The terms “niche” and “specialty” are not the same. The former refers to specializing in a particular market, while the latter refers to a custom product approach for whatever market in which you operate. Raven Image opened its doors about four years ago as a niche company, targeting primarily fine art reproduction with some photo reproduction thrown in for good measure.
The focus made a lot of sense for Raven Image’s two founding partners – Cher Sailer and Tracy Raven Jacobs – who had been previously immersed in the commercial photo lab business. They had made the transition from chemical to inkjet before they opened Raven Image. And, they had a knack for hitting color just right for discerning artists.
However, as a lot of small business print shops have found, diversification helps grow the bottom line, especially in a difficult economy. Though Raven Image certainly diversified its market mix with more photographic reproduction and commercial work, its product diversification would tend toward specialty products.
So, what appears to be an oxymoron – diversification and specialty – really isn’t, because Raven Image has found that the unusual helps draw people in, producing more business with typical print work on canvas, paper and films.
Two recent product lines at Raven Image have certainly drawn more attention to the company: face mount acrylic prints and transfers to wood, granite and other substrates. Of the two, Tracy Jacobs says the transfer prints have been the most popular, mainly due to price.
Though both are custom products, the face mount acrylic is beveled and polished by hand and backed with aluminum hardware. They apply LexJet 5 Mil Gloss Display Film to the back of the acrylic with an optically-clear LexJet FaceMount Permanent Adhesive. The backing aluminum is then applied to the back of the 5 Mil Gloss Display Film. It makes an outstanding display that hovers somewhere between fine art and commercial, which is perfect for hospitals and corporate lobbies.
The transfer print product is created by first chemically treating the substrate – be it wood, stone or metal – and applying reverse-printed LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester to it. The chemical treatment “grabs” the inks and leaves the image on the substrate. Jacobs says the process is nearly perfected after six months of experimentation and is most popular with photographers of all stripes, from pros to weekend amateurs.
“It can be messy and tricky, but once we got the process down we found success with it because so many people want it and there’s not many companies offering it,” says Jacobs. “We use Sunset Satin Coating to seal the image. It really looks good and you can rub and scratch on it and the image stays there.”
Raven Image prints with a Canon iPF8100 and an iPF8300. They use the iPF8100 for reproductions they’ve been doing over the past few years to maintain consistency from print to print. The iPF8300 takes on all the new projects and was acquired as part of LexJet’s iPad promotion late last year.
Raven Image put the iPad to use right away to help streamline its business. Jacobs explains: “The iPad was a ridiculously good deal. We built a custom program here where we can create work orders at the front counter with the customers on the iPad. We have a wireless Internet connection, log in and plug in the order and it works great. That way we look more professional, instead of writing it down on paper with a calculator to add up the order. We haven’t put any games on it yet.”