Commentary & Analysis
Digital Wallcoverings Transform Interior Décor
The idea of printing materials that go on walls is not exactly new. Wallpaper, posters, murals, and other items have been printed by traditional technologies for decades, if not centuries.
By Richard Romano
Published: February 21, 2013
The idea of printing materials that go on walls is not exactly new. Wallpaper, posters, murals, and other items have been printed by traditional technologies for decades, if not centuries. Wallpaper in particular has evolved continuously as new printing technologies emerged. (And did you know that in 18th-century Britain, under the reign of Queen Anne, there was a wallpaper tax levied on preprinted wallpaper? You could avoid it by buying plain, unprinted paper and printing it yourself, perhaps one of the earliest economic benefits to be gained from on-demand printing. The wallpaper tax would be abolished in 1836, although the similarly bizarre window tax would persist for another 15 years.)
As digital printing in all its myriad forms has displaced traditional technologies, interior décor has proven to be no exception to this historical trend. If there is one new wrinkle to the idea of printed décor, it’s that—if you read my SGIA recap last October—virtually every surface can comprise some form of printed output. There are a variety of ways of accomplishing this; magnetic media are becoming popular for décor and displays that are meant to change fairly often.
Another solution is HP’s WallArt system, which was on display last month at Heimtextil in Frankfurt, Germany, the biggest international expo for home and contract textiles. WallArt is a cloud-based solution that allows users—print service providers and wallcovering manufacturers—to create all manner of interior decoration graphics—from wallpaper to posters—using a simple interface. Being cloud-based, there is no special software to buy. The user enters precise room details, including windows and doors, and can preview realistic visualizations. Graphics can be viewed, modified, and/or scaled, and can be output to RIP-ready PDFs.
To demonstrate the WallArt solution, HP designed and constructed a “lounge” where every surface was custom-printed using HP’s Latex Printing Technology. The lounge was designed by famed designer Karim Rashid and installed by Stuttgart-based TecServiceEurope. TecServiceEurope offers event strategy services including booth design and construction, logistics and promotion services, technical and business consulting, hardware rental, demo services, and of course print services. The company’s clientele is predominantly in the IT field, and the HP booth was a departure for them. “Heimtextil was a very special project for two reasons: a trade show in a very different industrial sector than IT, and working with designer Karim Rashid,” says Christoph Pape, Senior Event Manager for TecServiceEurope.
The 30 square meter area featured walls and ceiling printed on blockout textile material using an HP Scitex LX850. The vinyl flooring was printed with latex ink and laminated. The furniture—tables and a bar—were printed on an HP Scitex FB500, “that enables us to print directly on the surface of nearly any substrate like wood, metal, glass, cardboard, or plastic,” says Pape.
As in many other wide-format and specialty graphics applications, designer and printer/installer needed to work very closely. The process began with Rashid sending TecServiceEurope a design based on the dimensions of the booth space. “We discussed and researched together with HP and Karim’s team how to make this real,” says Pape. “Which substrate should be used, what kind of structure or framework would be the best—questions like these. Everything conducted in a constructive spirit because everybody knew that something amazing would be there at the end.”
For many interior décor applications, there is no small amount of physics or mechanical engineering knowledge that is required. “To keep the light and open appearance of Karim’s design, we had to find a way of making the ceiling and wall panels steady and safe without making them solid or massive,” says Pape. “In the end, we created a hanging structure made of very light aluminum frames.”
Trade show graphics are one thing, but what are the more practical applications of this technology? “You can create various types of wall coverings or decorations, floors, even furniture finishings, easy and fast,” says Pape. “Which is not only interesting for trade shows but also for retail stores, restaurants, bars, or hotels. I could also imagine offering this sort of service to consumers that might want to redecorate their homes.”
Compared to traditional means of creating wallcoverings, digital printing has reached the point where the print quality is excellent, but the process itself allows a greater degree of flexibility, while at the same time being faster and more efficient. “It only takes a few hours from design to production to mounting. That offers a whole new world of possibilities for PSPs,” says Pape. “Do it before your competitor does!”
For more on digital wallcovering applications, check out our video interview with Pat Walker of 4Walls.