bp default image

If Wallcoverings Could Talk

Why the wallcoverings industry is partnering with digital print shops.

As more print shops are offering interior décor applications, digital print technologies are transforming the wallcoverings industry, specifically allowing for vastly increased customization by interior designers, architects, facility managers, and consumers. Wallcoverings manufacturers and distributors are addressing this demand through a variety of business strategies: Some produce digital substrates that they supply to PSPs; others have purchased their own equipment to supply directly to the field; and many are partnering with wide-format printers to offer finished digital goods. Those that have not entered the field are watching carefully to determine its feasibility. It’s no secret (or surprise) that the wallcoverings industry regards digital printing as one of the next frontiers of growth.

Enter the Market by Partnering
Wallcoverings must conform to a host of standards regulating performance, fire safety, and environmental and health impacts. Providers bring this expertise to the table by recognizing what types of wallcoverings are best suited for various environments and then recommending and providing substrates that will perform under specific conditions.

Wallcovering suppliers are also experts at designing for the wall. Whether they are helping a customer develop a pattern from scratch or manipulating a stock image, they understand the customization process, the customer’s needs, and how the pattern will ultimately be perceived on the wall. Interior designers are continually called on to create a unique aesthetic, but are limited by shrinking timeframes in which to accomplish it. They increasingly look to the wallcovering supplier to help them craft a distinctive artistic expression.

And wallcovering companies stay abreast of design trends. Their designers travel the world to attend tradeshows, participate in trend-forecasting groups, and follow lifestyle, fashion, and interior design trends. They have a keen appreciation for what will appeal to the customer, whether that customer is a commercial specifier, such as an interior designer or architect, or a commercial end-user, such as a facility manager or a residential homeowner.

What’s Trending: Design and Applications
Interior designers want to imprint their stamp on design, and digital wallcoverings are a creative and cost-effective vehicle. Wallcovering provider Astek works with many hospitality designers who are tasked with “grounding” the hotel design in its specific locale. For a San Francisco hotel, they helped create an illustrated map of the city for the lobby; in Chicago, they designed an image of Lake Michigan for a W property; and at Caesars’ Linq Hotel in Las Vegas, they created a large-scale colorful graffiti pattern that enhances the hip, urban attitude of the interiors.

Blending the old with the new is also currently trending, according to provider Tri-Kes. The company recently worked with The Lexington, a historic New York City hotel, to create an eclectic gallery of digitally printed murals that inject a contemporary feel while honoring the hotel’s early history in the ’20s. The lobby features a mural of upscale Ruben Toledo artwork while another art deco design envelops an open staircase. The murals were printed on an artist canvas substrate, then seamed and hung.

York Wallcoverings says consumers love murals for the statements they bring to a room. In high demand are techniques in watercolor effects, metallics, and Mylars. For York’s residential and commercial customers, mercury glass is popular, along with textures that appear chipped or hand carved. Marble looks are even making a comeback from the ’80s. Interior designers are also taking microgeometrics and blowing up the scale for added impact. To avoid pattern fatigue and increase visual interest, customers often ask York to design largescale patterns with no repeat.

Wallcoverings Association members are saying that metallic, while still popular, is shifting from pure shine to more sophisticated mixtures and layerings of matte and metallic finishes. Natural materials such as wood and stone are being translated into largescale patterns with grains and striations that are presented in natural as well as lively, not-seen-in-nature color combinations. Geodes, crystal formations, and agate patterns continue to trend as well as interpretations of weathered concrete and industrial materials. Interior designers are also requesting oxidized metal looks, earthy raw wood styles, earth-inspired imagery, and graphic ombré patterns with colorful fade effects.

And of course, due to digital, prints can be custom made. Designtex, a company in the development, design, and manufacturing of applied materials for the built environment, offers murals that can be completely customized. Customers start with their own images or select designs from the Designtex library and then add and delete elements to create a nonrepeating layout in which each panel is unique.

Substrate Special Effects
When it comes to digital substrates, expect the unexpected. Suppliers tell us they stay ahead of the design curve by experimenting with special effects designers don’t even know they want yet. They are proactive in sending sample rolls to printers to test and experiment with before they’re in demand.

Textured white vinyl media remain a mainstay, and suppliers are continually experimenting with new looks. These run from subtle linen, satin, and canvas to beaded, stippled, plaster, grasscloth, suede, stucco, and rainfall effects.

Brushed metal textures, iridescents, and high-gloss reflective metallics are still popular, and suppliers tell us to expect even more spectacular effects at upcoming tradeshows. And repositionables continue to stay attractive in the marketplace for a variety of reasons: short-term use without damaging the wall, flexibility in hanging wall murals, and quick installation with no wrinkling – opening up new end-use markets such as rental housing and broader applications in residential, retail, and commercial office spaces.

Out with the Old, in with the New
Digital wallcoverings have begun to replace fine art on walls because they can fill the space and generate as much, or more, visual interest for less cost. This use on feature walls is growing in residential and commercial markets including hotels, offices, and sports, healthcare, retail, and educational venues.

Run lengths are also increasing in the industry. Wallcoverings produced with inkjet equipment are becoming mainstream products rather than niche or custom graphics. As advances in technology enable faster speeds and greater precision, market demand will only increase. Single-pass technology could be the next big event in digital printing that will increase throughput and lower cost. Speed of delivery is also a strong driver in the market. To succeed, suppliers will have to reconcile the competing challenges of offering more customization while delivering the end product quickly.

Aside from walls, these products are being used to spruce up glass windows with etched and static cling vinyl and perforated films, cover kiosks and wrap columns in decorative patterns, and even hide unsightly construction areas. They provide informational as well as artistic value, providing wayfinding in hospitals and senior living facilities, expressing a brand in office or retail spaces, promoting teams and consumer brands in sports venues, and communicating school values in educational facilities. For wallcovering suppliers and PSPs alike, this fast-growing market may be the next big opportunity for expansion.

Read more from our May 2016 "Running the Tables" issue or check out "13 Digitally Printed Wallcoverings."

View more from this Big Picture issue