Prints That Win: Hare Apparent

It’s not hard to tell where master photographer Kelly Schulze’s heart resides … she signs off email correspondence with a “Peace, Purrs, and Tail Wags,” and she owns Mountain Dog Photography in Monkton, Vermont. Yes, she loves all things furry or scaly, and has dedicated her business to capturing their personalities in portraits.

Case in point: Ivory, the albino rabbit she photographed at the Humane Society of Chittenden County, where she has volunteered her photography skills for several years. Ivory’s red eyes and bright pink skin were shot against a blue background, which Schulze says may have seemed “creepy” to some viewers. At a friend’s suggestion, she changed the image to black-and-white and suddenly had an award winner on her hands. She won the Sunset Print Award at the Vermont Professional Photographers competition for this image, titled Hare Apparent.

One Hip Sticker Chic: Wall Art that Grows with Inkjet Printing

Canvas art for bedrooms
One Hip Sticker Chic produces more than custom decal decor art. Owner Kelly Ducharme also prints decor canvas wraps (Kids Canvas Art) on LexJet Sunset Select Satin Canvas SUV with her low-solvent Roland printer.

Kelly Ducharme is One Hip Sticker Chic who took an artsy idea and threw it on the wall to see if it would stick. Not only would the idea stick, but it would be repositionable and re-usable, just like the Photo Tex Repositionable Fabric from LexJet she uses for her Vermont-based wall-art business.

Printing custom growth charts
One Hip Sticker Chic's custom Growth Charts are printed on Sunset Select Satin Canvas SUV and tacked to the wall.

In just a couple of years, One Hip Sticker Chic has grown into a full-time online business. The website gives parents a number of Ducharme’s original designs from which they can choose and then customize the colors, patterns, fonts and copy for a variety of room décor products.

Ducharme started promoting her business at Etsy, a site for small businesses and artists to showcase and sell their artwork. Since then, the business has taken off and Ducharme ships the various decal products – including Kids Canvas Art, Growth Charts, Wall Dolls, and holiday and special occasion decals – all over the world.

Ducharme uses Photo Tex primarily for the wall dolls and Christmas tree decorative art. Photo Tex is perfect for these applications since wall doll accessories (clothing, jewelry and hairpieces) can be adhered over the wall doll and easily repositioned or taken off and replaced with another one, and the same can be done with Christmas tree ornaments, presents and decorations.

“With the Photo Tex, they can also take it down, put it back on the backing paper and pull it out again the following year,” explains Ducharme.

Removable wall art
One Hip Sticker Chic uses Photo Tex Repositionable Fabric for Wall Dolls and Christmas tree wall art. Photo Tex accessories (for Wall Dolls) and ornaments, decorations and presents can be applied, removed and re-applied to the base image.

For the Growth Charts and Kids Canvas Art, Ducharme uses LexJet Sunset Select Satin Canvas SUV (she uses a Roland low-solvent printer). The Growth Charts are printed on the canvas, trimmed to size and shipped with matching tacks to affix to the wall.

The Kids Canvas Art is trimmed out and stapled to 3/4″-deep wood frames, often in series of three.

“These are going in nurseries, not art galleries, so the frames don’t need to be very deep. The canvas has been very durable and the images look great on it,” she says.

GVH Studio and its Recession-Proof Approach to Wide Format Printing

Printing wall murals for an exhibitIt’s always nice to find success stories in and amongst a general recessionary atmosphere. It is these success stories, and the methods employed for success, that will help lead all of us out of economic uncertainty.

Case in point is GVH Studio, based in Bennington, Vt. Though not near a major metropolitan area (the closest city outside of Bennington is Albany, N.Y.), GVH Studio has not only weathered the storm, but thrived with 15-20 percent growth over the past few years.

GVH Studio’s success is due to the company’s strict adherence to a core philosophy that combines quality, customer service, on-time delivery, solid vendor relationships and attention to detail. Of course these are all elements that every company strives for, but putting them into practice consistently requires constant vigilance.

“A generally understood element of wide format is that it’s going to be really big and no one will walk up to it, which is not always true. At museums, for instance, people walk up to it and look at it closely, so you want to see image quality and color fidelity,” explains GVH Studio’s owner Greg Van Houten. “Then we have to get it there on time, and that’s one of the biggest challenges with printing in general. When a museum is opening an exhibit it has to get there, and that’s what we do. That’s been the basis of our growth. Our clients rely on that, and do not want to risk it by shopping for a lower price. We survey the installation site before we produce a job to make sure we have the right media at the right size with the right approach. We strive to understand the job from all angles before it goes into production.”

Printing exhibit graphicsThis deadline-oriented approach comes from years of experience before Van Houten opened and incorporated GVH Studio about five years ago. Previously, Van Houten worked in the offset pre-press industry where his specialty was color correction, imaging and darkroom photography.

“In offset, delivery is everything. We were doing everything from publishing to national one-page advertising, and it was a culture of making deadlines. You learn techniques to get things going and what to get going first and how to get things in line from there,” explains Van Houten. “Our goal is to deliver the jobs early, and not be opening up with the customers on the day it’s due and finding mistakes then. That’s just an attitude. A lot of it just comes from understanding the customer and what your role in their life is. Very early in my career I can remember getting excited about a thousand-dollar job, and then realizing that the production manager is trying to traffic a $3 million television campaign. They don’t want a $1,000 job to eat up their day; you have to make it happen for them so they can check it off their list. So you have to find out what your role is in their production workflow and be part of their production system.”

All of this is accomplished over an impressive range of applications and client types: Museums, industrial clients, corporate clients, special events, trade shows, vehicle wraps, banners and design-build projects of all stripes. Despite the variety of work that comes through the door, Van Houten says they keep a relatively limited inventory of different print media.

“I try to keep my product line relatively small. I don’t want 400 brands of PSA vinyl on the shelf. Quality control and predictability are synonymous. When you change media all the time, you lose track of what it does, how it performs in the field and how it prints,” says Van Houten. “I’ve worked with shops that fight everything tooth and nail just to get a couple of cents per square foot off the media, and they do every job with a different brand of material and no one knows what it does. As an example, we use LexJet’s Simple Flo Wrap Vinyl for different applications, including vehicles, and we know what it’s going to do and how it will perform. We use specialty media when the project calls for it, of course, but we try not to jump around too much.”

Printing durable tradeshow graphicsVan Houten maintains a close relationship with his vendors, making sure that he’s up to date with them on billing while nurturing that relationship as much as possible. After all, says Van Houten, “I tend to use the same vendors and when I need a favor, I need a favor. If someone pays their bills, you’ll get to their job and get it done, and that’s the way we are. It’s not just about the customers and our guys here in the shop, it’s also about our vendor chain, whether it’s a fabricator or a media supplier. We try to find vendors we can depend on and are responsive. LexJet, and specifically Jaime Mask, have been fantastic. She’s great and fun to work with; it’s a very pleasant and enjoyable relationship. And if she’s not there, there’s always someone to pick up the phone and get me what I need. I don’t shop around with a bunch of vendors trying to find three cents off a square foot. I like the material, LexJet gets it to me on time, and that’s what I need to know. I won’t deal with someone I don’t like anymore. I fired a customer a couple of years ago. I got to the point where I didn’t want to do their work anymore. They made us crazy, didn’t pay their bills and screamed at us. This is not why I come to work in the morning. We’re very fortunate to have wonderful customers and very enjoyable vendors to work with; it keeps the ulcers away.”

GVH Studio produces its work on an Epson GS6000 low-solvent and three HP Designjet 5000 Series aqueous printers. The Epson is generally used for outdoor work and the HPs for indoor projects. Ultimately it boils down to project parameters and budget. The production area is complete with a 60″ SEAL laminator, a 54″ Graphtec cutter and tables with rollers so that they can be moved out of the way for larger projects that require more floor space.

The shop setup is a kind of an ergonomic extension of the company’s core philosophy. It’s built for efficiency and flexibility so that GVH Studio can ensure all of the qualities it brings to the table for its client base. It’s less about cutting costs on items like print media or production equipment and more about creating efficiencies that bring costs down and reduce turnaround times.

Wrapping a box truck with graphics“Everybody’s trying to do things economically; the bigger the company the more price conscious they are because they’re looking for ways to cut costs. The smaller the operation, however, the more they want to see success and get a quality product. A lot of times they don’t know what that means, exactly, and that’s where we step in,” says Van Houten. “You can always find something cheaper. We show up and make sure you’re happy with it, and in the long run you’ll spend less money if you use us than if you bounce around to different vendors to shop price. If one of my regular customers comes in and they’re not happy with it, we’ll do it over. Those are the people who pay our mortgage, and we want them to walk out of here thinking their money is well spent. That’s how clients come back and justify doing the next project with us to their people.”