Fabric Fanatics: Creative and Colorful Fabric Applications by FBIS

Printing signs for an art festivalAt Fine Balance Imaging Studios (FBIS) in Langley, Wash., on picturesque Whidbey Island, the watchwords are quality and variety. The studio images everything from fine art and photography to commercial and special event graphics, using an amazing range of inkjet printable materials from LexJet to better serve its clientele.

An ongoing project for Fine Balance Imaging is the annual summer art festival in Langely called Choochokam, which is Hopi for “gathering of stars.” FBIS co-owner Joe Menth chairs the design committee and prints just about everything imaginable for the festival, from directionals and schedules to booth signage.

Printing fabric banners for an art festivalWith a long history experimenting with different materials, Menth employs his materials and color management knowledge and arsenal of LexJet media to create a colorful and informative venue for the thousands that swarm to the island for the festival.

A few years ago the look of the festival underwent a makeover with Menth heading up the design committee, employing a metal artist to create custom ironworks for the row markers at the event based on the signature design created by Chris Baldwin.

Menth chose to use LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth for the banners attached to the ironwork, and says the material has held up to weather and abuse after years of being used and re-used. For replacement banners where needed, as well as crosswalk, booth and artist banners, Menth used LexJet’s new Poly Select Light fabric.

Printing wall hanging tapestries
Dan O'Halloran's fine art pieces, The Archer and The Kingfisher, printed by FBIS on LexJet Poly Select Light Fabric.

Other areas of the festival were decorated with Photo Tex for non-permanent, easy-to-apply-and-peel-off applications like schedules at the main event stage, the fronts and sides of shuttle buses and posters applied at the ferry terminal on huge posts to direct people to the free shuttles.

Fine Balance Imaging also used LexJet TOUGHcoat AquaVinyl PSA for the primary information booths (which Menth also designed) and some other non-adhesive applications on LexJet TOUGHcoat Water-Resistant Polypropylene, though these applications were replaced with Poly Select Light for this year’s festival for the look and feel of fabric, plus a cost savings over other media options.

“I’m impressed with the fine art quality I can get with the Poly Select fabric. You can see the details as crisp as just about anything else we print to. It’s also a nice, affordable material for large wall hangings when a client doesn’t want to invest in a more expensive material,” says Menth.

Printing tapestries with an inkjet printer
Close-up of the detail achieved on Dan O'Halloran's The Kingfisher with LexJet Poly Select Light and the Epson Stylus Pro 9900.

Just such an opportunity came up recently when local fine artist Dan O’Halloran wanted wall-sized hanging reproductions of his work. Menth printed The Archer and The Kingfisher for him on Poly Select Light on the studio’s Epson Stylus Pro 9900 at 44 inches wide by five feet tall. One of them sold almost immediately.

Menth says, “He was one of the first artists whose work we carried in our art gallery before we started the printing studio, and we’ve remained friends for many years. While he’s still working his way through his old offset lithography limited editions of all of his original pencil drawings, he is now starting to explore alternative processes with us, printing on fabrics and polyester cloth. We’ve done large-scale tapestry-style hangings for Dan and other fine artists on machine-washable cottons and silks, but the price point was simply too high for the perceived value the artwork could be priced for at retail. The Poly Select Light cloth has become an excellent alternative for a flowing fabric look without the associated costs of real cottons and silks we’ve printed on in the past.”

Printing fabric banners with an inkjet printerFBIS also hangs three fabric portraits along the side of the building outside the second story windows. The banner on the left, printed on Poly Select Light, is a reproduction of 19th Century Japanese artwork the studio prints. A whopping 50 percent of all retail sales of the prints from an ongoing exhibition started last September by FBIStudios, by the way, go to the Japanese Relief Fund for victims of the tsunami. 

The “Ukiyo-e: Pictures of the Floating World” exhibit of Japanese woodblock print reproductions hangs throughout the building inside, with prints on Moab Moenkopi Unryu Kozo (Mulberry) Paper with bamboo hanging rods, as well as the ever-popular Water Resistant Satin Cloth.

Large hangings of Hokusai and Hiroshige, as well as many other lesser-known 19th Century Japanese artists are represented, care of the public domain imagery available through the Library of Congress.  Much care has been taken to keep the original aesthetic of the work, with minor retouching done to clean up the images, but without the over-saturation and over-sharpening that appears on the gaudy reproductions of Japanese art found on most large-scale retail poster shops and websites.

The resulting images are available not only in the building where FBIS has their printing and photography/classroom studios, but also on their new website, GratitudeGallery.com, where they are adding many of their clients’ work at no commission; artists receive 100 percent of the retail sales minus the print cost.

The middle building banner image on Poly Select Light is a rainbow, representing the color magic FBIS works for its clientele. The third and latest banner is a photo of the island’s lavender fields, a picture-perfect scene printed on LexJet Poly Select Light that captures the printing expertise of the studio and the island’s charm. 

Inkjet printing fabric bannersFine Balance Imaging has been donating the printing of building banners for various community events since the day they moved into the historic Bayview Cash Store building, but always at a cost that prevented the banners from being changed out more than once every four to six months.

Previously, the banners were printed on Tyvek, Polypropylene, or Water Resistant Satin Cloth. With the introduction of the Poly Select Light cloth, however, all future banners will be run on the versatile and cost-effective material.

“The banners get a lot of attention and it’s pretty neat having something that big with all that color hanging from the building,” says FBIS co-owner Nancy McFarland. “We usually leave those out on the building for a month or two. They get a lot of weather and wind, so it’s a great durability test.”

Printing Japanese art with an inkjet printerFBIS prints all of its work on its three Epson printers, a 4800, 9800 and 9900. Menth says the printers, coupled with the ImagePrint RIP, ensure color consistency and accuracy on each job, and that’s what FBIS is all about.

“I love the printers, and we use ImagePrint 8.0, which is beautiful because we can download profiles for just about any printable material in the industry and for any lighting condition we could run across. It also allows us to run these ridiculously long banners,” adds Menth.

Warning! Look Before Leaping with Lion

Compatibility issues with Mac Lion OS 10.7The warnings are rolling in from various graphics software developers about incompatibilities with the new Mac operating system, Lion 10.7. As with any new OS release there are legions of detractors and supporters. Either way, it really doesn’t matter, because it’s the new OS and eventually the din of software punditry will die down as Mac users migrate to Lion 10.7.

However, if you’re making the leap you’ll need to check in with your software vendors to find out what the compatibility issues are at this point. For instance, ColorByte, developers of the ImagePrint RIP used primarily for photographic and fine art printing, released a statement that Versions 8 and older of the software are not compatible. A new version, 9 to be exact, is expected to be released next month and will be compatible with Lion. If you purchased Version 8 after April 15 the upgrade to the Lion-compatible version will be free.

Software compatibility issues with Mac Lion OS 10.7Large-format production RIPS – like ONYX and Wasatch – are immune since they only run on a PC. However, if you have a large-format production RIP on a Mac, expect issues and even complete incompatibility. Once again, check with your software vendor for specifics.

If you’re printing through the printer driver, make sure to touch base with the manufacturer of your printer. Canon for instance, has a list of updated driver releases for its line of large-format printers, which you can find here. For Epson, click here, and for HP, click here.

Adobe has issued a list of compatibility issues for its suite of products, including Acrobat, Illustrator, Lightroom and Photoshop. Click here for the full list of issues.

If you run into any problems, contact a LexJet customer specialist at 800-453-9538, and they’ll run down the issue and find an answer for you as quickly as possible.

Printing a Legacy on Canvas

Printing wall murals on inkjet canvasPhotographer and entrepreneur Brian Hampton approaches everything he does conceptually. A photograph is not just a photograph and a print is not just a print. When Hampton’s friend and Chicago-area fine artist Tom Heflin was commissioned to paint a collage celebrating the 100th anniversary of a local hospital, Hampton saw an opportunity to help create a lasting legacy.

“Tom does a lot of work with a Midwest flavor and I’d like to print the original artwork he’s created over the past 40 years or so in tribute to him as an icon of the Midwest. It would be neat to see other people from around the country who reproduce fine art do this for the artists who have made an impact in their communities,” says Hampton.

The mural Hampton reproduced from Heflin’s original artwork is a great first step in that direction. The 4-ft. x 6 ft. original was taken to a high-end lab that specializes in digitizing fine art. Hampton made sure the artwork was digitized in the Adobe RGB 98 color space since that’s the space he works in throughout his workflow, from Photoshop and the ImagePrint RIP to his Epson Stylus Pro 9900 printer.

The mural would take up a 10-ft. x 15-ft. space of prominence in the hospital, so Hampton decided to print in six strips 31 inches wide with an inch of overlap on either side to make it as simple as possible for the professional wallpaper hanger who would install it. Each strip was centered in the ImagePrint RIP instead of printing full bleed, again to ensure ease of installation.

Hampton used LexJet Sunset Reserve Bright Matte Canvas with the extra protection of Sunset Satin Coating. After the mural was installed, Heflin embellished it with acrylics so the coating provided a surface to work on and extra durability.

“I called my customer specialist at LexJet, Michael Clementi, and let him know that I was looking for the best possible canvas for this project. Michael suggested the Sunset Reserve Bright Matte Canvas with the Sunset Coating and sent me the profile for the canvas,” explains Hampton. “The combination was perfect. The colors were right on, and if they weren’t I can guarantee you that Tom would have said something to me. Every artist is extremely particular about each color in their artwork and this turned out exactly as he painted it.”

Hampton adds that the installation went seamlessly (pun intended). The professional wallpaper hanger chose to apply the paste to the wall instead of directly to the back of the canvas to make sure none of the paste would bleed through.

“The wallpaper guy did an excellent job of making sure the registration was right on, but that’s what they do; they’re matching patterns all the time when they put up wallpaper,” says Hampton. “The overall result was spectacular. I went over to the hospital last weekend to take pictures of it and almost everyone who came through stopped, looked and talked about it.”

Printing Photos: When Should I Start Printing My Own Work?

In-house inkjet printingDo you remember the first time you jumped off the high dive as a kid? I do, and boy was I scared. But that anxiety was soon replaced by exhilaration once I came out of the water. After taking the plunge, all my fears washed away, and I said to myself, “Gee, I had myself all worked up over nothing; I wish I would have done that sooner!”

In 21 years of running my own portrait studio I have had similar moments of clarity. Like the time I began to learn Photoshop, or when I switched from film to digital. Each time there has been a great deal of worry, questioning, and research that eventually led me into taking the plunge. And, once committed, I later wondered why it took me so long to do it!

For almost two years we have been printing our portrait work in-house, and I have to say it really is not that hard, especially with LexJet’s awesome support team led by my personal customer specialist, Justin Craft. After buying the Epson 4800 and the ImagePrint RIP it took me just a few phone calls and I was up and running (now I have an Epson 9900). And, except for ordering more rolls of Sunset Photo eSatin Paper, which I love, I haven’t made a single call for more technical help. 

Yet when I speak to photographers at seminars and conventions, many of them have a hard time climbing up the proverbial ladder to take the in-house printing plunge. Here are their concerns and my responses to those concerns:

Concern: You don’t really save that much money going in-house.
Response: In one year we printed about 11,000 units with only $6,000 in ink, paper, and shipping costs. That’s only 55 cents per unit and $2.20 for a 16×20. With my old lab, printing costs would have been over $22,000. Plus, there are more opportunities when you can print for yourself. We were able to say yes to a job that needed 20 16×20 prints in four days. That alone added an extra $2,000 to our bottom line.

Concern: It will take too much time or manpower to do it myself.
Response: With the ImagePrint RIP it takes the same amount of time to send it to my printer as it does using the Web-based software most labs use. Yes, it takes time to trim prints, but not much more than it does to unwrap boxes and sort through things sent back from your supplier. We use a part-time high school student to help as needed. At $8 per hour she loves it more than a fast food job and we are still way ahead financially. Plus, she helps with other tasks as needed.

Concern: Inkjet photo papers have issues with curling, scratching, and gloss differential.
Response: The older Epson printers had those issues, but scratching and gloss differential is just not a problem with the new stuff. For me, paper curl is much less a factor with Sunset Photo eSatin. Even at the end of the roll, where it’s wound tight, the paper is so heavy and thick it only takes laying it out overnight before gravity flattens it out, eliminating any curl.

Concern: Inkjet is just not as good a product.
Response: I want to be able to look my customers straight in the eye and tell them this is the very best I can offer. Once I saw test prints from a homemade direct light test, I knew the only way I could maintain my integrity was to go in-house. Epson’s new ink technology lasts about four times longer, and Canon and HP are now producing similar results with their printers. Inkjet is just plain better.

Concern: Color management is too difficult.
Response: When it comes to color, I’m not the most focused lens on the camera, so to speak. I know good and bad color when I see it, but I could not tell you how to mix things correctly to achieve it. So, at the risk of sounding like a commercial for ImagePrint and LexJet, I will tell you that those are the names and products which ensure I get awesome color every time. They just set me up and the rest takes care of itself. I run a few simple head alignment tests every so often, and that’s it. ImagePrint seems to take the “governor” off the printer, creating delicious color. I like to use the phrase High Definition Color because my in-house printing provides a larger color gamut than anything else I have seen.

I hope this article helps some studio owners to consider taking the in-house printing plunge. If I can do it, you can do it. It’s really not that hard.

Step One in a Fine Art and Photography Support System

Furthermore, based in Washington, D.C., is on its way to being much more than a print shop, thanks to the vision of its founder, Jose Ruiz, and Bridget Sue Lambert, Director & Digital Print Open house inkjet printingSpecialist for Furthmore Print, the company’s production studio. The goal is to make Furthermore an alternative incubator for comtemporary art in D.C., New York and beyond. The first step in that goal is to make printing more accessible to those artists.

Furthermore recently kicked off the concept with an open house at its studio, an event that drew hundreds of artists from the surrounding area. Though Furthermore opened its doors late last year, they took time to execute a creative printing project for the open house to show artists all the different possibilities they can explore with inkjet printing and the variety of printable media available to them.

“We recruited artists from New York and Washington, D.C., and we assigned those artists to work on a specific paper,” explains Lambert. “One artist used LexJet Sunset Photo Metallic Paper, another used Sunset Cotton Etching, and so forth, for 18 prints on 12 different papers and materials in all, including Photo Tex and LexJet 7 Mil Absolute Backlit film. We matched their work with the medium we thought would work best.”

Open house fine art reproductionUsing mainly LexJet materials and a smattering of Hahnemuhle papers, the work was produced on Furthermore’s Epson Stylus Pro 9900 through the ImagePrint RIP. The aim, says Lambert, was to show the broad spectrum of inkjet printing possibilities and how each artist’s work can be reproduced to either stringent specifications or into something completely new and different.

One artist, Patrick McDonough, reproduced his work as a windsock with LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth. Another, Isabel Manalo, whose work is originally created on Mylar, had theirs printed on the 7 Mil Absolute Backlit film. The result was a wall of diverse, unusual and innovative work that was the highlight and focal point of the open house.

“The whole idea of the print shop is to provide more economical pricing that’s still high quality and archival on nice papers so that artists have a chance to experiment more and make this part of their studio practice, instead of just for exhibitions,” says Lambert. “Before we created this wall of art and photography it was difficult to demonstrate all of the possibilities with just stock samples. Now they can see everything and all the possibilities in a loose exhibition format.”

Artists and photographersLambert estimates that 200 to 300 artists and art appreciators attended the open house. MillerCoors donated about 20 cases of Peroni and Blue Moon to help with the event, underscoring the widespread community support Furthermore has for its overall concept of being a support system for the arts.

“We wouldn’t be in the position we’re in without the help of LexJet and our customer specialist, Rob Finkel. If I was having trouble with the software or the printer he was right there to help me get it set up. I’ll call him up and tell him what I’m trying to accomplish and he lets me know about the hottest papers and what will work best for the situation,” says Lambert. “I had a lot of struggles with the software I originally chose to use, because I didn’t listen to Rob. He kept telling me to use ImagePrint and I was against it, but then I finally came around and it’s been so much easier.”

Weekend Viewing: LexJet’s YouTube Channel and Coming Attractions

YouTube printing videosOver the past few weeks tech guru and video maestro Sean McGettigan has been posting a slew of how-to videos at LexJet’s YouTube Channel.

Right now there are 35 educational videos, three product demonstrations (Canon iPF printers, LexJet Sunset Photo Metallic Paper and LexJet Simple Flo Wrap Vinyl) and a general LexJet video about ordering and tracking shipments at lexjet.com.

While we’ve been posting them here on the blog as they go up on YouTube’s LexJet Channel, we’re entering the next phase of educational videos. The current videos primarily address pre-printing workflow issues, such as how to download and install ICC profiles, printing through various configurations and software for Canon and Epson printers, tips using the ImagePrint RIP, how to print borderless and so forth.

The next round of videos will concentrate on hands-on production, such as how to set up and install various printers and printer troubleshooting (there are already some Canon iPF troubleshooting tips at the LexJet Channel) as well as step-by-step production tips for various large format print applications.

So check out everything that’s been posted so far and keep an eye out for the next round of videos. Please let us know if there’s anything you’d like to see demonstrated or explained and we’ll do our best to put it together for you.