May is Small Business Month! We can’t wait to share stories from local businesses around our region, and highlight the impact these leaders having on our community. Join us at Open for Business all month long for stories, inspiration, and connections!
Nestled inside a Shelley St. Office Park in Springfield, OR is the West Coast’s only direct-to-wall vertical printer. Below we hear from Joel Gerlach, co-founder of Surface.Ink Vertical Printing with partner Randy Cummings, about Surface.Ink’s story and impact in our community!
Tell us about the Surface.Ink story!
It all started with a random video on Facebook that was showing “cool new upcoming technologies” and one of the clips showed an early prototype of the Wallpen printing on a wall. I saw it and thought, oh, this is amazing, I have to reach out to this company! They’re based in Germany and hadn’t really gotten to promote much in North America, so they were excited to talk to me. After doing a video call with them and learning more about the cutting-edge technology they were developing, I knew I wanted to get involved. I talked to my business partners and they were hooked as well. We put a deposit down on their next-generation printer, and a year and a half later it finally arrived in Eugene! Today there are only 10 of these machines in all of North America, and we have the only one west of Chicago! We’re serving the Eugene/Springfield (and greater Oregon) area with a piece of technology that is truly about to revolutionize printing.
Talk to us about vertical printing: What is it, and how is it done?
When we tell people that we’re in the “vertical printing” business, people are instantly intrigued. How does one print vertically? That’s where our printer comes in. It’s a self-contained, easily-transportable printing studio. The print head and ink bags are mounted on a platform that can move horizontally and vertically, printing full CMYK color on any vertical surface. It utilizes a special UV-based ink (more on that in the next section) that cures immediately after being printed. This allows us to print on any type of vertically-oriented surface: painted walls, drywall, metal, glass, acrylic, wood, concrete, and even brick! And with up to 1200DPI resolution, we can clearly print 8pt font (newspapers print at 12pt font for reference) as well as any graphic, text, design, you name it. We can even print drop shadows and gradient blurs straight on the surface! It’s pretty wild. There are no longer any limitations for designers and artists like you would find with vinyl; if you can see it on a computer, we can print it. We’re also cheaper than vinyl printing per square foot, because we bring the printer with us and the client supplies the canvas. It’s the perfect setup!
How is Surface.Ink helping to address climate change?
Climate change is a big deal for me, and one of the reasons why I love this printer so much. Let’s compare us with the most common signage application: vinyl printing. It requires large printers to handle the vinyl canvas and you have to saturate the vinyl with color ink, then the vinyl is transported to the destination, it needs adhesives and solvents to adhere to the surface and the transfer paper is thrown in the trash. If you want to remove the vinyl later you often will destroy the underlying surface and need to repair the wall, generating even more waste!
With our printer, we use solvent-free UV ink that’s certified vegan (no animal byproducts used, not the case with a lot of other inks) and it generates absolutely no waste. Our ink doesn’t need to permeate deep into the surface like other printers, it is sprayed on top and the ink layer is only a few molecules thick. We’ve done the math – our printer is so efficient that you can print over 800 sq ft of surface with the same amount of ink that could fill a single can of Pepsi! This is the future of printing.
What have been some of your most favorite projects?
One of my favorite stories is printing over at Northern Gold Foods in Junction City. They’re a food processing plant, so they couldn’t decorate their main factory floor with hanging pictures or canvases because it violated the strict fire safety code. This is where our printer came in: because it’s basically just “fancy paint” and the surface is able to be directly cleaned using industrial cleaners, it passes fire and food regulations. We were able to print these huge (7ft tall by 16ft wide!) pictures of Oregon landscapes from Diamond Lake to Heceta Beach and a view of the Oregon valley from Mary’s Peak. Suddenly these stark white, very clinical hallways came to life with these beautiful Oregon vistas. While printing, we had Northern Gold employees come by and take pictures and thank us for making the space more beautiful. I think that’s what gets me most excited: we’re efficiently, cheaply, and sustainably transforming what would otherwise be uninspiring spaces into beautiful works of art. There’s nothing like it. You can see our Northern Gold prints and others we’ve done on our website: https://surface.ink/wallprinting-portfolio
What has it been like as a small business in our region? What challenges have you faced? What has worked well?
There’s something incredible about being on the cutting edge of technology – you’re getting to pioneer something that will someday be mainstream and common, but right now it’s an unknown. The idea of Vertical Printing or Wallprinting is still so new that most people won’t have heard of it. So that makes it a challenge to promote this new industry. I believe that there’s a lot of potential to transform spaces here in Eugene, it just takes getting the word out. This is always the hardest part for me… finding the right resources and the right events to promote our services takes time and patience. And as a small business owner, I truly hope that we can last long enough to see it grow. I think what’s worked well is taking the time and effort to get to know the ins and outs of our printer, so we can be confident when we print for our clients that it’s going to turn out amazing. People pick up on the confidence and the quality of the work itself (which is where our Springfield Wallprinting Showroom comes in handy!) and that confidence helps people clearly see the potential of what we do.
How has being a member of the Eugene Chamber helped your business grow?
This is a timely question! Last night (Tuesday, May 2nd as of the time of this writing) we had our official Grand Opening ceremony put on by the Chamber. We had their whole team of Ambassadors, they did a Facebook Live stream, and did some light promotion of the event on their channels. It was such a thrill to have so many people come in and admire the art that was printed on the walls and to get the chance to showcase our work to so many people at once. We couldn’t have had so much excitement and energy without the Chamber’s help! We’re still relatively new members, but the Chamber has welcomed us with open arms. I’m looking forward to growing our business here in Eugene with the help of the Chamber’s team and the opportunities they can pass along to us, and I really look forward to what we as a company can give back to the city as well. I have a huge heart for schools and nonprofits, and can’t wait to work with these amazing organizations to transform their spaces too. The future is bright!