Digitally produced wallcoverings are transforming empty spaces into a venue for marketing, rebranding, and self-expression.
Looking for new ways to profit from your wide-format digital print capabilities?
Some opportunities can be so obvious, they’re easily overlooked. Such is the case with digitally produced wallcoverings, a category only now fully coming into its own as digital print technologies have made short runs more economically feasible.
Just how much “buzz” are wallcoverings receiving right now? On the commercial and institutional side of the wallcoverings market, hotels are just one example. “We’re seeing boutique hotels ‘up the ante’ when it comes to using eye-catching wallcoverings both in public areas – lobbies, etc. – and guest rooms to help create a unique guest experience,” says Matthew Hall, editor of Boutique Design magazine, which covers trends in hospitality interiors.
The residential side of the market has also seen a marked upswing. Producers of residential wallcoverings have seen global sales increase an average of approximately 30 percent in the last five to seven years, reports the Wallcoverings Association (WA, wallcoverings.org; see sidebar). “Our members are seeing significant increases in sales. Factors that may be contributing to this increase in popularity, sales, and consumer appeal include the tremendous innovation in manufacturing and machinery, making wallcovering far more cost effective than ever,” the association reports.
To get the manufacturers’ point of view on the surging wallcoverings market, we talked to several manufacturers and suppliers of media for wallcoverings, including: Converd, Dreamscape, FlexCon, Lintec, Neschen, and Ultraflex Systems.
What you’ll find is that when it comes to digitally produced wall graphics, opportunities are waiting for those shops willing to pursue them.
Re-branding and re-tooling interiors
“Any product that offers a creative and unique place to advertise is especially popular right now,” says Jaime Giannantonio Sherman, marketing manager for Ultraflex Systems. “Printable wallpaper provides an avenue for advertisers to get their message on a variety of surfaces in many locations, and their message is always eye-level with their audience.”
And while that’s been an option since digital printing and adhesive-backed vinyl first met, the bright outlook for wallcoverings owes as much to advances in digital printers and media, as changing priorities in print buyers’ marketing plans.
“When the recession hit, a lot of marketing budgets took a hit, and people started looking at some less-expensive things they could do,” observes Matt Myers, business development manager for Neschen America. “Many realized that today’s digital printers, and wallcovering materials offer a very cost-effective option for rebranding, or changing the interior of a location without the expense of entirely redoing it,” Myers continues.
In fact, the visibility given digitally-printed wallcoverings is now seeding and feeding demand for these print services. “With more printers now offering wallcoverings, more customers see the possibilities,” points out Peter Spotto, sales manager for Dreamscape. “They recognize how easy and affordable it is to come up with a unique look, whether for the redesign of a store, displaying the company logo on the wall of the lobby at headquarters, or updating the theme of a restaurant.”
Customization is the key to this market growth, says John Coyne, sales manager for Lintec of America. “Print service providers may inventory only a few different textures (in wall media) yet offer hundreds of styles and designs to their customers.”
Jodi Sawyer, product manager for the product branding team of FlexCon, perhaps sums it up best: “Walls are becoming prime interior billboards for powerful messaging and imagery.”
And while most wallcovering work is for commercial applications, a sub-niche is also developing – in digitally printed custom wallpapers and graphics for installation inside homes, schools, churches, and other non-commercial spaces. “Home décor is another environment where consumers can order ‘one-off’ digital prints to create personalized custom wall graphics for their home,” notes Sawyer.
“We are in a world where individualism is the new opportunity,” adds Sean McLaughlin, president of Converd. “This is your wallpaper and it can be anything you want it to be.” As an example, he says walls of digital prints helped remake his own young son’s room into a Hawaiian beach. “This is where the imagination meets the road. What we have to do is make it more obvious and even easier for the masses to understand and access.”
Products for every project
Before print-service providers can do that, however, suppliers maintain they must make themselves aware of the full range of specialized media now available. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all wall solution,” notes Sawyer. “Wall surface, graphic size, and print methods vary.”
But there is a right media for every project, and providers should take that into account in initial discussions with clients, according to Myers. Print providers “will be well served when bidding on a job to make sure they know what the requirements are in terms of print quality, longevity, removability, and if the material must meet fire codes or be fire retardant,” he observes. “If you don’t, you could be exposing yourself to some liabilities you may not recognize.”
For example, says Myers, some have mistakenly assumed the wallcoverings market merely represented a new application for graphics printed on traditional adhesive-backed vinyl. That’s no longer the case. The choices in printable wallcovering material offer both breadth and depth. As far as material or media goes, it includes traditional wallcovering papers and fabrics optimized for digital inks, a growing subset of materials with repositionable or removable adhesive, and an emerging class of non-PVC films promoted as safer and more environmentally friendly for interior installations. Within these categories, many also offer a selection of textures or finishes to give wallcoverings a distinct look and feel.
Choices in this category may be referred to with terminology new to print providers. Traditional fabric-backed wallcovering media will be described as Type I, II, or III. Those numbers refer to the weight of a section of the material measuring 36 inches at the standard wallcovering width of 54 inches. Type I is a lightweight material; Type II the medium-duty material used for most commercial applications; and Type III the most durable material recommended for extremely abrasive conditions. These materials will also carry a fire burn rating of Class A or Class B, important considerations for complying with local building codes.
Depending on the choice of media, installation of interior wall graphics can be as critical as print quality to client satisfaction with the job. “If you’ve never done a wallcovering installation with traditional materials, this may be a situation where you should consider hiring a professional installer,” suggests Spotto. “Hanging and matching five panels of material with paste is not at all like working with adhesive backed vinyl.”
An array for digital print work
As indicated earlier, wallcovering products span the gamut these days, and there are dozens of manufacturers and suppliers of wallcovering-oriented media (see “Tracking Down Media,” pg xx). Some comments from each of the suppliers sourced here on their current wallcovering rosters:
DreamScape is the digital media brand of Roysons Corp., international supplier of printed wallcovering materials for both the commercial and residential markets. It launched its DreamScape division six years ago in response to customer requests for more customizable options via digital printing.
“The products we make are considered Type 2 commercial grade wallcoverings,” says DreamScape’s Spotto. “They are all flame- and smoke-rated so they meet any applicable codes.” The digital wall media are compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, UV, and latex print systems.
Demand for the digitally printable material has proven so great, he reports, that the line now includes 14 different surface textures. “The lighter textures are always most popular because they work well with the widest range of graphics. With heavier textures like plaster and pueblo, they’re looking for that texture as part of the look of the graphic.”
The original line has no adhesive, and since it requires paste to affix it to the underlying surface, it is recommended for permanent installations. For wall graphics intended to be up for a year or less, the company also offers its self-adhesive Textured Wall Wraps line of repositionable media in three textures. “It’s a heavy vinyl, 9- to 11-mil thick, depending on the texture with a repositionable adhesive,” he explains.
Two years ago, Dreamscape added a PVC-free wallcovering material to its line with the introduction of Terralon media for solvent, eco-solvent, and UV inks. Its latest introduction is its Bling line of metallic enhanced vinyls; reflective metal flakes embedded into the material enable some special effects on wallcoverings.
Ultraflex’s line of Wallscapes Wallcoverings is offered in a variety of finishes and intended for printing with eco-solvent, solvent, and UV, as well as screen printing. “Our most popular embossment is suede,” notes marketing director Sherman, claiming it “enhances the look of any graphic.” Later this year, the company will add Bali Hai to the line, a stucco-like texture. She says it “can be installed to the wall surface using commercial glues and adhesives, or sewn and grommetted.”
The company also plans to add what she describes as a “hybrid product” called Fabritac. “It is a removable adhesive fabric that can be mounted to any surface and repositioned countless times while retaining its adhesion without leaving a residue.”
Earlier this year, Top Value Fabrics expanded its product catalog with its first material developed specifically for digitally printed wall coverings. The PVC-free 4-ounce fabric has been especially engineered for printing on solvent, eco-solvent, UV, latex, and screen printers and will be offered in both 54- and 60-inch widths.
“We wanted to be able to provide the industry with a PVC-free material that is fully repositionable so it can be easily taken down and put up somewhere else, if that’s what’s desired,” says Lorna D’Alessio, director of print media sales. She describes it as an affordable alternative to comparable products with an upscale textile surface and a brighter white to enhance the vibrancy of graphics printed on it. “We see it has something for retail settings, showrooms, conference rooms, even skyboxes – wherever they are looking for that upscale look in a PVC-free material.”
At Lintec of America, Coyne reports strong demand for the company’s 36-inch-wide Printerior fireproof wall media. “Printerior is a true paper designed to accept UV curable, latex, or aqueous inks. Many of our customers prefer the idea of offering a product that does not include PVC or solvent inks. To give those papers long-term durability, a new liquid laminate from Lintec should be released soon. He says it will be “very clear without the strong oder associated with many other liquid laminates.”
Neschen America’s offering, SolvoPrint Wall Grip, is a variation on traditional vinyl with specific adhesion properties for the wallcoverings market. “We already offer other materials for interior floor and window graphics and have our own adhesive coatings line, so this seemed like a natural extension of our business,” says Myers.
Wall Grip is a 6-mil polymeric vinyl with a specialty removable adhesive intended as a short-term solution, for installation up to a year. “If you want real long-term durability in high-traffic areas, you can also laminate and will be best serviced with a liquid laminate,” he points out.
Wall Grip has been so well received, says Myers, and the wallcoverings market shows such promise, a fabric-based version is being developed to give Neschen customers more options to offer their clients. “Fabric gives you a much more pliable woven material that’s more flexible and forgiving and easier to install, especially over textured walls. And with our [repositionable] adhesive, when you do make a mistake it’s easy to remove and install smoothly.”
When it comes to digitally printed wall graphics for the home, McLaughlin at Converd says material should be easy to print and install while still offering great value to the end user in terms of cost, look, and durability. The company’s primary offering in this category is its EnviroScapeMural Plus! 6-mil wall covering for solvent, UV-curable, and latex inks. Converd reports it will soon add its EnviroScape Mural EasyUp with removable adhesive to meet demand for a product that can be easily installed and removed.
Sawyer at FlexCon credits the “muted upscale look” of her company’s self-adhesive fabrics for the enduring appeal of its Walldeco white poly-coated fabric and 6770 and 6772 fabric film. For larger graphics in office and retail settings, FlexCon offers the Walldeco 6730 white vinyl with removable adhesive. The company also has added “green” options to the Walldeco line with several non-vinyl wall coverings featuring a repositionable removable adhesive. The lineup includes the Walldeco 6710 6-mil polyolefin and 6714 4-mil polyolefin for UV and solvent screen and UV inkjet printers, and the Walldeco 6772 6-mil white woven fabric for UV and solvent inkjet (as well as screen).
“There continues to be a need to print on non-vinyl materials because users want more sustainable options and to lower their carbon footprint,” she notes.
Sawyer also sees untapped opportunities looming in highly customized projects in both home décor and commercial installations of digitally printed wallcoverings. “Print service providers should look for the opportunity to use solutions with specialty materials to meet ‘one-off’ requests,” she says.
Spotto urges those who want to share in the growth of the digital wallcoverings market to take the initiative and talk up these services. “Start locally and find out who are the top designers, interior decorators, and architects in your area,” he says. “Then talk to them, explain your capabilities, the materials available, and show them samples of what you can do. People have to know what you can print before they see how they can take advantage of it.”
Opportunities await those who pursue them. “We expect the growth to continue in wallcoverings with the interior-design segment of this market to have the most rapid growth,” predicts Coyne. “Many designers are now fusing wallcoverings, floor graphics, and window graphics together to create a unified appearance.”
With the variety of wall media, and their digital print capabilities, “Print service providers can work with clients to create some beautiful imagery specifically tailored to them to showcase the new opportunities for brand exposure.”
But whether the client runs a business, or simply wants a distinct look for a more personal space, “Sell the opportunity to be clever and give the end-user an experience provided by the product,” says McLaughlin. “Make it easy [for them] and have fun selling something new.”
Freelance writer Mike Antoniak is a frequent contributor to The Big Picture magazine.
A Resource Trio
Three associations to be familiar with if you’re tackling wallcoverings on a regular basis or just want to become more familiar with wallcoverings in general:
• The Wallcoverings Association (wallcoverings.org): Trade association representing wallcoverings manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers to the industry. Its official mission is "to advance the welfare of members engaged in the manufacturing, distribution, and sales of wallcoverings. Our vision is to have residential and commercial consumers think of wallcoverings as their interior product of choice.”
• IGI Global Wallcoverings Association (igiwallcoverings.org): Worldwide organization headquartered in Belgium, information source on the entire wallcoverings industry.
• National Guild of Professional Paperhangers (ngpp.org): Organization of wallcovering installers, “dedicated to superior craftsmanship in the hanging of every type of wallpaper.” Maintains a database of professional paperhangers (searchable by city, state, zip).