the art.”
Corbitt also sees more brands opting for the unusual. “We recently worked with a hotel restaurant that was hanging musical instruments — 50-ft., 3D guitars — from the ceiling,” he says. “So that was no longer a square wall to cover, and the installer needed to install these wraps correctly, working upside down.”
The biggest challenge, he adds, was aligning the material with the curves of the guitars. “Plus, the guitar wraps had to be functionally correct,” he says. “The guests were going to notice if the strings and other features were not in the right place.”
Siegwald points to marbling as another special effect that is popular among hospitality clients. “We noticed that a lot of people were doing marbling of different sorts, but in many cases, we had a bigger dream for what the output could be,” she says. “We also thought that it would be interesting to combine our processes in new ways. This gave way to us experimenting with creating compositions of our hand screen inks, which we shot with an excellent camera and printed at a striking scale.”
While production and installation processes can make or break a finished print, success for PSPs ultimately hinges on getting the creative vision right.
“You are dealing with an idea that someone has in their mind that your graphic designer has to interpret,” Moss says. “If a brand would like to digitally print a tree, for example, there are many ways to do this and many questions to ask. What kind of tree? What time of year? With or without leaves? At night or during the day? A lot goes into the creative process.”
With technological advances giving hospitality businesses so much creative freedom today, what does the future hold?
“We are heading into a time when we will have the ability to print on just about anything you can imagine,” Corbitt says. “There are flatbeds with printheads that adjust their heights to print around corners, for example. We also have the ability to cut new shapes — cutouts of people and nature produced on CNC machines. We see all kinds of products that people can now print and personalize using a combination of tools.”
Moss notes that inks are improving and print speeds accelerating — all while costs are coming down. “This is leading to increased competition in the market, which reduces prices and profitability,” he says. “So, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition, which can be accomplished through an online presence as well as a great sales team.”
And automation, Corbitt adds. “One area that has changed recently has to do with the ability to connect through e-commerce channels to sell products,” he says. “Whether it is the restaurant or hotel owner, or the guy who owns the golf course, clients can order their products and choose their images online. While not as easy as Amazon, this is simplifying what used to be a very complex process. These guys are really busy. If they can do things when they have down time, it makes their jobs so much easier.”
Even amidst all these advances, says Siegwald, certain aspects of the business remain the same. “It is important to have a great design,” she says. “It is important to pay attention to detail, to work quickly and precisely and to be a creative problem solver. Any number of situations can occur with screen printing and digital printing that require being resourceful and finding answers to new challenges.”