When the recent banners dropped on the side of the Locust Street Garage last month, a number of readers asked, “How did they do that?” The fact that a downtown company, High Resolutions, executed the feat piqued my interest and that of others. Interested, I recently visited the facility and came away even more impressed than I’d anticipated. Located just off Central Street in a nondescript building which serves as a very large production facility, the story proved to be interesting in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
First, it reinforced the narrative I’d pursued when writing about Modern Studio located just a few blocks away. In that article I talked about various kinds of production work operating in the corridor of Central Street and adjacent blocks. I mentioned Ironwood Studios, Makers Donuts, Magpies, Schulz Bräu, The Hive and The Central Collective. I failed to mention Striped Light (which I’d featured here) and Wild Love Bake House. I also over looked the largest production facility in the corridor: High Resolutions.
I met with owner Dave Ryan and Amanda Miller, a designer and project managemer for the company. I quickly discovered another narrative I’d not expected: the company is over twenty years old and started form the ashes of Whittle Communications. Former Whittle employees started what was then a very different, pre-digital business, and located it in the Old City. The company prospered, adapted, and ultimately came to be owned by Ryan who joined the company in 1996. It’s an example of the continued dividends Knoxville has derived from the influx of young talent during the era of Whittle’s success.
Originally from Boston, Dave attended earned a degree in advertising and public relations from Pensacola Christian College, which is where he met his future wife who was from east Tennessee. He’d been fortunate enough in high school to be exposed to design classes including print and graphic computers and a printing press. He took computer classes before it was common and “fell in love with graphics.” After graduating in 1995 and marrying that girl from east Tennessee, the two moved to Knoxville when he joined High Resolutions.
The company was quite different in those days. Located at 123 W. Jackson in the Old City and occupying 500 square feet, the company focused on high quality color reproductions and aggressively acquired large, expensive equipment offering the latest technology. The company expanded to 1200 square feet, connected to adjacent buildings and expanded to between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet. Ultimately, more space was needed and old wooden floors struggle to safely support the size machinery the company had accumulated.
In 2008 the company moved to their current address, eventually expanding to 25,000 square feet at that location as well as a 10,000 square foot warehouse on Magnolia Ave. They currently employ thirty people. Ryan, who was hired as a production assistant in 1996 was soon offered and purchased a share in the company along with two of the founding partners. This past May he bought the final share of the company and is now the sole owner. He says he feels they have been very fortunate, “to grow, add employees, respond to needs with the right equipment and staff.”
And beyond banners like the ones currently hanging on the Walnut Street Garage or the front of the Knoxville Museum of Art, what do they print? The answer is they print virtually everything on virtually any type of surface. From brochures and business cards to banners and car-wraps on materials including acrylic, styrene, aluminum and even something called “gatorfoam.” They work in metal production, can place logos on glass and just as easily work on 3-D objects as 2-D. They provide marketing kits with numerous components.
While the large-scaled work may make more of a splash, much of their work is for use inside offices and businesses (like the work you see on their walls). Ryan explained that, “our designers are a catalyst for our production facility,” adding they see themselves as “a production arm for the design community.” Still, they are very pleased with their most high-profile large project on the garage. I asked for more detail about the project.
It started with making as high a resolution of the photographs used as possible. The final product can be a smaller DPI than we are used to seeing because banners of that size are necessarily viewed from hundreds of feet away. He pointed out that original billboard printers used twelve to fifteen DPI and we didn’t react negatively, but that modern large printers can provide 2400 DPI. The banners viewed up close do not appear as detailed. The material used is also important and in this case, it is a vinyl-coated mesh to allow some air flow and reduce weight. Watch the excellent video (filmed and edited by Paul Schmutzler and Dave Cross) of the installation to see how it was physically completed.
The nature of the company is that they can see jobs through from beginning to end because of their staffing, equipment and facilities. While I conducted the interview and toured a company requested an increase to an order and the company is able to make changes and respond to requests in a nimble way because of their structure. Quality control is also much easier since entire projects are handled in-house.
Also striking during my tour was the fact that children were in evidence, brought to work by their parents. It speaks to a very employee-friendly company, which Dave said is a company value, saying, “The focus is on people . . . The people make us who we are. You will not see the turnover here you see elsewhere. We work well together . . . we appreciate each other as people and like to think this flows over to our clients. We get excited to help clients achieve their goals.” He pointed out some clients have been with the company from its inception.
It’s an impressive operation and a surprisingly large production facility located very near the center of downtown. And it is an example of how innovative Knoxvillians are innovating and helping our city develop modern production operations. And the banners are very cool. Check out the videos, take a look at their website. Give them some love on Facebook. And remember this innovative local company if you have printing needs of any scale and support local industry.