Decorate with Digital Print

Real-life design tips to elevate your décor print business.

In today’s fast-moving digital world, consumers from every demographic are bombarded with content through social media, blogs, YouTube channels, and online video streaming via smartphone, tablet, or laptop – regular TV and cable is almost a thing of the past. In short, we’re connected 24/7 and with a quick tap, swipe, or Siri voice search, shoppers can access just about anything. If free shipping isn’t offered or a product isn’t conveniently delivered via UberEats, Grubhub, or Amazon Prime Now, then it’s on to the next. Instant gratification isn’t considered a bad habit; it’s the new normal. Ultimately, technology has shaped not only what consumers purchase, but how they purchase. The competitive advantage of digital print is agility. With on-demand, just-in-time delivery systems in place, wide-format print shops can pivot to the needs of its customers and changes in the market.  

Design-Aware Consumers 

If you assume two of the most dominant visually-based social platforms, Instagram and Pinterest, are only repositories for trendy imagery, think again. They’re well-curated online shopping malls for consumers. Professional designers use both platforms as marketing tools and methods to share private design boards with clients. Consumers, on the other hand, use both apps to pin, shop, and gather inspiration – aka “inspo” – for that dream master bedroom or boho-inspired home office. There’s no sign of a slowdown; according to Hootsuite, visual searches on Pinterest more than doubled in one year from 250 million in February 2017 to 600 million in February 2018. Consequently, visual search tools also give consumers daily exposure to professionally designed interiors, which leads many to believe pro design is an attainable skillset that can be replicated through DIY methods or “hacks.” 

Even though that’s simply not the case (professional designers exist for a reason), it’s not unheard of for a client to go rogue on the designer they’ve hired. It’s tempting to pin and shop online for accent pieces and wall art, aimlessly searching e-commerce sites that now rival trade-only price points once accessible exclusively to professional designers. These are simply a few of the modern-day pain points between client and designer due to the democratization of design. According to a 2019 Pinterest report, 83 percent of users searched the site to gather ideas for small DIY projects, 60 percent sought inspo for larger home projects, and the search words “bold print wallpaper” – think tropical banana leaf prints and splashy colors – have increased by 401 percent. Make no mistake: Home décor apps may heighten one’s ambition, but a successful design project is the result of a professional designer who’s trained to efficiently navigate the entire process from start to finish.

bold print wallpaper search

If you’re quietly asking yourself how any of this affects your décor print business strategy, I can assure you, it does. Blame it on Pinterest or HGTV, but considering the influx of swoon-worthy online design content and online marketplaces to match, your customers are consumers who are regularly exposed to good design, so they recognize quality when they see it. That means stepping up your game and providing design-centric print solutions, so the outcome of your customer’s project is fresh and relevant. These days, the more Instagrammable a restaurant or retail space is, the better. 

So, where do you begin? First, develop a congruent marketing approach with your existing print capabilities in mind to help clients visualize decorative print applications your shop can deliver. Next, brush up on a few 101 design principles that your potential décor customers will appreciate. Here are four fundamental design tips you can put into action in your décor print business today.

1. Set a Focal Point

Having a focal point is a necessary component of any well-designed commercial or residential space; it highlights the best feature of the room and also allows the remaining parts of the layout to fall into place. If there isn’t a distinct focal point, one can be created. This is where your problem-solving skills and wide-format print expertise come into play. Large windows with a panoramic view could be turned into a centerpiece by using decorative roller shades or digitally printed window treatments, for example. Advancements in prepared-for-print (PFP) fabrics with coatings for better wash ratings and flame-resistant (FR) treatments are flooding the market for pigment and latex inks, so it’s likely you’re not nearly as limited by your current in-house print capabilities as you think. 

Using wall art is a unique way to infuse color and pattern as the focus of a space without complicated installation. It also provides your customer a low-risk solution with the flexibility to change out graphics and prints. Curated eclectic gallery walls are still on trend and a smart addition to your project; other options include canvas-wrapped giclee prints, framed fine-art reproductions, or, depending on the overall look and feel, dye sublimated metal wall art with strategically placed gallery lights to make vivid colors pop. Custom murals printed on Type II PVC and nonwoven wallcovering substrates are popular. Localized art or inspirational words used as murals on feature walls can transform a retail store or coffee shop into an interactive, Instagrammable space. The objective with digital print is to add value, so be intentional and allow the application to enhance or create a focal point that didn’t exist. 

2. Create Zones

The open-concept floorplan may seem like a good idea at first, but it can be overwhelming. Recent studies show these trendy work environments don’t stimulate more collaboration, but instead cause distractions, decrease face-to-face interaction, and even result in the increased use of sick days. A February 2019 article on quotes research from Queensland University of Technology, concluding “90 percent of employees working in an open floor plan office had high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and more job turnover.” What’s the solution when dealing with this type of floorplan?

After the overall flow and focal point of the room are established, there are techniques to help compartmentalize open areas to define and maximize the use of space. Create a sense of cohesiveness by grounding the room and furniture with a colorful floor graphic (Side note: Did you know digitally printed carpet exists?) and follow ASTM’s guide for floor safety. Ask your vendor about ASTM-certified and slip-rated substrates or compatible overlaminate solutions. Another way to establish zones is with lighting. Use backlit fabric or fine-art canvas to insert a customized drum shade in hanging light fixtures. 

With open space comes noise – and an opportunity to suggest print applications using Noise Reduction Coefficient-rated (NRC) printable substrates and technical textiles such as branded wall partitions, ceiling and wall systems, plus FR-treated fabrics with acoustical attributes. Providing your customer with decorative print solutions to dampen noise or control light will showcase your ability to add function, aside from customizing the aesthetics. 

3. Address the Details

Simply put, details matter, and that starts with the material selection process. Provide your customer options to help them specify materials based on the look they’re trying to achieve. Sheen levels, white points, and even textile weave construction can make a difference in your customer’s perception of print quality. More specifically, if you’re catering to clients seeking a long-term solution, your final product needs to have the look and feel of a finished good, not a temporary indoor graphic.   

Fine-art canvas, for example, is available in different weave constructions, such as a traditional Oxford 2-over-1 with heavier texture or an Oxford 1-over-1 with lighter texture that can image finer detail. Substrate texture impacts the final look of the print, from finely detailed photographic content, to bold patterns and deep saturated colors, so consider showing your customer various options. Other factors to consider: the installation location of the final print, the display conditions, and the type of lighting. The color temperature (wavelengths of light measured in Kelvin) affects the final presentation and the wrong lighting will change how colors and textures appear. 

4. Proportion and Scale

Ceiling height, window dimensions, and furniture size should be taken into consideration when determining the right scale. Scale is how an object, in this case your print product, relates to the rest of the room. Assess what you’re printing (content) and how murals, photographic imagery, original art, or repeat patterns will impact other factors within the space. If the scale of the pattern is too large, it will overpower the rest of the room. Be prepared for your customer to make last-minute adjustments, too. Educate your client: Let them know if you’re working with print files from original art and if you’re limited by its native size. Vector files, of course, will give your client nearly unlimited scaling without losing quality. Proportion, however, relates not only to size, but also to shape and how it correlates to other shapes within a room. Lean on your customer for direction, but be aware shapes don’t necessarily need to match – they just need to be similar. 

Moral of the story: Communicate, ask questions, be curious, and print with design in mind so you’ll never have to worry about your customer – or your business – staying on trend. 

Rachel Nunziata is a digital print business and market development specialist with an undeniable enthusiasm for interior and home décor segments. She is a graduate of Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida, and has a knack for enabling synergies between artists, interior designers, and industry experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter @RachelNunziata.

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