- Photos: Canon 5D Mk III, 24-70 f/2.8L, 70-200 f/2.8 L
- Software: Adobe Lightroom 4, Photoshop CS5 running on Windows 7
- Printing: Epson 9900, Ultrachrome HDR inkset, Lexjet Poly Select Heavy media
- Assembly: 3M clear duct tape from Uline, Cyclone Banner 2 Sided/Hem Tape – 1.5″ x 72 Yards from Bestblanks.com, 1/8″ x 1.5″ aluminum bar, 4 gallons Lexjet Sunset Satin acrylic coating
- Installation: Sunbelt Rental – 30-33′ electric scissor lift, 700 – 8×3/4″ machine screws, 700 – 3/4″ flat washers, home-made jig for holding rolled prints on lift
Reconnaissance – We made two visits to the site for measurements and discussion of the installation steps. 1/2″ plywood covering the windows was recently installed, providing a good base for the murals. Our challenge was the size of the window openings, the largest being 14′-6 x 21′ . We measured the base of the openings and carefully photographed each elevation. From the images we scaled the heights and the position of the half-circles at the top. A Photoshop mockup was prepared of the design and used to obtain approvals from the building owner and the city. Amazing how close the mockups resembled the actual installation.
Image Prep – After selecting the images for each installation, we used Photoshop to crop, upsize, and stage for printing. For the windows that did not include the half-circles, this process was straightforward as there was no special masking for the half circles. Here are the steps:
- Crop image in Lightroom to fit the aspect ratio of the window perimeter. Export cropped image to Photoshop.
- Open in Photoshop and use Image Resize at 120 dpi to match the height and width of the window opening. Do this in several steps of about 50%. 120 was actually fine for this application.
- Prepare individual files for printing. The vinyl used comes in 42″ and 36″ widths. To save on material, we used either a horizontal or vertical arrangement of strips that would minimize waste. Some windows we used horizontal, some vertical, with a mix of both 42 and 36 inch wide widths.
- Layout each strip on the image by using a ruler guide in Photoshop. For a 42″ strip, layout a ruler 40″ wide. This will allow a 2″ overlap for seaming things together. For a 36″ strip use a 34″ width. For the windows with the half-circle, we separated the circular portion to simplify installation.
- After your ruler guides are in place, create a selection rectangle of fixed width and height (width equal to the paper width). Lay this out over the ruler guide – the selection should snap to the guide. There is some overlap, which is good. Now do a Copy of the selection and select File, New (from the clipboard), then Paste the section into a new file. This is the image you actually print.
- Go through these steps for the entire image. I’ll be providing some diagrams of this process or email me to clarify. I know it doesn’t sound very clear.
- For the half circle archway I researched how to create a mask from the circle object. It’s actually straightforward but completely arcane as are many Photoshop basic operations. I can provide more details on this too if you need more info.
Printing: My printer ran for almost 2 weeks and I went through at least 14 – 350 ml ink cartridges and 6 – 42″ + 3 – 36″ rolls of vinyl. We printed over 2200 sq ft. The printer clogged only twice and I noticed some banding in the darker areas, but overall the printer worked fine.
Initial Assembly – Each strip needed to be trimmed and seamed together. It really helped that we had enough floor space in our studio to layout the entire window. This would be very difficult if you do not have a clear (and clean) floor to do the assembly. The printer leaves a 1/4″ white stripe on the edge so this needs to be trimmed. Applying the double stick tape and matching the image on the seam was a lot harder than I thought. It turns out that strips at the length we were dealing with (20+ ft) stretch and curve and wrinkle, and when scaled by these long lengths really do make a difference when trying to match things up. It helped to know that the print was actually right on, and any mis-match was really due to the paper not being exactly square or parallel. I tried all types of techniques to make the seaming process go smoothly. The double stick tape is kinda scary because once it grabs the printed smooth surface, it could NOT be repositioned. BUT (and this is very important) if I could do all of this again, I would not have used the vinyl woven “fabric” as recommended to me because the back surface is not smooth, it has a slight texture because the material is truly woven. This prevents the tape from sticking aggressively. In fact, NOTHING sticks to this surface, including the industrial double stick tape, clear duct tape, or super glue. You need a smooth surface to really activate the adhesive on the tape. We paid for this later, as things started to come apart.
I also noticed that the 42″ wide strips were more dimensionally stable than the 36″wide, being that the 36″tended to “arc”. This means length of the top (on the long side) seemed to be longer than the bottom by about 1/2″ causing a mismatch of the image towards the edges. Most of the time this was not a big issue, but it was frustrating to try to get things matched perfectly or decide which areas were not going to line up.
To stabilize and add rigidity to the assembled print during handling, a 1/4″ thick x 1-1/2″ wide aluminum bar was added to the top edge of each piece. This proved to be very helpful during installation as it added just enough stiffness to the rolled up pieces making it easier to do the initial positioning and fastening on the wall.
Coating and Trim – after the pieces were assembled, we applied two coats of an acrylic UV coating with a roller. We were concerned that the FL sun will take its toll on the colors, and this coating should help. Again, without the ability to layout the pieces on the floor, this step would be impossible. After drying, we trimmed all the pieces to 1″ less than the measured dimensions and kept our fingers crossed that everything would fit. Clear duct tape was applied to the perimeter on the backside to give the edges some rigidity. I’m not sure if this really helped and it was clear that the tape would not permanently stick to the back surface. As a final step we located each screw attachment location and pre-punched a hole to make it easier to locate and to avoid the screw grabbing the vinyl during installation. Screws were located every 18″ along the perimeter and approximately every 36″ in the interior along the seam lines. Holes were also drilled into the aluminum strips. All the pieces were rolled and tagged for installation.
Installation - We arranged for a self leveling scissors lift with a working reach of 25′ for the installation. This was a very smart move, as our other alternatives (scaffolding or a bucket lift) would have not been as efficient or effective. We were able to lift two people to the working height and to raise/lower the platform as required. Ryan and Frank, my two installers, were familiar with the lift and had the paperwork to operate it…this is not a DIY type of machine. Ryan rented the lift from Sunbelt Rentals and they dropped it off on the Friday before our big day.
Dorian and I pulled an all-nighter Friday night to get things ready for our installation day. All of the final trimming and hole-punching, rolling and tagging, took a lot longer than anticipated. Everything was loaded onto a big trailer at 8:00 Saturday morning and we were off to the site. It was a beautiful day, but a bit windy and the sun was out. We started on the Barnett building first. It took a while to get the lift started, as we didn’t realize that the lift needed to be leveled before it would operate (duh) but all was figured out and soon Ryan and Frank were making good progress.
Ryan devised a jig to hold the rolled up print in a “tray” at the front of the lift. This made it possible to hold the roll without sagging so that the aluminum strip could be positioned, centered, and leveled. This was a critical step due to the size of the prints, anything off and we would be either trimming the edges on location or forever moving the print to find a correct position.
The first piece to be installed was Spring at McCullough’s Creek (the big bright green print) and as we rolled the print down and it covered the walls I knew that I would be happy with the effectiveness of the images. I had never seen one of my images this big on a wall and I was thrilled. The other two prints that were rectangular were next. It appeared that all the measurements we made or extrapolated were working out.
The two windows on the north end of the building contained the foggy oaks inset into the full window opening. We would soon see how our scheme for handling the arches would work out. The measurement from the top of the arch to the midpoint was critical. We hoped that the arches were true half circles and they were. After locating this point the bottom rectangular portion of the window was installed first, and then the arch. Positioning the seam of the arch proved to be the biggest challenge. The largest window we saved for last. The rectangular section is 14′-6″ square, and the arch has a 7′ radius. As we finished this window we knew the hardest part was over and things were really looking good. By this time it was about 1 pm and the sun was tracking on us the whole time. We took a break for lunch…Subway!
By 2 pm we moved the lift across the street to the old Florida National Bank building (aka the Marble Bank building) and the sun found a way to follow us. No shade today! Installation of the remaining 5 prints went smoothly. For some reason the prints were about 5″ too long so we folded the bottom edge and just tucked it under. By 6 pm the installation was complete. It was a long hot day and we did very well, no big surprises and the overall project looked fantastic. We cleaned up, locked the lift to the lamp post, and went for margaritas!