Color Matching Original Wallpapers with Digital Printing Technology

While modern printing does a great job replicating a host of wallpaper styles and colors, it is critical to recognize that there are limitations for how well a color can be matched, given how digital printing differs from traditional methods.

We’ve created faithful reproductions of wallpapers of all eras, from Edwardian, to Victorian, Art Deco and beyond. Each project has presented us with a unique set of color matching challenges, building a thorough perspective on just how far digital technology can be pushed for authentic results.

This article provides a deeper look at the variables we use to determine just how close a vintage print can be matched. We hope that it provides insight for anyone wishing to recreate antique wallpapers.

 

CMYK Digital vs Old School Printing

The Advantages of Digital Printing

Modern digital printing is achieved by mixing Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black inks in various percentages in the single pass of an array of cartridges. Large Format printers are essentially commercial-grade inkjet printers. They provide an economic and reliable method for producing a wide range of colors as they print every color all at once with predictable results.

When matching wallpaper colors, it's important to understand that digital presses were more readily available for mass production of bespoke wallpapers in the early 90s/2000s. Any wallpapers produced before this innovation were fabricated using different inks and processes. In this article we will explore how this affects any perceived differences between these processes.

How Digital Printing Differs from Older Methods

Rather than print every color at once with inkjet technology, traditional methods apply solid colors in layers. These inks are pre-mixed by craftsmen and often used strong pigments to create bold and saturated colors. The pigments often include rare or difficult to find elements, including precious stones, metals, resins and even some organic lifeforms.

The reality is that these older inks and methods produce incredibly vibrant colors, including specialties as metallics and fluorescents. While CMYK can simulate these effects, it may be difficult to produce an exact replica, though we aim to get as close as possible. Digital and traditinal printing both remain viable and popular methods that coexist and are suitable depending on your needs

 
 

How Color Influences Cost

The more colors in a design pattern, the more time intensive the process, which was often reflected in the overall billable cost of a wallpaper. This is why digital printing has become very popular, being that wallpapers that used to take weeks or months to produce can now be printed in hours or days.

While CMYK printing greatly decreases cost compared to solid inks, the number of colors of the original pattern will impact the time required to digitize it as each hue must be separated/traced by an artist. In this regard, a two-color job will not be nearly as time consuming as an 8 color job, reducing the cost significantly.

Most Rare/Expensive Pigments & Inks on Earth

These colors are among the most difficult to replicate. If you detect them in your pattern then this should be taken into consideration when seeking a digital match.

Lapis Lazuli / Ultramarine: Made from grinding up Lapis Lazuli semi-precious stones, and possibly the most expensive pigment ever created. Famous from Renaissance paintings like Vermeer’s "Girl with a Pearl Earring"

Tyrian Purple: This pigment is made from crushing up tens of thousands of sea snails, and it was used as a fabric dye around 1200 BCE by the Phoenicians, and reserved for royalty due to its labor-intensive process.

Vantablack: This pigment is made from carbon nanotubes, and is the darkest substance known to humankind, absorbing 99.965% of visible light. It is primarily used in aerospace and high fashion sectors.

Cadmium-Based: These pigments, including Cadmium Yellow, Orange, Red, and Green, are made from cadmium sulfide and other cadmium compounds. They have a vivid color, but are toxic to humans and other animals when inhaled or ingested.

Dragon's Blood: This pigment is made from the resin of a tree that grows in Southeast Asia, and it was used in painting during the Renaissance and highly valued for its bright red color.

Realgar: This pigment is made from arsenic sulfide, and it was used in painting during the Renaissance. It was considered to be a bright, fiery orange color, but it was discontinued in the 20th century due to health concerns.

 
 

How Closely Can CMYK Printing Replicate Colors of an Original Wallpaper?

The most honest and transparent answer is that it can get you very close to your original, if not an indistinguishable match. Your blues will be blue. Your greens will be green. Any variance will be very slight. We've had many jobs where you can't tell the difference at all, but other patterns where there is some slight variation. As mentioned earlier, certain color groups can prove challenging to match, including the bolder shades of blue, orange, red and particular families of beiges and creams.

It's also worth noting that the overall texture and finish of digital print may differ from on older prints. Since most were applied with screens or blocks, you can often see and feel the texture of the ink sitting on the paper's surface. CMYK can simulate this effect visually, however it produces a flat and even finish every time, which may or may not be desireable for your project.

As a company and moral policy, we let our clients know up front what to expect in terms of color accuracy on a case-by-case basis so that realistic expectations can be established from the initial estimate.

Can I Spot Match A Patch on My Wall?

In our experience, this is only feasible if it is paid by insurance or a third party that is incurring a cost for the damage and will pay for multiple rounds of samples. However, some variation could be noticeable even after many tests when viewed side-by-side with an original wallpaper, depending on its complexity, colors and age.

This is why we often discourage clients from patching a small area on a wall. Since the recraetion cost of color matching can outpace the cost of printing, it's often preferable to reprint a whole wall, rather than meticulously lock in every color in a process that can stretch on for weeks or months, with no guarantee of a perfect match.

In summary, CMYK printing yields results which have satisfied hundreds of homeowners, historians and conservational societies. Even when 100% of the colors could not be matched to perfection, these highly discerning individuals were satisfied with the proximity to their originals, especially since they were prepared in advance for potential variations and what to expect from the process.

 
 

How Many Rounds of Samples Does it Take to Match?

Some customers will get a suitable match on the first round, however it is more common to go through two rounds of proofs.

Round One: We internally match the sample as closely as possible in our shop, under both natural and artificial lighting. This sample is mailed to you for evaluation

Round Two: The necessity of a second round is usually based on the number of colors, their complexity along with the surrounding colors of your space, including painted walls, furniture, all of which can influence color perception.

Round Three: It is not very common for us to get to this point - it is usually reserved for prints with a lot of colors or wallpapers that demand more of a historical rigor. We rarely, if ever, print more than 3 rounds of samples.

How Can I Achieve The Best Color Match?

For projects where color matching is absolutely critical, we've found that a collaborative approach works best. Great results can be attained by submitting color samples or paint chips with your wallpaper. Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams and Pantone are all suitable options.

While we cannot always match every single hue of these solid-color libraries, they do provide a viable starting point and significantly cut down on the time spent matching colors.

For projects where colors and textures must absolutely be matched 100%, we recommend dealing with a traditional print shop using any of the methods listed in the next section. The prohect will be a lot more time and cost intensive, but will fully replicate every aspect of vintage wallpaper printing, including colors, textures and finish.

NOTE: We provide digital reproduction services as a stanalone service. We scan, repair and color separate artwork which can be handed off to a third-party print shop.

 
 

A Brief Look at Alternative Printing Methods

Screen Printing

Traditional screen printing involves applying ink through a mesh screen onto the wallpaper. This method allows for vibrant colors and textures, often using solid color inks that provide rich saturation.

Block Printing

Block printing is a historic technique where patterns are carved into blocks and then stamped onto the wallpaper. This method allows for precise color application and unique textures.

Gravure Printing

Gravure printing involves etching patterns onto cylinders that transfer ink onto the wallpaper. It offers high-quality, detailed prints with a wide color gamut.

Lithographic Printing

Lithographic printing uses oil-based inks and a series of rollers to transfer images onto the wallpaper. It provides excellent color accuracy and is known for its versatility.

Satisfaction Guaranteed: Experts in Our Craft Since 2004

At Fine Print, we pride ourselves on our ability to reproduce just about any wallpaper roll. The vast majority of our customers are pleasantly surprised by how closely we can match their originals. With that said, it's important to set realistic expectations whenever employing modern techniques to replicate methods and materials from a bygone era.

We may not always match every single color to absolute perfection, nor can we produce metallic, embossed or fluorescent prints. However, our reputation has been built on creating the most faithful reproductions possible given the constraints of digital printing. We'll let you know up front how close we can get, and you'll see a printed sample before you decide to produce a single roll.

If you're in the market for digital wallpaper restoration, then you've definitely come to the right place! Call us at 212.619.5446 or send a snapshot of your wallpaper to inquiries@fineprintnyc.com and we'll give your project the individual assessment it deserves.

 

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Real Stories, Real People

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"Restoring the Vibrance"

"Fine Print truly captured the essence of our original wallpaper's colors flawlessly. Our living room feels rejuvenated, as if we've stepped back in time to the day we first adorned those walls. The hues are so accurate, it's as though the years have melted away, leaving behind only the vivid memories and warmth of our home. Thank you for restoring the vibrance to our space!"

Daniel Nguyen from Los Angeles, CA

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"A Seamless Transition"

"I was hesitant at first, fearing that finding a match for our decades-old wallpaper would be impossible. However, Fine Print proved me wrong. Their attention to detail is unparalleled; the colors blend seamlessly with the originals, creating a cohesive and nostalgic atmosphere throughout our home. Walking from room to room feels like a journey through time, thanks to their impeccable color-matching skills. "

Emily Roberts from Chicago, IL

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"Preserving Family History"

"Fine Print's dedication to color accuracy is truly commendable. They've not only replicated the colors of our original wallpaper but have also preserved the essence of our family's history. Each shade evokes fond memories of gatherings, celebrations, and everyday moments shared within these walls. It's like having a piece of our past beautifully preserved for generations to come. Thank you for your exceptional work!"

Xavier Hughes from New York, NY

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"Bringing Back the Charm"

"Fine Print exceeded my expectations in color-matching our vintage wallpaper. The attention to detail is remarkable; every hue and tone has been meticulously replicated, bringing back the charm and character of our home's original decor. Stepping into each room feels like a journey back in time, evoking a sense of nostalgia that warms the heart. Thank you for breathing new life into our cherished spaces! "

Olivia Garcia from Miami, FL

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