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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Printing on Wood Flooring

About four years ago my fiancee and I had a house fire. In the ensuing months we went to all manner of cabinet stores, tile stores, and flooring stores (in addition to CraigsList vendors) to collect materials for rebuilding the house. Needless to say, I saw more than my share of floor and wall coverings that had been digitally decorated. It was intriguing since I had grown up with real wood and real stone, but I filed it away in my memory.

Then, earlier this week I read an article in www.whattheythink.com entitled “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking,” by Ron Gilboa (published on 9/21/18), and everything gelled in my brain. This is another growth industry within the commercial printing universe. Another article (in Wikipedia) regarding rotogravure custom printing (and its uses in decorating materials for flooring) helped all of this come together in my mind. It became crystal clear to me that large format printing, digital printing, gravure printing, and the flooring industry offered interior designers new and exciting opportunities.

The Article: A Synopsis

Gilboa’s article references the biannual International Woodworking Fair, which recently held its Digital Printing Symposium in Atlanta, GA, from August 21 to 25. The focus of the event was the intersection of “short-run, cost-effective decorative surfaces” with the “ongoing development in [the] digital inkjet printing sector” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

The symposium, which attracted woodworking companies like Barberan, Baumer, Cefla Finishing, North American Plywood, and Schattdecor, as well as digital custom printing companies like Canon and Vanguard digital, addressed “mass customization in an $11 billion M2 per year décor laminate market and an over $140 billion annual woodworking industry in the U.S. alone” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

What this really means is that woodworking companies and digital inkjet printing companies pooled their resources and knowledge base to focus on creating custom designs for cabinetry, paneling, high-pressure laminates, flooring laminates, and such, to help individuals enhance their living spaces and to help interior designers and architects provide striking and unique additions to their work.

An added benefit to the quality and specialized nature of these decorated products is the ability to print them on demand, reducing the need for product storage and inventory. In fact, the new technology also avoids product obsolescence.

That is, the long press runs of printed flooring materials done on gravure presses not only require the expense of the gravure cylinders—the printing plates—but they also have huge minimum runs to stay cost-effective. In contrast, new digital inkjet printing on flooring can produce both short- and long-run products cost-effectively. Therefore, there’s less chance that a supplier would over-produce a particular flooring design that might become obsolete and therefore useless.

Gilboa’s article also notes a technical benefit of digital inkjet printing that sets it above gravure for flooring decoration. That is, designs that exceed 15 feet before repeating would not be printable on a gravure press (they would exceed the circumference of the press cylinder that prints the design). In contrast, large format inkjet printing can produce designs larger than gravure’s maximum print dimensions.

Furthermore, “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking” references a new concept in flooring, the “rainbow roll.” In contrast to the usual high-run minimums for gravure print runs (the article notes that one ton of paper–2,000 pounds–is the typical minimum order), the rainbow roll can “contain several lengths of print jobs with different designs based on client requirements” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”). This makes sense since digital inkjet printing can produce just enough of one design to decorate the interior of just one client’s office or home. Therefore, the concept of the rainbow roll of short-run flooring decoration material is a groundbreaking concept, one that avoids both obsolescence and waste.

An Example of Digital Flooring Decoration

Gilboa puts these benefits in concrete terms in his article, describing an intriguing decoration approach by North American Plywood, one of the producers of the International Woodworking Fair’s Digital Printing Symposium. North American Plywood sands and primes, and then inkjet prints and coats decorated boards used for flooring. Using this technology, they can stain natural wood and veneers, or even fully coat paneling using UV inks and large format inkjet commercial printing equipment.

However, instead of immediately curing the UV ink with UV light, North American Plywood lets the UV ink sit on the wood and soak into the wood fibers. After the ink seeps in, the company can cure the wood with UV light and then coat the panels to ensure abrasion resistance.

Gilboa notes that “the result is a wood face that looks naturally stained, or resembles a premium wood species, simulated on a less expensive baseboard” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

As Gilboa highlights in a quote from Grand Burkholder from Sauder Woodworking Company, “The capabilities of … [digital printing], creating depth of pattern, reproducing wood species, using pigmented inks, is amazing” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

Implications of the New Technology

Here are my thoughts:

  1. You can make any wood you choose (perhaps a less expensive wood, or even a more durable wood), look like any other wood. (Presumably there are limitations.) This bodes well for controlling building costs without sacrificing appearance. If the choice of wood you’re simulating allows for a more durable substrate (such as custom printing wood grain on water resistant flooring that can be used in a basement), all the better.
  2. You can control inventory and waste. Therefore you can spend less on a warehouse to store inventory, as well as less on equipment and labor to maintain and track inventory. Your designs never have to become obsolete because you’re producing only what you need (not a huge minimum order). Due to the efficiencies in the process, you also have less waste.
  3. You can allow for more creativity and personalization in the interior designs due to the color gamut and resolution of inkjet technology. For instance, you can include photorealistic images on flooring. And you can create a one-off design for a client who wants an interior “look” that no one else has.

So specifically within the realm of interior design, inkjet printing on flooring, along with printing on wall treatments, glass, and even bedding and drapery, can provide unlimited creative options for interior designers. Moreover, the growth within this arena of commercial printing can provide lucrative jobs for both designers and sales professionals.

So it’s worth your time reading the trade journals and staying current with developments in the digital decoration of custom wood products.

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