In the beginning is the idea: an image, a piece of clothing, a tree, a flower, a pattern, a color, or a structure. “You always take something, an impression from your environs, and in your mind an idea is created, a first sketch of how a new décor has to look,” says Michael Meier, responsible for the wood and flooring décors of the Arnsberger Dekordrucker Interprint GmbH & Co. KG. “Inspirations can appear during your vacation, driving to work, visiting friends or acquaintances, walking through the city or hiking through the woods. A designer is constantly searching, always ready to take in the impressions and to create something using them.” Some ideas lie in the air, reflect time or fashion, others develop on their own and creating something entirely new and different.
Once an idea for a décor is conceived it is put on paper, sketched, photographed or collected – if it is a replica relating to nature such as a wood veneer or a stone. “Up to this point everything is relatively simple,” explains Michael Meier holding a detailed print of an oak veneer up against the window. This template is going to be digitized in the repro department of the printing company and a reproduction is created which can then be further altered with digital image processing. This system offers décor developers an array of colors, forms, and structures turning the original image into a new attractive décor in the desired light oak hue. This process of development requires the combination of technological know-how and individual creativity. “The development of new décors is always a team effort,” stresses Elisabeth Zenker, Director of Design at Interprint International.
Many décors are developed especially for a client, like laminate flooring producers, who often have rather concrete ideas for the new design. In this case it is the task of the designer or the development department of the décor printer to turn this idea into an actual and realizable template. But décor producers also develop their own new décors, which are offered to clients and more often than not start a new trend of their own. “Occasionally, if it fits into our product portfolio and is marketable, we also buy a décor from independent designers,” adds Elisabeth Zenker.
The Artist in the Repro Department
The process of developing a new décor begins with the layout phase, in which a décor blueprint is developed, the design is improved and work starts in detail. The employee who takes over the work at the computer needs a good eye, a high level of creativity and a lot of patience. A wood décor, for example, has many different structural elements in its grain, which cannot be distinguished by a layperson. The specialist in a repro department, on the other hand, is the expert. He can cut out a rosette in one area and add it to a different one, which leads to a new design that is unique in color and structure. “Digital image processing offers endless variations to printers,” says Michael Meier, who is satisfied with the new décor design of the light oak and already has a new design idea on his mind.
What follows next is not immediately clear to the observer: it is the so-called endless formatting. The décor finished in color and structure has to be put in a continuous form. This means editing the image data, which will later be engraved on an impression cylinder, which has neither beginning no end. This insures the décor is not showing any visible break after the printing, which is desirable. After the endless formatting the décor is separated into its individual colors, as each cylinder later on will only print part of the structure onto paper. “We can work with up to four colors – or impression cylinders,” explains Elisabeth Zenker. “The more colors are used, the more depth and expression the décor will have.”
The Original Proof – a Sample for the Client
After the release of the décor on the basis of digitally printed proofs the laboratory cylinders are engraved. Now the designer has the opportunity to create “original proofs”, but can also use the laboratory cylinders to create proofs with the collection colors and according to client specifications. “In the area of flooring décors in particular such an original proof is indispensable,” says Michael Meier, “as the effect of a flooring décor can only be evaluated when looking at larger surfaces.” The proof also serves as a sample for the client – if it does not satisfy or changes are required the décor developer can enter the process at this point and alter the data accordingly. Once the client gives his ok the production process begins: the original cylinders are engraved, installed and the colors are mixed according to the specifications.
The basic paper types for the décor are already determined after the engraving of the laboratory cylinders. “For each décor a matching paper is required, as the color and strength of the paper significantly influence the result of the print,” says Meier. Normal basic paper weighs approximately 75 g per m² and has a white to creamy color. Then the printing begins: the 2.20 meter wide paper rolls is clamped in, the machines start up, the impression cylinders start turning, and the colors, which are kept in big vats next to the printing machines, are successively added during the process. This way, meter after meter is produced, cut according to client requirements, packaged, and delivered.
The development of a new décor costs between 40,000 and 50,000 Euro, an investment that only pays, when it is certain that the newly developed décor has a buyer. Yet, each renown décor printer that wants to play a role in the market has to develop ideas of its own, do test series, do offers to the market, set and detect trends. As the product manager for Interprint describes it: “A task that is as demanding as it is exciting.”