Touch and feel
While the number of locations where wall coverings are being used has grown exponentially over the past few years, so has the array of different substrates available.
Different looks and textures have flitted in and out of fashion, but at the moment, textiles and environmental products are particularly popular, according to Michael Crook, product manager for sign and display at Antalis McNaugton.
“The more tactile products or interesting textured products are taking over now, because it creates a softer look than rigid sheets hanging around everywhere,” says Crook. This shift in the type of substrates that are used for wall graphics is a significant departure from where the industry started out a decade ago.
“Initially, big retail outlets would use self-adhesive vinyl, but within the past five years, things have really taken off with regards wall coverings,” says Crook. “As a result, substrate manufacturers have brought out digitally printable versions of what they’ve always produced, in addition to products developed by vinyl producers such as Mactac.”
Over the past few years in particular, substrate suppliers such as Antalis have been continually adding new products to keep pace with the number of printers who have started to diversifying into wall coverings.
“It’s a constantly moving market and we have to keep bringing in new products to meet demand,” explains Crook. “There’s also a growing demand from people who are looking for advice on buying new machines that allow them to do wall coverings.”
The good news for printers looking to break into this lucrative market is that there are few barriers to entry. There are a vast array of different entry-level large-format machines available, so it can be a bit of a minefield figuring out which is the best bit kit to go for, but most substrate providers are willing to offer advice in this area.
Whatever route you decide to go down, don’t rush into a decision, cautions Artworks Solutions managing director John Sulzmann.
“If you decide to buy, do your research well,” says Sulzmann. “Buy from one of the established market leaders and talk to other owners who have the machine you are looking at to make sure it does what the salesman says it can do.”
CASE STUDY- LEACH COLOUR
Innovative large-format printer Leach has “innovation in its blood”. Founded in the 1890s, the company’s longevity is largely attributable to its ability to predict the direction that the market is heading and then develop products to meet these future needs. In recent years, some of the company’s most successful products have tapped into the self-install trend that sales manager Nigel Moxley says has been one of the biggest shifts affecting the wall graphics industry. Although it offers some clever easy-to-install tension fabric systems, Leach has made the biggest splash with its Stik magnetic wallpaper, which is used by major retail groups including Arcadia and Gap. “They absolutely love it because we’ve completely cut out installation,” explains Moxley. “People have been doing magnetic graphics for years, but the magnets were expensive to buy and it was environmentally unfriendly because you had to dispose of them afterwards,” explains Moxley. “So the clever thing that we did was to permanently fix the magnet on the wall and then we ship out graphics with iron filings on the back. These can then simply be rolled onto the wall by in-store staff in seconds.”