The Fifth Wall
Improved wide-format technology and acceptance of digital printing helps one business excel in the interior decor market.
Robin Sprong Wallpapers, based in Cape Town, South Africa, has been printing award-winning, bespoke wallpaper since 2007. The company’s top clients include interior designers and project developers, large retail, hospitality, and education facilities, and healthcare companies from around the world. Commercial and residential designers and architects looking for printed wallcoverings, wall art, and/or murals can peruse the business’ website for cultivated designs from its collections or supply their own.
“We have an incredible selection of artworks from super talented artists from all around the world,” says Robin Sprong, owner and managing director. “We offer highly versatile bespoke services to cater to our customers. Many brands are embracing their brand identities and strengthening that through their interiors. We are able to assist whether it’s our artwork or whether it has been supplied.”
While customers can provide their own graphics, Sprong says they sell more of their own designs. “That is what we are known for, and it’s one of our strengths.”
If the imagery is provided from a client, the Robin Sprong team consults on the design, prints onto fabric, stretched canvas, vinyl, wood, or glass; laminates if necessary; and then installs via its professional installers. The wallpaper substrates used come in a range of finishes suitable for different environments, according to the company’s site.
In-house are two HP Latex machines (one is 3.2-meters wide) and an Epson machine. “We outsource a lot of our hard finishes to a supplier we have a great relationship with who uses both EFI Vutek and Durst printers,” says Sprong. The company is currently on the lookout to expand. “We’d also like to get the HP Latex R series printers and possibly an HP Stitch dye sublimation printer,” he continues. “There are so many great machines out there, I’d love to have many more.”
Due to the technological advancements made in wide-format digital printing, Sprong is able to print the best quality graphics at faster speeds.
“We are able to use one machine to print onto many different materials from vinyl to paper to fabric. The wide-format machines are available in sizes such as the 3.2-meter that allows for faster curing times and improved color gamut,” Sprong says. “We are able to manufacture products that are authentic and of a superior quality faster and without having to purchase large volumes that traditional printing methods require. We are also able to manufacture bespoke products in a very short amount of time.” It’s not just the machines that have improved, but also the media, “both in your non-wovens and wovens. They are lightweight, easy to apply, and color fast.”
The interior decor industry has changed dramatically since 2007 when Sprong started the business, and it’s only been in the last few years that there’s been a true acceptance of digital printing. “You’ll find decorators are very open to buying digitally printed wallpapers and fabrics as opposed to old school wallpaper rolls,” he says. “This is because there is more choice and flexibility when it comes to designs that are on trend or changing colors and scales in a simple brief, which allows decorators to be more innovative and original within the industry. They can have exactly what they want within days, if not hours. They are also able to select the finish and have everything they need within a very quick turnaround time.”
The inks have also become safer because there are fewer solvents, and latex and eco-solvent inks have improved. “The inks have a reduced odor and fewer chemicals that could be deemed harmful,” Sprong says. “There has also been a lot of advancement in terms of improved printable base materials and higher quality finishes that are more comfortable for home use. Materials also have better textures and finishes that have a higher quality handle and feel.”
As the opportunities in interior décor expand thanks to embracement and advancement of digital print, so do the available applications within a room. Floors, walls, windows, and even ceilings – Sprong calls the ceiling the “fifth wall” – can be wrapped with digitally printed materials.
But, as one may imagine, the ceiling proves difficult when installing. Sprong shares three different methods when working with the fifth wall: “Pongs has a product called Descor, which is a simple PVC profile that is attached to the edges of the ceiling,” he says. “A printed fabric is then inserted and ‘stretched’ into the frames. It’s a very neat finish and does not require any paste or scaffolding.”
His preferred method is to use is a lightweight wallpaper product that requires pasting to the ceiling and then applying the panels. “Thirdly, you could use standard silicone edge graphic systems; the advantage here could be adding illumination with LEDs.” At the end of the day, working on the ceiling is never simple, he says. “There will always be challenges – however, I can recommend a lightweight aluminum scaffolding setup on wheels with an extra person to help push you around.”
Textured printing is also starting to emerge in the industry, and Sprong would like to see this segment of the market grow. “Over the past 15 years, we have seen improved printable products from wallpapers to fabrics, now we need textures, much, much more texture. Quality textures, not gimmicky textures. Everything always goes back to that natural feeling. The customers love it. They don’t want something that feels plastic or shiny like reflecting PVC, they want natural textures,” he says. “As usual, the problem is always availability. Suppliers that only import ‘safe’ materials, lack of innovation and the cost to develop.”
While many PSPs, specifically those in the interior décor market, saw a boost in business due to the mandatory time spent at home remodeling kitchens or repurposing rooms into new offices, Robin Sprong Wallpapers didn’t see significant growth. “We saw some, but not enough to sustain our business. We had to bite the bullet and wait for the economy to reboot before we saw our business pick up again. It was an extremely challenging and reflective time for me,” he says. “Because of our focus on the décor market, we were not properly set up to take advantage of the COVID-19 opportunities as many other printing companies were. However, we tried to innovate as much as we could by making masks, sanitizer stands, and other related products.”
As we wrap almost a year dealing with COVID-19 and enter into 2021, Sprong is looking forward to what lies ahead, including working with new concepts and challenges. “One thing you can take from the pandemic is that communities, neighborhoods, and Joe Bloggers have found new ways of connecting and reaching out. I think we will see trends in that segment: people will demand better, cleaner environments,” he says. “There should be a focus on improving and uplifting your surroundings and community. People will stay working from home, Zoom backgrounds will go up in home offices, and people will spend more time and money improving their recreational spaces, but I believe we will have to think hard about who the new customers are and show them how to make people’s lives happier through print.