Another Classic Success Story: Cali Color

Inkjet printing photos and fine artIn a previous post, we profiled Keith Fabry Inc., a traditional reprographics company that embraced digital and responded to market demand accordingly. In the same vein, but from a different traditional path, Cali Color in Sacramento also embraced digital technology and its market response was similarly successful.

Where Keith Fabry Inc. gravitated toward more commercial point of purchase and corporate work, Cali Color explored the niches that made the most sense based on its experience and expertise. The commonality between the two, beyond large-format digital inkjet printing, is a savvy sense of customer awareness. Both understood and continue to understand demand and what, exactly, their respective markets demand.

Cali Color always had a handle on where its markets were headed, which is why the evolution from chemical process to digital process was relatively smooth and seamless. In short, Cali Color listens to its customers, anticipating demand so that its supply in the demand-and-supply equation is a perfect match.

While all this may be common sense, particularly in hindsight, as many similar companies found out in those revolutionary emerging-digital ’90s, it was difficult to see the forest for the trees, to repeat a cliché. Cali Color not only saw the forest, but the surrounding countryside as well.

Reproducing artwork on canvas with inkjet printingAs Cali Color’s owner, Patrick O’Kane, explains: “In the early ’90s we got into digital because designers were making the transition from traditional mock-up to computer mock-up. They didn’t have any way to proof the images they were doing on the computer because there were no desktop digital printers at that time. We invested a lot of money in a Canon color copier and a Fiery controller, which allowed us to hook the computers to the color copier to output.”

Though Cali Color made the move, it wasn’t easy. Matching Pantone colors with a toner-based, four-color printer was quite challenging, to say the least, but Cali Color made it work. Cali Color then moved to wide format with the acquisition of a 36-inch Encad NovaJet Pro to better serve those same designers. Cali Color had not yet purposed the printer for photographic and fine art reproduction since everything was still transparency-based. “We thought it was a great thing, but looking back it had a dot pattern the size of golf ball dimples,” says O’Kane.

Once digital cameras arrived on the scene, the possibilities for digital printing arrived as well. Cali Color, as O’Kane puts it, took a step back and evaluated their business and the landscape around it, plunging into inkjet photo reproduction with an Epson 9600.

Laminating photo inkjet prints“We had the option to go inkjet or LightJet. The reason we decided to go inkjet was the initial cost of getting into the technology and because there were a lot of substrates available that we could offer our customers that we couldn’t with LightJet,” explains O’Kane. “We offered the entire giclee process and that took off quite quickly; a lot of people were looking for alternatives and the quality was much better than any offset processes available.”

O’Kane says that since that time, Cali Color shut down its negative development processes and stopped doing traditional photographic printing and E6, becoming fully digital about three years ago. Cali Color’s earlier assessment at the digital crossroads proved prophetic as the versatility of inkjet ensured a satisfied and secure market.

“With all the materials LexJet was coming out with and improving, it gave our customers many different options. Now we offer most everything LexJet has to offer in the Sunset line. We found that our volume increased, so we’ve built a very nice niche in the fine art market. We also do a fair amount of trade show graphics, which has gotten us into other substrates like LexJet’s Water-Resistant Satin Cloth and cold PSA laminates,” says O’Kane. “What we’ve found, even in this economy, is that our client base is actually getting wider, including other states and the Bay Area. We’ve built a reputation based on quality. We’ve combined our equipment and our darkroom techniques from years ago, transferring those techniques for use on the computer.”

O’Kane says Cali Color prints a lot of canvas, from limited editions and custom gallery wraps to large décor jobs. The keys are consistency, economy and value-added service, he says, to be competitive in this market.

Mounting inkjet prints on art boards“When it comes to a price point, LexJet’s Sunset canvases are great; they’re perfect for bidding on larger jobs, and I’m confident that the material we’re printing on will look great for years to come,” says O’Kane. “And, the Sunset Coatings are the best products I’ve seen in the way of protecting canvas prints… ever. I was using another coating, but it had to be diluted with distilled water and the dilution varied depending on the time of year I was doing it. I ruined more prints than I save. The Sunset product is ready to use out of the can and it doesn’t matter what humidity or temperature I’m dealing with. It’s an incredible product.”

O’Kane says his favorite print media for fine art and photography, aside from canvas, are Sunset Textured Fine Art and Sunset Hot Press Rag. “Our clients love those papers,” he says. “They’re consistent from batch to batch so I don’t have to worry about printing the same image six months down the road and having an issue with matching texture or anything else.”

For bin prints that people buy off the shelf from the artists and frame themselves, O’Kane uses LexJet’s Premium Archival Matte. “The fine art papers are generally reserved for limited editions, but if they’re selling prints that people can leaf through a bin to buy, Premium Archival Matte is a lot better paper for that since it’s less expensive. It also behaves a lot better than other matte papers I’ve used in that weight, and it’s archival.”

It’s all about options, and Cali Color makes sure its customers have plenty of them, whether it’s a large décor project or a laminated trade show graphic. It’s also about taking time to educate customers about those options, the thinking behind choosing materials and the printing process itself.

“We take time with our customers. The one thing digital has done it has made the photographer a darkroom technician. Some like it and some don’t. Some people have a handle on color, and some don’t. So, when we get a file from a customer, we take time to look at it. If we see deficiencies in that file – color, density, size, enough pixels to do the size they want – we’ll stop and talk to the customer to let them know our concerns,” says O’Kane. “I arrange a time with new customers to come in and we go through each individual file so we can show them if we make changes what the images will look like and how I feel it will be better. Back in the day when we were doing traditional processes, that’s what we did and made the best possible print we could by altering it – changing color density and burning and dodging.”

In other words, Cali Color is an open book to its clients. O’Kane shares information on how they calibrate their equipment, offer tutorials on color management and file preparation and gives talks to art and photography groups.

“I don’t think there are any huge trade secrets, so the more information I can give my customer, the more predictable the results are every time I get a file from them. It makes a difference, and it really doesn’t take that long,” says O’Kane.

Banner Stand and Brochure Holder Profit Center

Printing a banner with a holder for brochuresLexJet customer specialist Michael Clementi recently approached me with a fantastic idea for local businesses, like real estate agencies, that pass out collateral materials – brochures and sales sheets – as a matter of course.

Michael explains: “Our customers are always looking for new ways to make money with their printers. The Expand BrochureHolder banner stand is perfect for going after local real estate companies. The banner stands have a lifetime warranty and you can rent or sell them outright, adjusting the price accordingly.

“If you rent them to a realtor who’s holding open houses for, say, $40 a day, then you only have to rent it three times to show a profit on the stand, not to mention the money you make printing the graphics.

“I recommend LexJet TOUGHcoat Water-Resistant Polypropylene, one of LexJet’s Opaque Display Films (5.5 Mil Matte, 6.5 Mil Gloss Opaque or 10 Mil Opaque), Water-Resistant Satin Cloth, or one of our new Poly Select fabrics for an elegant, flowing look.”

Thanks Michael… And if you’re looking for good ideas to build business and the best products to do it with, contact Michael or any LexJet customer specialist at 800-453-9538.

Transitions to Success: Red River Photo Services

Inkjet printer matte canvasLeighton and Katrina Kirkpatrick, owners of Red River Photo Services in Oklahoma City, have created a business that emphasizes the experience. What Red River Photo means by that is how the customer is drawn in and made a part of the entire printing experience from the beginning.

“This is an open place; there’s no front counter where customers have to talk to someone in the front about what they need, where it then gets passed to someone in the back who passes it to someone else in the back who tries to interpret what three other people said about the project,” explains Leighton Kirkpatrick. “That’s been a big part of our success and one of the reasons we grew last year… Personal involvement and letting them be part of the experience. We bring them right into the shop right where we’re working and sit down at the computer with them to go through their project. We combine a place that’s enjoyable to visit – where they will be treated in a friendly and helpful fashion – with a final product that exceeds their expectations.”

This is not idle “customer service” talk. It’s based on more than 35 years of experience in imaging, first in film and now in digital output. Red River Photo Services has been based in Oklahoma City for more than eight years. Previously, Leighton had a successful lab in New York City for more than 18 years, catering to modeling agencies, advertising firms and other high-end clientele.

Inkjet printing canvas
Red River Photo's showroom features the work of some of Oklahoma's most prominent artists printed on LexJet Sunset Select Matte Canvas.

Katrina is originally from Oklahoma City, so the pair decided to settle down there, bringing some of the New York-based business with them. “We were doing work for agencies all over, so for many of them it didn’t really matter where we were located,” says Leighton. “I’m glad we had that business because it took us a couple of years to get established locally.”

And get established they did. Shortly after making the move, Red River Photo began making the transition from a chemical lab to fully digital. As Leighton explains, it wasn’t an easy transition, particularly for someone who had been so immersed in all the ins, outs, nuances and details of the chemical process.

“I love it now. It’s irreplaceable and we’ve become very skilled at it. I wouldn’t go back in the darkroom,” says Leighton. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years. Katrina’s been doing it for five to six years and her enthusiasm helps keep me enthusiastic. She’s very good at what she does and she’s as good at printing as I am, which takes a lot of heat off of me. Plus, she is very good with our customers.”

Not only did Red River shift from film to digital, the business itself and the market it serves has evolved, particularly over the past few years. While the company’s specialty is still true-color fine art and photographic reproduction, its growth has been mainly on the commercial side. Red River works with design and architecture firms and corporations to help them full realize the potential of their branding and image.

Inkjet printing on photo paper
Red River Photo printed this 36-in. x 96-in. display for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the city's NBA franchise, on eSatin, laminated and applied to MDF.

“We do just about everything here, and you have to do that as a small business in a relatively small city. We had our best year last year, and it’s been mainly word of mouth and attention to quality that has helped build this business,” says Leighton. “We’re the only art and photo company other than the larger graphics houses that have a 64-inch printer, which has also enabled us to gain more business. We wouldn’t be able to print what we’re doing for the Thunder [Oklahoma City’s NBA franchise] if we didn’t have that machine.”

Red River Photo has an Epson 11800, an Epson 9800 and two Epson 9600s. While the added horsepower and width certainly helps, an important differentiator has been Red River Photo’s willingness to experiment, and experiment successfully, with a lot of different inkjet media.

“I need to know about new products, and my reps at LexJet tell me what’s coming out and what’s being changed or discontinued across the industry, so I’m always in the know. It also helps with sales because it enables me to go to my clients and let them know about those new products and what they can do for them,” says Leighton. “Product delivery from LexJet has been perfect as well. They tell me when it’s going to get here, and it gets here, and if it doesn’t, they fix it.”

Leighton says his favorite products, which are also customer favorites, include Water-Resistant Satin Cloth for both backlit and frontlit applications, Polyvoile for large, lightweight banners, Sunset Photo eSatin for all kinds of applications, Premium Archival Matte for non-reflecting poster work and Sunset Select Matte Canvas.

Inkjet printing photo paper
Photo by Shellee Graham printed by Red River Photo on the always-reliable Sunset eSatin Photo Paper with an Epson 11880.

“We’ve been applying graphics to a lot of different substrates. We recently produced about 55 prints mounted on Aluma-Panel for Chesapeake Energy. We used eSatin and applied a luster laminate over the prints. I love the eSatin. We use it more than anything else, because it has very good color saturation and when you put it in the machine you know what you’re going to get,” says Leighton.

Leighton expects to continue growing in this direction in the future, blending Red River Photo’s color and image expertise with commercial displays, or what he calls “fine art displays” for commercial clients.

Designing Trade-Show Displays with Your Images

When you exhibit in a basic 10 x 10 ft. booth at a trade show, you only have about 3 to 5 seconds to grab the attention of each attendee strolling the aisles. That’s why it’s better to use a big, eye-catching visual in your booth graphics than multiple lines of small text.

Because trade-show graphics rely so heavily on high-res, high-quality visuals, they can represent a real opportunity for professional photographers who know how to print big.   

Photographer Clark Marten created these multi-panel and single-panel displays with LexJet’s I-Banner Spring Back Banner Stands and Water-Resistant Satin Cloth (

If you already have a wide-format printer in your studio, we can teach you how to use it with LexJet materials and portable banner stands to create free-standing displays for bridal fairs, sports events, seminars, and other gatherings. You can also produce ready-to-go displays and sell them to business clients who hire you to shoot their product images or to seniors, athletes, or executives who want attention-getting ways to display their portraits.  

LexJet knows a lot about trade-show graphics because that’s how we got our start. In 1994, LexJet started selling new combinations of materials that could help exhibit producers fabricate more durable inkjet-printed trade-show graphics and exhibits. We continue to sell dozens of different materials and display systems for producing multiple types and sizes of graphics for trade shows, stores, museums, and events.

Whether you want a low-cost portable system for occasional use or a display rugged enough to endure a multi-stop event tour, we can help you choose the most cost-effective combination of print materials and display systems.

As for designing the graphics themselves, check out this great article entitled 10 Small-Booth Graphic Mistakes on Exhibitor Online.

The article starts out by emphasizing that the graphics “must clearly communicate who you are, what you’re selling, and what benefits your company’s product or services can offer.” Then, the article’s author Linda Armstrong explains how to avoid the 10 most common mistakes people make when creating graphics for 10 x 10 ft. booths. Here are the most common mistakes: 

  • Too Many Words
  • The Wrong Words
  • Competing Colors
  • Artsy Fonts
  • Tiny Type
  • Text Below Eye Level
  • Too Many Images
  • Poor Image Quality
  • Bad Lighting
  • Nicks and Dings (Damaged Graphics)
Fine Balance Imaging Studios displays banners stands both in their studio (above) and trade-show booth (below). (

Exhibit designers quoted in the article recommend using one large main image to fill the display instead of a smattering of small images. And, they say the graphic will be more eye-catching if the image is cropped to eliminate distracting details. 

The experts also advise graphic buyers not to use low-quality images that don’t have sufficient resolution to be enlarged without becoming blurry or grainy.

Many LexJet customers who are converting their images into displays like using  Water-Resistant Satin Cloth with an economical I-Banner spring-back banner stand. The fabric graphics are lightweight, don’t require lamination, and can easily be shipped and stored.  But LexJet offers dozens of options, including a retractable banner stand made of environmentally friendly bamboo and tabletop systems for set-up at smaller shows.

So call a LexJet account specialist at 800-453-9538 whenever you’re ready to get started. We’ll be happy to tell you more about how to convert your images into attractive, portable displays.

Photographers Get Creative with Photo Mural Fabric

Photo mural at Fine Balance Imaging
Photo mural at Fine Balance Imaging

Last month, we published a post showing the beautiful black-and-white photo murals that Lizza Studios had created on Photo Tex PSA fabric for the Dietrich Theatre in Tunkhannock, PA. Photo Tex is an inkjet-printable fabric backed with a repositionable adhesive that makes it easy to make adjustments if you make a mistake when you are installing the printed panels.

Here are a few other examples of the creative ways other LexJet customers are using the user-friendly display material. 

WALL SIGNAGE: To help welcome visitors to the new studios of Fine Balance Imaging in Whidbey Island, WA, Joe Menth used PhotoTex PSA to create this 5 x 8 ft. wall mural of a photo he had taken of a local musician. The mural has sparked a wave of interest in the printable fabric among consumers and exhibit designers. Fine Balance Imaging has since produced a floor-to-ceiling mural in the newly remodeled kitchen of a local bed-and-breakfast.

TRADE SHOW GRAPHICS:  At a trade show for local businesses, Joe Menth and Nancy MacFarland of Fine Balance Imaging used Photo Tex PSA to create easy-to-install/easy-to-remove graphics for the side wall of their trade show booth. One of the purposes of the booth was to show some of the creative possibilities of printing images on non-traditional materials. The table drape for the booth was printed on LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth and the graphics in the I-Banner stands were printed using Water-Resistant Satin Cloth and Polypropylene. According to Joe, using the banner stands and the PhotoTex PSA Fabric for booth graphics made it quick and easy to take down the booth when the show was over. You can read more about Fine Balance Imaging on this blog, or in the July issue (Vol. 4, No. 7) of LexJet’s In Focus Newsletter.

Trade-show graphics show what Fine Balance Imaging can do.
Trade-show graphics show what Fine Balance Imaging can do.


OFFICE DÉCOR: While working on a yearbook to help the J&B Group of Minnesota celebrate its 30th anniversary, portrait photographer Chris Lommel suggested enlarging one of the company’s historic 8 x 10 prints into a 168 in. x 9 ft. mural the reception area of one of the company’s production facilities. When they agreed to give it a try, Lommel printed the image in four 42 in. x 9 ft. pieces on Photo Tex PSA on the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8100 he bought from LexJet.  He installed the panels with the help of the graphic designer who had worked with him on the mural. The company has received a lot of nice comments on the mural from visitors as well as employees. You can read more about Chris Lommel Photography and some of the other creative ways he is using LexJet materials in the August issue of LexJet’s In Focus newsletter.



Chris Lommel's mural-size enlargement decorates the reception area of a facility of the J&B Group.
Chris Lommel's mural-size enlargement decorates the reception area of a facility of the J&B Group.



Photographer Norman Gilbert printed golf course imagery onto PhotoTex PSA, then used the fabric to decorate his "Buddy Dog." The sheen comes from the automotive clearcoat that was sprayed on all the dogs so they could be displayed outdoors.
Photographer Norman Gilbert printed golf course imagery onto PhotoTex PSA, then used the fabric to decorate his "Buddy Dog." The sheen comes from the automotive clearcoat that was sprayed on all the dogs so they could be displayed outdoors.

PUBLIC ART:  PhotoTex PSA fabric is designed to be applied to non-porous flat surfaces. But photographer Norman Gilbert of Memphis, TN decided to see if the fabric would work for something more complex. 

He used PhotoTex to wrap his 44-in. tall “Buddy Dog” statue in golf-themed imagery for the Dog Daze in Memphis public art project/fundraiser being conducted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of The Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County, TN.  

The statue is modeled after Buddy, a three-legged Black Labrador that was rescued during Hurricane Katrina.Gilbert’s dog, named DogLeg, is one of 75 artistically enhanced dogs that are being display throughout the city and will be auctioned off later this month. Gilbert is the official photographer for the Dog Daze in Memphis project. You can read more about Gilbert’s unorthodox use of PhotoTex PSA fabric in the August issue of LexJet’s In Focus newsletter.

Desk-Front Displays for Photo, Art, and Promotional Prints

By Darren Vena

Fine Balance Imaging Studios uses changeable panels in their desks to exhibit their clients' art and promote their own services. (
Fine Balance Imaging Studios uses changeable panels in their desks to exhibit their clients' art and promote their own services. (

At LexJet, we love it when photographers and artists send us pictures that show some of the creative ways they are using some of the inkjet-printable materials we sell.

In two previous posts on this blog (about photographers Leslie D. Bartlett and David DeJonge), we’ve shown you why LexJet’s Water-Resistant Satin Cloth is quickly becoming a popular option for printing photo and art exhibitions. For one thing, the inkjet-receptive coating on this smooth, lustrous, wrinkle-resistant cloth is designed for high-resolution, full-color imaging. And, because prints on Water Resistant Satin Cloth don’t need to be framed or mounted, shipping exhibition prints from one site to another is a breeze.

But here’s one use of Water-Resistant Satin Cloth that we hadn’t seen until now. The clever, desk-front display system shown here was devised by Joe Menth of Fine Balance Imaging on Whidbey Island, Washington, a mecca for artists, photographers, and nature-lovers about 25 miles north of Seattle.

FBIPanoDeskShotJoe built the desktop display system earlier this year when Fine Balance Imaging moved into a spacious new studio, which was more than twice the size of their original working quarters. He says the desks from the old location simply looked out of place in their new surroundings.

So he customized the desks with fixtures designed to hold changeable graphic panels made from satin-cloth prints attached to recycled door moldings. (The door moldings are used like stretcher bars in canvas gallery wraps.) The panels can be slid in and out of slats in the desk fixtures whenever Fine Balance Imaging wants to feature something new.

“In the desks, the panels looks seamless and permanent because we’ve put trim over the top,” says Menth. “But we simply pull up the trim, pull out the frame, and drop the new prints in.”

The images are printed onto LexJet Water Resistant Satin Cloth using the ImagePrint RIP and the Epson Stylus Pro 9800 printer.

The desktop graphic panels are just one of the ways that Menth shows clients what’s possible with high-resolution inkjet printing and different types of materials. As you can see from Joe’s panoramic shot below, when clients walk into Fine Balance Imaging they see bold splashes of color almost anywhere they look.

SLJFBIpanorama view 2

Along with promotions for the studio’s services, visitors can see small exhibitions of the work produced by clients such as Michael Foley. His macrophotography series Miracles in Minutiae was printed on LexJet’s Sunset Select Matte Canvas and is displayed for everyone to see.  In the corner of the studio is a print on an aluminum sheet made possible with Golden Digital Grounds for Non-Porous Surfaces.  Hanging above the desk are paintings enlarged to 400% and printed onto Color Textiles Habotai Silk.  Most of the framed photographs were printed on Epson UltraSmooth Fine Art paper.

As for promotional graphics, a front counter sign is printed on LexJet Water-Resistant Polypropylene and the graphics in the I-Banner Stands are printed on either Water-Resistant Polypropylene or Water-Resistant Satin Cloth.

Fine Balance Imaging was founded in 2004, a couple of years after Nancy McFarland and her son Joe Menth had moved to Whidbey Island intending to start a small, family-run art gallery. Nancy and Joe are both photographers and artists at heart, but had worked mostly in technology-related careers that they never were fully passionate about.

At the art gallery, they started making small art prints for a few of their new artist friends. They opened Fine Balance Imaging in direct response to what the artists in the area said they needed. The fine-art business has since expanded to include an extensive array of capture, design, finishing, and marketing-support services for artists, photographers, small businesses, and consumers. These services include: high-end film and flatbed scanning; photography; graphic design; panorama stitching of multiple images; and photo restoration, color correction, and retouching.

But the bulk of the studio’s business revolves around wide-format printing of fine art, photographs, posters, banners, and displays. The studio uses the Epson Stylus Pro 4800, 7600, and 9800 printers with ColorByte Software’s ImagePrint RIP for consistent color from print to print.

For artists who want prints ready to sell at local festivals, Fine Balance will provide shrink-wrapped or polybagged mounted prints. Finishing options include UV-coating, hand deckling, or custom trimming.

As their services have expanded, so has their base of customers. And that’s why they needed to move to a bigger space and chose to do something more creative with their desks.  When more customers see for themselves the type of images that can be produced on Water-Resistant Cloth, Menth says, “More and more clients are using it to create frame-free, ready-to-hang art.” Fine Balance Imaging sells the prints complete with a simple hanging system made from dowels and satin cord.

This type of ingenuity in producing ready-to-hang prints that has made Fine Balance Imaging very popular with their clients. Plus, “Doing work that we truly love motivates us to uphold incredibly high standards,” says Joe.

He adds that, “Our clients don’t care what equipment is used to create their prints. They just care that we spend time with them personally to make sure that they’re happy when they leave, so they will come back to us again and again.”

You can read more about Fine Balance Imaging and how they find ways to help artists succeed in LexJet’s In Focus Newsletter (Vol. 4, No. 7) and in future posts on Studio LexJet. Or visit the Fine Balance Imaging website: