My Mural Nightmare

Written by:  C. Derrick, Encompass Technologies

I have a pretty horrifying (at least in my book) story to tell you about a project I worked on starting sometime in May 2001 and was fired from end of Oct. 2001.

I had been working with a former customer/friend (after working together a couple of years), of mine on a tile mural project.

First let me go into a little more detail about my friend. She is a professional artist/designer by trade and does jobs designing wall paper, fabric and the like as well as working in the architectural design business. Over 2 years ago (maybe 3 now) she initially hired me for a project she was working on for gift tiles which she was selling to gift stores. As time went on and we had a few color shifting issues, she decided she would be better off doing the sublimation herself and had been for over a year. This year she decided to go after the architectural market and do indoor murals.

For this first project she wanted me to print the transfers for her. One of the reasons she wanted me to do it was, she owns a 900 printer and had noticed over the year she has been working with it, that during the life cycle of an ink cartridge, in the beginning it prints darker than towards the end of the cartridge. This project is a 225 square foot tile mural so multiple 900 cartridges was not going to cut it.

We were both pretty methodical about the project and spent hours over about a 2 or 3 month period discussing how exactly to do it.

On my end, I wanted to dedicate 1 Epson 3000 printer, 1 new set of extended cartridges and a PC loaded with Photoshop 6 to the project, which I did. I would make sure my paper was dry going into my printer, dry again after printing, packaged between dry tissue paper and a dry-pak inserted in sealed plastic for shipping. Oh, did I forget to mention, she is in Ohio and I in Georgia! I had already done quite a bit of migration testing so was confident the images the way I was preparing them for storage would last a minimum of 2 weeks. I wanted a set of baseline tiles that I would print/press to the same tiles she was using throughout the project to make sure my colors were not shifting.

When the art was finished and the end customer happy, we started doing color testing between what she had approved with the customer and my Epson 3000 printer. I had run cleaning solution through the printer, purged and was getting ready to load my new extended cartridges and thinking about some of the things on the forum I weighed each cartridge and sure enough, 2 of them had up to 28 ml. less in them then the other 2 did. Of course this did not please me much since these are the large cartridges and there was only 314 - 318 ml in them, plus I had quoted her on past experience in using these cartridges and estimated number of pages I could get from them. I was now concerned that I may not even be able to get through the project with one set as I had hoped.

Color testing/correction took almost 6 weeks due mainly to shipping time and the project deadline was fast approaching. Color testing was done with a baseline set of 12 tiles, 1 tile from each major color group (we had dark green, light green, dark orange, light orange, yellow, brown, etc.) Once color testing was completed, or so I thought, we selected 4 baseline images for my set of baseline tiles of which I used approximately a 3" x 2" section of each one as to not to waste too many more 12" tiles.

I printed my baseline tiles piece, sent a copy to my friend. When she got them and pressed them she said the project was a go. We have now printed pretty close to 65-70 transfers with no product as of yet.

She then broke down the art into 1 file for each tile. Each had a number on it as to where it would be placed in the mural and it was also the file name so if we needed to reprint, it would be simple to find. When she pressed each tile she would number the back. She put the first set of 75 images on a CD and shipped it off to me.

When I received it and got ready to print, I printed out a copy of my baseline tiles and boom, the first major problem exploded in my face. The baseline was different! It was much darker and more blue then the ones I had and the ones I sent to her. I spent the next 7 hours going over and over every little detail of the printing process. I changed every setting possible in Photoshop and in the Epson printer driver. I printed test, after test, after test, of the baselines. When my husband got home he spent 2 more hours with me doing the same thing, that day we never got close to the baseline. The next day, I started again, turning on this function, turning off that function, trying this combination of settings and that combination. All of a sudden sometime in the late afternoon, when I set everything back to normal settings (once again) the color was getting closer. I printed it one or two more times and then called my friend to let her know I was sending another baseline because it was slightly darker then the first set and ask if I could hit between the first set and this last set if we could proceed with the project. Then, I printed the baseline images 3 times (one for me to press, one for me to keep and one to send to my friend) in a row on the same sheet of paper, one underneath the other and unbelievable to me, the first set was darker then the last set. I could see it on the paper. I went ahead and sent her the first set, pressed the last set and kept the middle set on paper for comparison for later baseline tests. To this day, I have no idea what caused this drastic shift in color first going darker and then back to normal.

My friend agreed that the image was close to being unacceptable but if I could keep it between the two baselines I sent to her that we were a go. So, off and running I go. First thing on a Saturday morning, I print my baseline, it looks great! I printed the first 20 transfers and notice that 19 & 20 which are side by side in the mural are drastically different. I do a nozzle check, print my baseline and all looks well.

This is probably the spot to tell you that this is one mistake I think we made during the project and unfortunately it turned out to be a pretty big one. Even though I had a small image of the entire mural, I did not really have a "map" of what I was printing. So I looked at the art, thought the color on the screen looked different and assumed it was a shadow that just happened to be on the next few tiles. I did note it on a piece of paper and even told my friend about it.

I ended up printing 81 transfers that day and 50 the next day of course with my baselines being printed at least before and after each days printing and once or twice during the day. I shipped all of these transfers out on Monday and I decided to wait until Tuesday and Wed. to do the rest to give my friend time to get them and start pressing attempting to keep the "storage time" to a minimum.

My friend receives the transfers and starts to press. Day one a few hours into the job she calls me and says that there was a color shift on a set of 6 tiles. We talk extensively about what might have happened and decide that possibly it was something during the separation of the art and that when she was finished she would resubmit those tiles to me. By the end of the day she had pressed somewhere around 40-50 tiles and said things were looking really good except for a couple more tiles that weren't matching up (color-wise). I shipped the rest of the transfers that day.

The next day is the day I thought our friendship was about over. She called to tell me that many of the colors were no longer matching and that she could not continue with these transfers. She had already contacted someone else to either have them make the mural or buy and Epson 3000 and different inks and do it herself. I had been fired.

All that time, effort and money down the drain. Of course I was hurt, furious, fit to be tied, near meltdown point, etc. and so forth. Now, I needed to find out what happened. Was this back to the issue that I saw before with the color shifting? No, I didn't think so because it was literally from one tile to the next the color did not shift during the printing of one tile but actually between files. My customer had been convinced by the person she was buying ink from that it was a clogging issue. I ruled this out too because of the same reason as above. Clogs don't happen at the end of one page and the beginning of the next, they happen during printing or when the printer sits idle for a while. During the first 81 images the printer did not sit idle for more then 15 minutes the one time I stopped to check the color shift between image 19 & 20... hmmm, back to that note I had written I went. I ask my friend about 19 & 20 and sure enough there was no shadow in the art that should have make that tile any darker then the one next to it.

Troubleshooting is one of my very strong points from being in the computer industry for over 25 years so my first step is to formulate a plan. I worked for 3 solid days trying to prove one way or another what had happened. I talked with fellow sublimators to get their thoughts and advice. I tried to prove it was the color correction software was not working correctly, the art was bad, the pressing temp. wasn't right, there was too much moisture in the paper or the ink was bad, but in the end I could not come up with any hard evidence that any of these caused the problem.

I finally called the ink supplier, told them the story, had my friend send the remaining transfers to them and ran test transfers for them. Their analysis was that the ink had expired before the expiration date.

I, to this day, don't know if that is really what happened. It still does not make sense in a logical mind that the ink would change color from one transfer to the next but here I am, minus one friend, probably 160-200 hours worth of time with no pay, out of 300 sheets of $ .35 paper, $800 worth of ink down the drain, I turned away other customers during the project that I will probably never get back, my friend will not order from me again and is also out somewhere around $1500 in tiles and probably 1/3 the same amount of time that we spent doing all of that color correction, now purchasing a printer and ink she wasn't expecting to have to purchase and the project, at this point, is already over 6 weeks late being completed.

In hind site, I guess we made 2 maybe 3 mistakes:

1) I should have had a detailed map of what tile I was printing so that I could see if there were shadows on that image (or not). If I had this I we would have known there was a problem after printing the first 20 transfers.

2) We should have printed several side by side tests before printing the entire project. This may or may not have caught the problem depending on which transfers we printed.

3) I trusted the stability of the ink.

The project is done but has left many scars. 

I hope someone has learned something from my story. Large projects are very attractive and bring in the "big bucks" but when there is a problem you can also end up being quite poor.


Additional information: This has now happened again to me in September of 2002. This was a different Epson 3000 printer and the inks were only 2 months old with a 2 year expiration date on them. I printed a total of 11 - 6" x 8" tiles. I started printing the first 10 and began to press as each one came off the printer. When I got to my last image, I re-printed one of the images because I saw a chip in the tile after pressing. The image I re-printed was was much more magenta than the image I printed just a few hours before. So I printed a sampling of each of the 10 images. All 10 were now different.

I wrote to the manufacturer one more time but they had no answer for me. My final solution has been to switch inks. Since Sept. when I got my new inks in, I have not seen consistency problems such as this.

Good luck & happy pressing!

Photos.com subscriptions as low as $29.95.

Copyright 2000 BitSoup, Inc.All rights reserved.