they’re selling. I’m also very active in the Color Marketing Group, where I get a lot
of input and insight both within and beyond the furniture markets.”
“From there we start the buying phase, where we visit several wood brokers
and lumber yards and start looking at logs and lumber,” Smith explained. “This
means sorting through literally tons of wood, logs, planks, as well as reclaimed
wood and beams, in several locations.
“It’s more of an art than a science, and experience is key,” he continued. “Most
of the time we’re buying based on the trends we’ve been observing and what we
hear from our brokers. On some occasions we’ll invite a customer from flooring
and furniture companies with us, if they’re looking for something very specific.”
At the wood brokers, logs and beams are sliced into boards and run through
a planer to expose the true beauty of the raw woodgrain. Pouring denatured
alcohol onto the surface then makes the grain, color, and flare (or flame) pop.
“How much we end up buying depends on our goal for that species or design,”
Smith said. “If it’s a clear, linear structure, we can create a design from 100 board-feet
or even less. If we want a finished design with a lot of character, we need more virgin
material, up to 200 board-feet, to ensure we have as many of the natural variations to
work with as possible. This year we bought a dozen different wood species.”
Once the wood has been purchased, it’s turned over to furniture craftsmen
employed by the printers, who prepare it for scanning.
“They really know wood, carpentry, and furniture making, and understand
how to reveal the essential character of each species,” said Smith. “Depending
on how you cut it and sand it, you can bring out different aspects of the wood’s
character. Generally we don’t stain or finish it, because that actually reduces
the quality of the scan. It’s best to capture it in its virgin state; you can add finish
and color effects later in the editing process.
“Plus, we archive the lumber we buy in case we want to use it again,” he
added. “Once you’ve modified its natural look, it’s much harder to reuse.”
Large flatbed scanners are used to capture the natural color and grain
structure, flakes and rays, and naturally occurring “flare” or “grain pop.” The
technical term for the 3-D iridescent flare effect is chatoyancy, borrowed from
gemology to describe the cat-eye effect of certain stones.
To capture every minute detail in the wood’s surface, the scanner head
moves over the sample so slowly it’s almost undetectable. Banks of lights on the
scanner head are angled and adjusted to enhance surface texture and contrast,
and to either emphasize or mask the iridescence of the woodgrain details.
“If we’re scanning several samples of the same species, we’ll start with one
piece and scan it several different ways to bring out different parts of it character,”
Smith said. “Once we have what we think is the optimal scan of that sample
we’ll use the same setup for the rest of the samples of that species.
“At this point we’re not focused on what the final color of the design might
be,” he explained, “just capturing the wood in its most natural state.
“When all the samples are scanned, we print out full-size plotter prints of each and
begin to cut and paste, laying them out into a finished panel design,” said Smith.
“Once we have that hand-made version, the layout work moves into the digital realm.”
Grain, detail, and character are manipulated and blended to create a more
finished mockup of what the final panel will look like, and that design then goes
back to the development time—which includes the woodworkers and sometimes
even the customer—who mark up what they like and don’t like.
“Part of this process is making sure we’re creating something that works for
the intended application. For example, panels that will be cut into small pieces for
furniture parts may require a different design layout than panels destined for larger-
format uses on walls,” Smith explained. “Then, back to the digital designers for
final changes, from which we create a full-size plotter print of the panel design.”
Once an approved finished digital file is in hand, color separations are created.
“Most décor paper prints are made on rotogravure presses, the same technology
used for high-quality graphic printing. Three or four separate engraved cylinders
print each color as well as one part of the finished woodgrain, so those design
Freshly engraved rotogravure