Part two of this article explores the more recent approaches to wallpaper production delving into the refinements made in technical processes, and the influence of history and art on current wallpaper artistry.
Wallpaper - the anticipated and unforeseen evolution of decorative art | Part 2
Incorporating hand crafted methods with automation – 1940s to 1960s
Wallpaper printing techniques later incorporated and embraced hand-crafted finishes, and automation. From the 1940s to 1960s there was an exploration in the visual qualities of using various printing processes. The style was a celebration of bold, geometric and fluid repeating shapes where the use of bright vibrating colour was key, and daring fluorescents were popularised. Modern art, popular culture, film and Cubism were referenced in many designs during this period.
Flat-bed Screen Printing was the prevalent technique in the 1940s and achieved by using a rectangle frame with mesh stretched across the front and stencils. After a coat of polymer is applied to mesh, the stencil of the wallpaper design is placed onto the screen. The screen is then ‘photo exposed’ under lighting to harden the polymer into a robust lacquer. Carefully placed into position on the paper, ink is then evenly drawn across the stencil with a squeegee, pushing colour through the exposed mesh areas to create an impression of the design. This process is then repeated to create a pattern, and other coloured designs can be layered once each element has dried.
To increase printing speed however still retaining a similar aesthetic admired in the screen printing, lead to the introduction of Rotary Screen Printing in the 1950s. This process was achieved by multiple cylindrical mesh rolls placed in a row and spaced evenly along a moving system. Each print station has an element of the design present on the printing cylinder, and the colour reservoir connects to these cylinders to apply the shade. Once the paper moves through every station to apply each design element, the wallpaper is complete.
The dominate technique in the 1960s was Flexographic Printing. Incorporating aspects from surface printing, this process instead uses a very flexible ‘relief’ plate where the design is raised. The printing process also uses a cylindrical drum with printing stations placed around the circumference, however with advances in technology, the Flexographic technique creates more superior tonal work.
Refined techniques and modern machinery
Refining the rotary system in recent years is Gravure Printing. This process uses an intaglio printing technique where the design is etched intricately into a copper cylinder. This allows ink to be filled into the design plate. The crevasses where the ink settles on the printing cylinder rotates onto paper to print the pattern, and then moves to the next cylinders for the additional design elements to be included. The depth of the often microscopic indentations on the roll, indicates the strength of the colour applied. The greater the depth, the stronger the colour.
The current method of wallpaper printing is Digital Printing, and as the name suggests, uses a digital file of the design and directs pixel converted data to a printer. Photography, scanned design work and digital rendering are all used to create wallpaper patterns. The design, which is printed on photographic paper, is exposed under light sources and then developed via photographic chemicals. The paper is then laminated with a thin coating which protects it from UV, scratches, finger prints and water damage. This process creates incredibly accurate prints and durability in the wallpaper finishes.
Creating great presence and adding a three-dimensional surface to wallpaper design, is Heat Embossed Printed Vinyl’s. This technique converts wallpaper printed on smooth plastic into an animated, relief finish. Wallpaper vinyl’s include a sheet of PVC which is placed on the backing layer. During printing, the solvent based inks adhere well to the material, however when heat embossed, are infused with great strength. The embossing is a major part of the process and includes three stages, heat to soften the PVC, the steel roller creating the 3D pattern, and cooling to assist in securing the design form.
Today, wallpaper references popular designs throughout the centuries in various interpretations. Our international brands Casamance and Christian Fischbacher, devote extensive collections to specific art movements, and tap into our desire to create a certain atmosphere and celebrate an admired historical style in a space. Experimentation with printing processes throughout the centuries has been vast. The variety of materials, inks, and printing techniques available today allow for wallpaper qualities to be carefully selected which dramatically enhance designs to create entirely new, individual finishes - and are thankfully devoid of impending health consequences.