AW Artworks Puts the Finishing Touch on its Restored and Revitalized Print Studio

Renovating and restoring an inkjet print studio

Last time we checked in with AW Artworks, owner Andy Wredberg was in the midst of a big restoration job on the print shop’s new facility, housed in an old bank building originally constructed in 1899. The point of AW Artworks’ move and subsequent months of painstaking restoration was to put AW Artworks front and center in Sun Prairie, Wis.

This weekend, AW Artworks officially opened for walk-in business at the new location. Previously, says Wredberg, the sign on the door said, “By Appointment Only,” and the door was locked while the crew restored the building and produced prints for its clients behind those closed doors.

Printing a banner for a studio opening
AW Artworks printed this banner on LexJet TOUGHcoat Water-Resistant Polypropylene to let passersby know they're open for walk-in business and to be very clear about everything the studio can do for them.

Wredberg decided to go ahead and do a “soft” opening in conjunction with a block party this past weekend. Now that AW Artworks is open, the next step is a grand opening with a reception, give-aways and prizes to really get the community involved and bring more attention to the shop.

“Before, when we had just a few canvas prints in the window, people who passed by thought we were a photo studio. Now people know what we’re all about since the banner and the A-frame sign out front tells them exactly what we do: Turn your photos into canvas, graphic design, banners, custom home décor, trade show displays and so forth,” explains Wredberg.

The banner (pictured here) was printed on LexJet TOUGHcoat Water-Resistant Polypropylene, a material Wredberg describes as striking the perfect balance of quality and economy for that application. “We love it as an inexpensive but very sharp-looking banner,” says Wredberg.

Finding that balance is exactly how Wredberg approached the renovation of the building for the print studio. The sweet spot Wredberg was after could be described in one word: Approachable. The studio’s overall look should appeal to those looking for top-notch reproductions and those who need commercial work done quickly.

“My thinking behind this place is to bridge the gap between a ritzy, high-end art gallery and Kinko’s. I want it to be approachable, but I don’t want it to look like a cheap, fast place since we’re focusing on high-quality materials and prints. We’ll offer banners, signs and trade show displays, but at the same time, if you’re an artist or photographer we’re second to none for quality,” explains Wredberg.

Renovating a large format inkjet printing studioJudging by the photos from the newly-renovated studio, and the feedback from the first walk-in potential customers, AW Artworks succeeded in its mission. Wredberg also decided to make his two Canon 44-inch printers (an iPF8300 and an iPF8100) a focal point of the main studio area.

“We intentionally put the printers in the front room so you can see them in action. Whenever someone sees a massive print coming off these printers they stop and gawk. That’s part of us bridging the gap between those two worlds,” says Wredberg.

Another finishing touch – beyond the detailed restoration of the building’s original marble and wood floors and ceiling accents – includes Victorian-style picture rails and a plethora of canvas prints that hang from them.

“It looks sharp and is very functional for wall displays. It’s a snap to put the picture rails up, hang them level and space them evenly,” says Wredberg. “Pretty much everything in here is printed on Sunset Select Matte Canvas, plus we just tried some of the Sunset Reserve Matte Canvas and loved the texture of that for art prints; I like the tooth it has on it. We’ll do some mounted prints on Sunset Photo eSatin and we still have a few finishing touches on the studio to complete for the grand opening.”

Relocation, Restoration and Revitalization at AW Artworks

Gallery studio profile of AW ArtworksIn real estate, the great cliché is location, location, location. AW Artworks realized that location, though an important part of growing its business, was only one element of many that would help take this fledgling print shop to the next level.

“We were kind of stuck in a warehouse-type location that didn’t have much exposure,” says AW Artworks owner Andy Wredberg. “We wanted to get into an area that was more visible so we could make full use of our printers’ capabilities.”

Wredberg found the perfect spot on Main Street in Sun Prairie, Wis., which is about five miles outside of Madison. The catch was that the building needed work. Built in 1899 and home to the town’s first bank in the early 1900s, the building hadn’t been occupied for years.

Renovating an old building for a fine art reproduction studioSo Wredberg and his family set to work on the place on New Year’s Eve. It was tough work, but worth uncovering the gems they found, like the original marble tile that adorned the place more than 100 years ago. What was a relocation turned into a restoration and ultimately a revitalization of AW Artworks as the company moved from mostly wholesale canvas printing to custom, high-quality work.

“We want to set ourselves apart from the big quick stores. We will not be the least expensive, but we offer personal service and quality,” explains Wredberg. “I read the article at the LexJet Blog about The Blow Up Lab in San Francisco and it really struck a chord with me. They really stuck to their guns about not compromising quality for quantity – and that’s our desire as well.”

Large format canvas photo in a fitness centerIn a highly competitive field where almost everyone has the ability to shoot nice digital photos and have them printed on 8x10s at a big box retailer, the key is differentiation. As Wredberg puts it, they can make prints that are super-big and a variety of materials and finishes you simply can’t get elsewhere.

It’s one thing to tell a customer they have options, but quite another to show them, which is why Wredberg put LexJet’s sample Portfolio Packs of fine art and photo papers to good use in a Unibind photo album.

All the papers are printed in color and black-and-white so customers can see the subtle differences that make a difference in the final image and choose something custom, as opposed to the usual glossy and matte finishes they’re used to seeing.

Using Canon’s media configuration tool (AW Artworks has a Canon iPF8100 and an iPF8300) along with the profiles from LexJet has made it “super easy,” says Wredberg. “I just worked with Rob [Finkel, his personal customer specialist] last week on getting the profiles set up. One of the things I love about LexJet are the readily available profiles and the profiles have been excellent, plus it’s usually a one-day turnaround on materials from LexJet so that’s been fantastic,” adds Wredberg.

He says the most popular photo paper with his customers by far has been LexJet’s Sunset Photo eSatin. “It’s beautiful, durable and resistant to fingerprints,” Wredberg says.

Wredberg is working on the final restoration of the building for a grand opening in a few weeks. Right now the studio is available for work by appointment, but after the grand opening it will double as a gallery of local work and be completely open to walk-in traffic.