The iPadarod: The Race to Pay for a Large Format Printer

Reproducing fine art on canvas with an inkjet printerThe iPadders have been coming out of the woodwork since LexJet ran its various iPad promotions, the last one of which was this past March. Those who took advantage of the deal not only got the latest state-of-the-art large format printer for a very reasonable price to begin with, but an iPad to boot.

Beth Bennett didn’t even know about the free iPad when she ordered a Canon iPF8300 44-inch printer from LexJet this past March. Though she was going to order one regardless, her LexJet customer representative let her know it was part of the deal and Bennett got a nice bonus.

Six days after ordering it, the printer arrived on her doorstep. The next day it was up and running. By the end of that day it had already paid for itself. “The benefits of the printer were quite obvious right away,” she says. “The quality of the printing is perfect; it’s beautiful, very vibrant and colorful. There have been no glitches whatsoever. And the Sunset Select Matte Canvas we’ve been getting from LexJet is sharp, clean and crisp.”

Printing canvas for fine art reproductions
Ravenink, Anchorage, Alaska, reproduces the fine art of Jon Van Zyle, official artist of the Iditarod, on Sunset Select Matte Canvas with its new Canon iPF8300 printer from LexJet. Ravenink uses a high gloss coating with a brush on the stretched canvas for the final touch.

The printer was purchased primarily for Bennett’s new fine art printing company, Ravenink, to reproduce the work of local legendary artist and official artist of the Iditarod, Jon Van Zyle. It has since taken off without any advertising or marketing behind it. Bennett, however, sees unlimited growth potential, particularly given Ravenink’s initial success.

“We weren’t expecting to be so busy so quickly. In Anchorage, the number one thing we’ve noticed is that if an artist wants anything produced it’s very expensive. We wanted to offer small, custom orders, instead of making them order 500 of a print to get a price break,” explains Bennett. “If clients want to come in and fiddle with the colors, it doesn’t have to be an uptight environment… Just sit down with us, have a cup of coffee and play with the printer. Once we decide exactly what we want to do and which direction we’ll go with it, I think it will really take off.”

She adds that the entire process through LexJet, from ordering to shipment to installation, was a breeze, thanks in large part to her LexJet customer specialist, Yvette Rios. In the email that introduced Bennett to LexJet, she wrote:

Reproducing fine art with an inkjet printer and canvas“The iPad has arrived, and I just wanted to say thank you so much for all your time and great customer service. I work in the same type of industry and I am the technologies trainer/customer service for the entire state of Alaska. I know how important it is to get a thank you. It is the grumps that can put a big dent in our day, and the thank you’s at times seem few and far between, but mean so very much. You and your staff have been 120%+ positive, helpful and great to work with at all times. I have only experienced great things working with you and for that I Printing inkjet canvas for fine art reproductionswill always be a return customer. Plus, your product is awesome; we are thrilled to have such a great printer. We have grown leaps and bounds with our locally ‘made in Alaska’ product because of this printer. It was a big step for us, but it was the best decision we have made in the first year of our small business. Please make sure that you forward this on to your boss peoples. I would like them to know how happy we are with your company, and for them to hear it is because of the great people they employ. THANK YOU AGAIN, YOU ROCK! (and thanks for the iPad!)”

Thank you for sharing, Beth!

Moving from Niche to Specialty Printing at Raven Image

Face mount acrylic with inkjet printingThe 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.

Transferring inkjet prints to wood and other materials
An example of the specialty transfer product Raven Image has recently created by applying reverse-printed LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester to chemically-treated wood and other materials.

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.

Inkjet printed acrylic with aluminum
Similar to Raven Image's Face Mount Acrylic prints, the company's Lumoplex product is LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester applied with LexJet's optically clear adhesive and sealed between aluminum and acylic.

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.

Making partitions and tapestries out of inkjet printed fabric
Raven Image has also created eye-catching partitions and tapestries out of LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth.

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.”