The Bigger picture

Pamela Buxton looks at how large-scale graphics can transform a location

Selfridges – Rankin’s Surgery installation at Selfridges in London and Manchester this month was produced by digital imaging company Ltd Limited. Rankin took photographs of 20 men and women, asked them what they’d like to change about their bodies, and then digitally enhanced them to this effect. Images are 5m by 2.5m and were printed in sections and mounted behind Perspex. Part of Selfridges’ Bodycraze event, the photos aim to explore issues of perfection, identity and plastic surgery.

Bagelmania – Stylographics printed directly on to a standard wallpaper to create this wall treatment for the Bagelmania chain using its UV jet printer. This method leaves a durable finish that you can wash clean.

Boots the Chemists – Large-scale imagery can significantly alter the mood of a store, Lippa Pearce discovered, when it introduced friezes of photographs into Boots the Chemists’ Nottingham store. Aiming to create a more dramatic, emotional effect than Boots was used to, the designers commissioned photography from Richard Foster and Bruce Anderson that represented emotional moments in people’s lives such as a newborn baby, compiling 60 of the images as a frieze. These were then applied on vinyl and canvas to walls, windows and pillars.

Large-scale visuals, whether suspended as a banner or applied to the wall, have always been a useful device for designers. Relatively cheap and easy to change, they can radically and swiftly alter the mood of both internal and external spaces. Now, advances in technology to give better resolution and more flexibility of materials mean that designers have even more scope to make an impact in this way.

‘Now people use scale more, and the investment is a lot less than it used to be. It’s another tool for us,’ says 20/20 director Jim Thompson.

‘You can make a huge sweeping change without extreme cost or having to change the structure,’ agrees Lippa Pearce director Harry Pearce, who used gauze banners to this effect for Halfords. ‘They help divide up the environment and create different atmospheres. And because it’s semi-permanent, clients are more likely to be bold.’

‘You get more bang for your buck with a banner because they roll up and they travel easily,’ adds Andrew Praxis of interior banner specialist Praxis, which has just completed printed, woven cotton banners for the Elizabeth exhibition at the National Maritime Museum and last year worked on DinoBirds at the Natural History Museum.

He’s says designers have become more demanding in parallel with print processes becoming more technical and versatile. ‘They expect, and get, short run full-colour graphics,’ he says, adding that material is now more popular than plastics, especially as banners with images on both sides. ‘Just five years ago all 3m-plus formats were very low-resolution and suitable only for billboards. Now you can print any size you want at a much higher resolution.’

Dinobirds – Banners specialist Praxis supplied large-scale banners for the Land Studio-designed DinoBirds exhibition at the Natural History Museum last year, mounting them on its Mono interior banner system. Drawings and photos were printed on glass fibre mesh measuring 5m by 2m using a Vutek printer. One of the requirements was that they could be easily demounted for when the exhibition travelled.

Henri Lloyd – A huge 6m by 1.8m banner was a key part of Checkland Kindleysides’ design for the Henri Lloyd fashion store in London’s Carnaby Street, which opened in March. As well as providing a focal point in the store, the stairwell display encourages shoppers upstairs to the womenswear department. The designers chose a heavy duty Eurofab flag material because of the density of colour it could retain and commissioned C3 Imaging Midlands to print the image of two models. The banner is suspended from the ceiling with a baton at the base to keep it taut.

Display companies have to be fast and flexible, and keep investing in the latest technology in order to survive in the increasingly competitive market. Stylographics, which recently won a Queen’s Award for Innovation for graphics production and supply, works with designers and directly with clients to produce and install graphic displays for companies such as Vodafone and Oasis. Its machinery includes a digital die-cutter and a UV jet printer, which allows the printing of very large images to photographic quality.

Another technical advance in the market has been the availability of printers that can print directly on to substrates – whether solid or flexible. The Inca Eagle H, for example, can print on all manner of unusual substrates up to 40mm thick at a resolution of 800dpi.

‘Clients are far more exacting – they want quicker responses and to be more reactive. Designers want more creativity,’ says managing director Simon Olley, adding that it recently had just three days to create and install a job throughout the Coffee Republic chain. ‘The higher quality retailers don’t want a bit of card in the window – they want some quality. You can now print on textiles. Previously you had to go to a specialist screen-printer, which is perfect for the fashion clients that want backdrops for mannequins.’

Flexibility to come up with a tailored solution as well as speed is important. Stringer specialises in display systems and has factories for metalwork and woodwork to respond to special requests.

‘Clients know they want something that’s a statement, but don’t have any idea about materials – and that’s where we come in,’ says account manager Ben Lloyd. One of its recent successes was a Christmas display for John Lewis in Watford that has just been recommissioned for another store next year.

But designers mustn’t get carried away with the scope they have to design bigger displays in more unusual materials and faster than ever before. As Conran Design Group’s Richard Stayte says, context is as important as ever:

‘It opens up possibilities as long as you try to be appropriate and sympathetic to the materials, rather than doing it because you can.’

Liberty – Designer Rana Salam’s vibrant displays for the swimwear department of London’s Liberty store made full use of the ability of the Inca Digital Eagle H ink digital printer to print on all types of substrate. She specified 40 items totalling 300m2 of print including 2.8m by 10m of printed voile at the back of the store and Perspex panels for the columns. With only one week to complete the project from artwork to installation, printer VGL was able to place the Perspex straight on to the printing bed. Once printed, the panel was bolted on to the column in front of 3M colour-changing film so the panel appears to change colour as you move round it and evokes a watery effect that was fitting with the department. The whole job was printed in a day and a half and was unveiled in February.

Dixons – Banners are a useful way of dealing with stringent planning restrictions. Conran Design Group wanted to make an impact on the exterior of Dixons’ new format store in Cardiff, but was unable to change the 1930s facia. So it commissioned a massive 7m-high banner on heavy-duty vinyl, digitally printed in three sections with images of products inside the store. Initially intended for the store’s launch, it has remained in place.

John Lewis – Stringer worked with John Lewis’s in-house display team to create a 60kg atrium display out of illuminated aluminium tubing for the Watford Store last Christmas. Fourteen metres tall and 1m-wide, it was spray-painted then assembled on site to resemble a giant chandelier.

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