by Thomas Tetreault
There are digital printing devices designed specifically for wallpaper/wall decoration and used in manufacturing settings. Print buyers, decorators, and consumers look for designs and imagery that rival or are equivalent to output generated from conventional devices like screenprint or gravure. Digital print delivers with high visual quality, durability, quick turnaround, and cost-effective short runs.
Above: Industrial Inkjet offers bespoke digital printing systems for wallpaper production.
Digital printing is advantageous in the wallpaper space over conventional methods like rotogravure or screenprint.
Philip Easton, managing director, Industrial Inkjet Ltd., points out that wallpaper is like any other vertical and users are not necessarily motivated by technology for technology’s sake. Adopting a digital press is for financial reasons and to make a profit, he says.
“The underlying efficiency of digital is the ability to cost-effectively makeready a new job, often in less than a minute. Not only is it a fraction of the time required to set up a conventional press, where new plates or cylinders need to be mounted, digital also does not need the investment cost for these consumable items. Furthermore there is almost no makeready media waste,” continues Easton.
“Digital printing makes it easier to expand into many new applications like wallcoverings and wallpaper by providing a shorter design-to-manufacturing time. It also offers benefits such as infinite color options and immediate proofing on a range of media, for both long- and short-run products,” explains Oscar Vidal, product strategy director, HP Large Format.
Digital print overcomes one of screenprint and/or gravure’s biggest limitations, which is image size. “Designers are no longer limited to repeats of a certain size due to the print technology. With digital print capabilities, the only restriction to design are the creative capabilities of the artist,” shares Mike Syverson, textile Manager – North America, Durst Image Technology.
“Wallpaper that makes the eye look twice is achieved both conventionally and digitally. However, with digital print, color stability is monitored end to end; automated set ups for repeat patterns and murals assuring zero waste along the way,” adds Donna Covannon, director, marketing, Xeikon.
Despite the differences, digital printing complements conventional wallpaper methods quite nicely.
For one thing, if you own a conventional and digital press, the digital press frees up capacity on the conventional press for the longer production runs it is more efficient at producing, explains Easton.
“Another key advantage is the ability to test market new wallpaper designs. It is a significant investment risk to manufacture a set of gravure rollers for a new design that might fail in the market. In this respect, digital can be a complementary technology as a digitally printed design sees rapid sales growth, transferring a digitally produced job to a conventional press can be a way to grow the business while managing your risk,” says Easton.
According to Syverson, as far as complementing conventional wallpaper methods, digital print can add to a build out or redesign by allowing for massive projects to be customized based on location or purpose, with conventional still being advantageous depending on the job size.
Wallpaper manufacturers save both time and money using digital technologies.
Minimizing costs in stock and inventory is helpful. “As digital printing gives users greater ability to produce short runs with quick turnaround times, there’s less of a need for bulk inventory—reducing the related stock costs for customers,” adds Vidal.
“For small jobs or reprints, digital printing can save a manufacturer a lot of time and money because of the ability to print on demand with digital methods. This allows the manufacturer to carry minimal inventory or printed goods and only produce what is purchased. The on demand model is ideal for this as the customer usually pays for the goods before they are produced,” notes Syverson.
There is a breakeven point between digital and conventional decoration practices no matter the market in question. “In many industries we discuss the production length crossover point, when up to a certain run length digital printing is lower cost, and then above this length it becomes less expensive with conventional printing due to the lower ink costs,” explains Easton.
As an example, Easton cites that for the 146 feet per minute Industrial Inkjet CP series wallpaper press module, there is a crossover of often more than 10,000 linear feet of production.
Covannon points out that the digital production process can create several rolls per minute. Certain presses have the ability to print up to 9,688 square feet per hour.
The Xeikon digital walldeco solution provides seamless workflow integration with the X800 digital front end for pre-press and press operation functionality. This delivers end-to-end ease with minimum human intervention.
“Conventional production of new designs can be costly collections, which result in a high waste point if all the rolls aren’t sold. Xeikon’s technology supports all run sizes in a sustainable, waste-free manner with the ability to print just enough as it’s needed, at high quality in highly productive small, medium, or large runs,” says Covannon.
Another way that digital printing presses save wallpaper manufacturers time and money is by minimizing risk. “As already discussed, there is the ability to try different designs without the risk that if the designs fail in the market the investment in gravure cylinders is then lost,” explains Easton.
Material options are vast when it comes to wallpaper mediums, whether it’s a more traditional non-woven paper-based material or even a vinyl-based peel-and-stick substrate.
What can be printed on depends on the printer and inks being used. For example, Industrial Inkjet’s newer high-speed single-pass technology is approved for use of traditional paste/glue applications for both uncoated and coated non-woven as well as promising results on embossed vinyl.
Syverson believes there is more peel-and-stick wallpaper being produced. “I think the connection with the end consumer has driven the increase in production with peel-and-stick due to the do-it-yourself nature of the product and the fact that it doesn’t need to be a permanent decision, as people look for a way to connect with the space their inhabiting, whether that is permanent or temporary.”
“Vinyl-based peel-and-stick material remains popular due to its durability and installation advantages. Additionally, there is growing popularity and sales penetration of pre-pasted, paper-based materials, with a water-activated adhesive backing. These are very convenient for upgrading rooms, temporary spaces, and an array of craft projects,” notes Vidal.
In the U.S., Covannon says there are more peel-and-stick applications for reasons of install-ability. “Digital peel-and-stick substrates offer ease of install with damage-less removal while providing great color and durability.”
However, traditional wallpapers are produced digitally, admits Syverson. “There is a strong push in the North American market for non-woven products as they are also easy to install and have a much wider array of product types for different décor applications. Many of our customers in Europe currently produce non-woven products with the Durst Alpha platform.”
Health and Safety
Wall decoration applications, like wallpaper, are faced with stricter regulations as human health and safety in addition to eco-friendliness and recyclability are common concerns. Digitally printed wallpaper combats this primarily in terms of ink sets. Certain buyers require eco-friendliness/human health concerns.
Vidal admits that sustainability is becoming a bigger factor for the end customer, placing more demand on printers.
Client base potential expands when eco-friendliness or human health become considerations, says Syverson. “Most educational and healthcare facilities require certification that proves the environment of the final print installation has been considered. This certification is different for any combination of ink and print equipment, and certification status can usually be found online or via the manufacturer.”
Durst’s Alpha Wallpaper Edition addresses the need for more sustainable or healthy solutions by using water-based pigment inks that are ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX and GOTS version 6.0 compliant. Combined with paper or non-woven wallpapers, the yield is an eco-friendly, odor-free, and safe product.
HP’s latex printing solutions use water-based inks that, according to the company, deliver high image quality, consistency, and durability while being environmentally sensitive. Odorless and low emitting, the inks meet UL GREENGUARD Gold Certification and UL ECOLOGO Certification standards.
Similarly, Industrial Inkjet uses aqueous polymer ink technology in its wallpaper device to provide vibrant colors and great print results while meeting industry standards, including for European Standards EN 16516, EN 12149:1997, and BS EN 12956:1999. “Our research suggests UV-curable inks, although providing excellent physical properties, are not well received due to the high-gloss level, difficulty in embossing after print, smell, as well as the less favorable regulatory position,” shares Easton.
Xeikon printers utilize its dry toner technology. According to Covannon, it is FDA-certified for food safe applications, eco-friendly, and offers zero volatile organic compounds.
Circularity—including the reduction of plastic waste—is another consideration that Vidal believes falls under safety/health. HP’s cardboard-based Eco-Carton ink cartridges replace traditional designs, reducing plastic by 80 percent and related carbon emissions by 66 percent.
Features like embossing and varnish can be found inline on digital printing devices. These are complementary features to have in the wallpaper space.
“Embossing and varnishing offer automation and variety. An end-to-end solution, from a roll of paper to the finished product, all processed without human intervention with inline finishing such as varnish provides extra protection, adding an extra matte effect for rewardingly vivid results. While embossing offers a premium look and feel,” explains Covannon.
Consumers crave connection with their surroundings. Embellishments like embossing and varnish can help with that, says Syverson. “The value in wall décor and environmental decoration continues to increase, which is what makes embossing, varnish, and the like important in the wallpaper space.”
Easton says embossing is a well established decoration feature for vinyl wallpaper. “Industrial Inkjet has had some success printing directly onto embossed media with further testing on this and for pre-embossed media continuing. Although we have proven varnish solutions for industrial applications, so far this has not been requested by wallpaper printers.”
“Embossing and varnish are unique printing techniques to add special finishes to the wallpaper. They started with analog printing processes, yet some digital printing systems have now incorporated such capabilities. They are still very much considered niche, and for some, premium range of products only,” notes Vidal.
What is the future of digital print in wallpaper manufacturing?
“With the trend for customization continuing to grow across the board, the role of digital print in wallpaper production will only increase. Technologies such as Durst’s Alpha Wallpaper Edition with water-based pigments have already enabled many companies to efficiently produce wallpaper digitally where they could only produce this conventionally in previous years due to the cost and production volumes of many other digital solutions,” says Syverson.
According to Easton, wallpaper is just at the beginning of its digital journey. “As it has many of the same attributes we have seen in other markets where digital printing is a disruptive technology with rapid adoption and early adopters making significant market share gains.”
“The market this year saw an increase in demand for short runs and customized offerings, and off the back of this we expect digital printing technology to become even more essential for those in the wallpaper manufacturing space. The flexibility offered by digital printing allows for printers to take on more jobs, unlock greater efficiencies, and ultimately expand their businesses,” shares Vidal.
Covannon believes the future affords the print provider—be it digital or conventional—to offer more choice to brands, distributors, and end users.
“On point trends will continue to grow as more and more do-it-yourself and home improvement opportunities open up. Digital will remain a growing technology to serve this growing market,” continues Covannon.
Digital printing technology in the wallpaper space continues to make inroads, especially as printer manufacturers introduce devices specifically tailored to wallpaper production.
You can hear more from the vendors in this article by tuning in to our recently broadcast webinar on the same topic. Visit industrialprintmagazine.com/webinars for more information.
Feb2023, Industrial Print Magazine