New Ways to Drive Art and Digital Inkjet Printing

New Ways to Drive Art and Digital Inkjet Printing

At a Glance...

Client: Mercedes-Benz of Littleton, Littleton, Colo.
Interior Design: Brenda Thompson, Denver, Colo.
Artwork: Bill Hueg, Westminster, Colo.
Art/Print Coordination: Betty Henderson, Wall Resources, Denver, Colo.
Digital Image Capture: Chuck Renstrom, Double Take Artistic Images, Lakewood, Colo.
Digital Printing: Reed Larson, Schiele Group, Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Installation: Don Skelton, Accurate Wallcoverings, Conifer, Colo.
Mercedes-Benz. The name is synonymous with finely crafted motorcars: comfort, luxury, high performance and superior quality. The best or nothing.

So when Terry Minnick, the General Manager of Mercedes-Benz of Littleton and Dru Ray, the dealership’s V-Class concierge, met with interior designer Brenda Thompson to plan the final stages of decor for the new dealership that was under construction during the summer of 2010, their thoughts naturally gravitated toward imagery that would best convey those classic Mercedes-Benz ideas.

A single line art drawing was used to experiment with positions and evaluate various images to visualize the concept.

While many images were available through Mercedes-Benz corporate sources, some of the large wall areas in the Littleton showroom called for something different.

In keeping with a Mercedes-Benz legacy of “hand” craftsmanship, Minnick was interested in the look of hand-painted images. The search for an artist who could produce them ended when Bill Hueg showed up.

DESIGN ELEMENTS: CAN YOU DRAW CARS?

Hueg, whose art career now spans 40 years and includes among many other pursuits, “painting big pictures” on signs, billboards, brick walls, drywall—and canvas, was still unknown to the Littleton dealer. During the initial meeting, when the scope of the project was being discussed, Minnick asked Hueg one simple question: “Can you draw cars?”

The paintings were done in Hueg’s studio at a scale of 16 inches to seven feet.

“Yes,” Hueg replied, “I can draw cars.” And to prove it, he then produced a reprint from the June 2000 issue of Sign Business magazine that featured Joe’s Garage, the personal hideout of the late Joe MacPherson, who hired Hueg to paint more than 300 linear feet of classic cars, racecars and car-related Southern California scenery.

With credentials confirmed and a commitment from the dealership, Hueg began the process of working out the details of filling the empty wall spaces with Mercedes-Benz related imagery.

“I was looking at the project with graphic elements in mind that were significant to Mercedes-Benz, such as radiator caps, emblems, etc., items that would fill the spaces graphically,” Hueg says.

Minnick specifically wanted to use classic Mercedes-Benz imagery, reasoning that if the hot car of 2010 was used, by 2011 it would be outdated and a new mural would be needed in order to stay current. Classic Mercedes-Benz imagery on the other hand would always be recognizable and could remain in place for many years.

Hueg found plenty of reference material, coordinating with Thompson on wall and carpet colors, furniture and other items that would occupy the space in the showroom.

“My idea was to create flow within the space,” Hueg says, “which is why one car points in from the right side and the other car points in from the left side. The result is that your attention is visually staying within the room instead of going outside either space.”

PRODUCING THE ARTWORK

Using approximate measurements of wall spaces, Hueg produced a to-scale tone and line drawing, which could be used to experiment with positions and evaluate various images so the client could visualize the concept.

When four images were finally chosen, another choice had to be made: how to apply the art to the wall. One option was to paint directly on the wall, similar to how the murals were done at Joe’s Garage. Another option, which was chosen, was to paint the images at a smaller scale in Hueg’s studio, photograph them, enlarge them digitally, print them full size, and then install the full-size prints on location.

A number of reasons influenced the decision, including budget, travel, logistics of moving furniture and cars, leaving the showroom in disarray for months and sheer physical effort. 

“It’s always great to paint in the location where the mural is to be viewed with the permanent lighting in place,” Hueg says. “Ultimately I let the client make the decision after considering all the pros and cons. Overall I was pleased with how it worked.”

The graphic elements on the top seven feet of the 14-foot-high show room walls help to bring the space down visually toward the cars in the showroom.

He says the process turned out to be a real education, both in the art and science of digital color matching, and in discovering a new method of using the tone and line art.

“In the past, once the sketches were approved, I would enlarge them with a projector onto the painting surface,” Hueg explains. “I did these differently. I took the drawings to a copy center and enlarged them to 16 inches tall on regular bond paper, similar to what’s used for blueprint sized copies. I then applied varnish onto the paper so that oil paints would not soak into the paper, and then attached the varnished paper to 1/2" Baltic Birch plywood, cut to 16" wide, with more varnish. Baltic Birch was chosen because it is a nice stable plywood. I then painted the images directly on the paper with oil paints, saving the step of projecting and drawing the images again.”

When the paintings were dry, they were sealed with a water-based clear coat and ready to be captured digitally.

IMAGE CAPTURE

Hueg loaded up the paintings and brought them to Chuck Renstrom, owner of Double Take Artistic Images in Lakewood, Colo. Renstrom photographed them in the studio using a Canon EOS D1S Mark III camera.

The camera resembles a traditional view camera with bellows and is set up with a Schneider lens, producing what Renstrom says are distortion-free images that are sharp from edge to edge.

The studio lighting set-up consists of two custom-built banks of 36 four-foot fluorescent bulbs that have a high color-rendering index. The light banks reach from floor to ceiling producing an even illumination on the subject from top to bottom and from side to side, eliminating shadows and allowing for an accurate exposure. Polarizing filters on the lights as well as the camera also help to eliminate hot spots and glare.

Some of the paintings were long enough that it was necessary to photograph them in sections. This was done by moving the art piece; keeping the lights and camera set-up in the same position.

Those images were later stitched together in Photoshop and then enlarged about 500 percent using Perfect Resize software from onOne. (The software was formerly a LizardTech product and was called Genuine Fractals.) Perfect Resize works as a standalone software or as a Photoshop plug-in. According to onOne, it uses special algorithms that allow images to be enlarged up to 1,000 percent without any loss of quality.

“If you start with a good resolution it’s much easier to increase it,” Renstrom says. “These captures were about 21-megapixels.”

Photoshop was also used for color corrections, as well as CoCo color correction software, which is another Photoshop plug-in, allowing a high degree of selection in color ranges for particular colors that can be changed.

“The key to getting good color is having everything calibrated all the way down the line,” Renstrom says. “We use a DNG (digital negative) file generated from shooting a Macbeth color chart under the same lighting conditions, and we make sure that’s correct first. The camera is calibrated to the lights; the camera is calibrated in Photoshop; and the monitor is calibrated to the same workspace. Then the rest of the colors fall into place.”

Files were saved in Photoshop CS5 native format, uncompressed and were about 600 MB in size.

“We shoot in the ProPhoto RGB color space and then when we give it to the client it’s converted to the industry standard Adobe RGB (1998) color space,” says Renstrom.

Installation by Don Skelton, Accurate Wall Coverings. Each panel has 1” to 2” bleed on the left and right for double butt cutting and 1” to 3” on the top and bottom to allow for wall travel.

PRINTING: PAINT MEETS INK AND IS ABSOLVED OF DUTY

Renstrom generated proofs on the studio’s Canon 12-color large-format inkjet printer and provided them, along with the Photoshop digital files to Reed Larson at Schiele Group, a company in Elk Grove Village, Ill., with extensive expertise in printing large high-resolution images. There, the process of generating full-size prints began.

Larson points to several challenges involved with producing wide-format digital graphics that are intended to match painted images. “When the images are scanned and printed on another medium that will be used as color match guides, loss of pigments and saturation from the original paintings can occur,” he says. “Another challenge is in picking up contrast in the scans and outputs. Color match proof paper can also compound the pluses and minuses from the original art. Each of these systems used to provide color guidance will not produce the original art exactly. And the inks are not paint. So the challenge is how to get back as close as possible to the original art, knowing that production medias will not reproduce paint pigments exactly.”

Larson says there was a wide range of image testing, approvals and corrections before the final images were produced.

“The first thing we did when we received the files was to do a direct output without any changes to see how the files would reproduce. We compared these to the color proofs, made color corrections as needed and sent those proofs to Wall Resources for review. They compared these to the original paintings in several different lighting situations. Changes were discussed and then another round of proofs was generated. In all, 16 proofs of each image were generated before final printing. We were at a point with files that we were tweaking quarter and eighth tonal values within areas of an image.”

Colorburst RIP software was used for the project, and the printing was done on a Vutek QS3200 flatbed printer using Vutek UV 2nd generation flexible inks.

Several artist canvases were considered. The final media choice was Fisher Textiles GF4308 Canvas.

END NOTES

Another printing challenge that had not been anticipated was matching the background of the prints to the existing wall color. While cutting each image out and applying it to the wall was considered, there was a concern that it would look like a cutout.

Instead, Hueg had painted in the background on each of the paintings to match the paint color on site and also provided a paint swatch for reference.

“When you are working on two different color-critical elements that oppose each other within one visual, unless you separate and treat them as individual elements, you will drive yourself crazy,” Larson says

“What we did was outline the main focal elements instead of doing an overall color correction. This way we could work on each of the elements individually so a color shift on one would not push us in another direction. Otherwise, the background colors could shift and start to fight each other because the eye would pick up one color from an image set and try to apply it to another image that had different color and tonal values and the eye would not see consistency in the background color. It was resolved by producing several blocks of color for the background and applying the corrected background into each of the new main subject tests until a successful combination was found for all the visuals.”

Larson has two suggestions for avoiding this type of problem in the future when backgrounds are critical. 

“One is to supply paint information way in advance of producing the project. The printer could then supply color blocks back to the client with the best color match. But the danger with this is that the background may match but as soon as you start putting subject matter into the image it will begin to shift. The second way is for the printer to test the visuals with the subject matter and background color needed and bring the two together as close as possible. Then send out the test to the client and have the paint mixed to the digital sample.”

In the end, the printed image with background matched the original art and wall color and were installed to the client’s great satisfaction by Don Skelton of Conifer, Colo.-based Accurate Wallcoverings.