Opening Up Doors: 858 Graphics

Turning artists into clients.

In the four years since David Hay and Brandon Stapper began knocking on doors around San Diego to drum up business for 858 Graphics, their start-up has blossomed into a successful business, despite the economy.

“We started with a vinyl lettering machine we bought used off ebay, working out of a garage,” recalls Hay. “We were lucky enough to find some large accounts who gave us a chance, then we added more capabilities as we began getting requests for different types of work.” Today, 858 Graphics has 15 employees working in its own facility, and offers a complete menu of digital printing services.

Fine-art printing represents a small share of its sales, but it’s an important part of its portfolio. “It’s growing, but maybe only five or 10 percent of our business,” Hay admits. “The nice thing about it is, it opens doors with some accounts and gives us a chance to sell them everything else we can do.”
The company has positioned the service to be less intimidating. Rather than call it “fine-art printing,” 858 promotes the service as “artist’s canvas prints” on its website, where most orders originate.

“We don’t want to scare anyone off,” says Hay. “We try to simplify the process and make it as easy as possible for someone to place an order.” The site includes brief videos showing photos transformed into wall-mounted prints, drop-down menus for selecting papers and sizes, and links for uploading files.

“The files go right to our prepress department, where someone here looks at them to see how they will print,” he adds. “Sometimes, we get perfect files, sometimes not. We even get images sent right from someone’s smart phone they want blown up.” When needed, a prepress representative will call that customer, explain the limitations, and explore possible solutions for a better file and print. “We don’t want to bore them with a ton of specs, but want to make sure they will be completely satisfied with the results.”

Prints are produced with a Roland AdvancedJet AJ-1000 solvent inkjet, with Roland inks on 13-ounce canvas. Typical Art Canvas orders are for 18 x 24 or 24 x 36 prints, Hay reports. Work can be shipped as rolled prints or stretched and mounted to 1/2- or 1-inch stretchers. The company also offers prints on canvas up to 8-feet wide x 18-feet long.

Most orders are for one or two prints, but the company handles much larger specialty projects, as well. One such project required a series of large mounted canvas prints highlighting the history of a solar turbine company for installation at its headquarters. And, each year, 858 reproduces the images featured in the surf apparel maker Reef’s new calendar as oversized canvas prints adorning the walls at its annual unveiling. The largest of this year’s prints measured 6 x 10 feet.

The big projects can sometimes prove easier than printing on canvas for consumers. Corporate marketers are generally familiar with the capabilities of digital printing, and the possibilities. For most consumers, though, printing on canvas is still a new concept.

“The biggest challenge is figuring out where the sweet spot is in terms of the cost and quality,” Hay observes. “It can be hard to understand where consumers’ expectations are when they order a print on canvas. Some want the cheapest print, but the best quality. Others aren’t happy when their pictures are blown up, even though we’ve tried to explain the problem with their original file.”

A revamp of the 858 website is in the works to make it easier for customers to proof Art Canvas orders prior to printing. “This is not a specialty for us, but one of many services we provide,” says Hay. “But it’s something we want to pay attention to because it’s a growing market.”


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