UW-Stout: Expanded lab, new printers help bring art, design students’ work to life

School of Art and Design students have a new hub at University of Wisconsin-Stout — the expanded, upgraded Digital Process Lab in the Applied Arts Building.

The lab, which opened last fall, is 3,000 square feet, 10 times the size of the old print lab, which was elsewhere in the building. The new lab houses new state-of-the-art printing equipment, thanks in large part to an in-kind gift valued at $100,000 from alum Bill Flesch, a 1981 business administration graduate.

Flesch’s gift was part of the Pathways Forward comprehensive campaign, which wrapped up in 2020. The gift includes three Canon printers: a wide-format inkjet, a color copier and a high-volume Canon imagePRESS C650, the latter which essentially is a digital printing press.

The imagePRESS is “a full-on press” capable of printing 65 high definition images per minute, folding, stapling and other features to produce full-color newsletters, booklets, brochures and 30-inch banners. Between September and early December, it had processed more than 30,000 print jobs, said Zach Kolden, lab manager.

Flesch is chief development officer and treasurer for the Gordon Flesch Company, one of the nation’s largest independent providers of office technology solutions.

“The lab has the latest and greatest equipment from the digital processing and digital imaging world. Students will be learning about digital processing at the highest level, so they’ll have experience that others typically won’t get. We had the opportunity to help, so we were in,” Flesch said.

Flesch is scheduled to attend a grand opening of the lab on Friday, May 6, when the School of Art and Design Senior Show also will be held.

The open lab is used by more than 1,000 students from all seven art and design programs and four related programs that have classes within the school.

“The lab will be like a town square. Everybody taking art and design classes can access it for their projects,” said Dave Beck, associate vice chancellor for Partner and Student Engagement.

Kolden agrees. “Students can see their work come together. It’s interesting to see them create their own publications. There are a lot of opportunities to design and a lot of creative ability at their fingertips in the lab. These tools in the lab make their ideas come to life,” he said.

Kolden was impressed recently with one student’s high-tech print, which revealed one image to the naked eye and another image when viewed with 3D glasses.

Other new equipment in the lab includes four 3D printers, thanks to a grant from 3M Corp.; and two new laser cutters, thanks to a grant from Kohler Corp.

Collaboration and applied learning

Students will be trained to operate the lab’s machines but also can upload files remotely and simply stop by and pick up their project, be it a full-color comic book, graphic design project or interior design poster for a class, industry presentation or portfolio.

During the fall semester, the lab was visited approximately 10,000 times — an increase of about 33% over the old lab — even though it’s still not fully operational because of COVID-19 restrictions and some equipment isn’t online yet.

Students are not charged to use the lab. Operating costs are built into the art and design program budget.

“We want to make it a comfortable space where students want to collaborate. It’s an important part of the whole educational process,” Kolden said, adding that he plans to dress up the plain interior of the lab by turning it into a rotating gallery of student work, with prints hanging throughout.

The large-format inkjet printers can print items up to 5 feet wide and 100 feet long. Prior to the Dec. 17 Senior Show featuring seniors’ capstone projects, one student processed an 8-foot-long print. “To see a print that big is so immersive. It commands your presence,” Kolden said.

Kolden, who has a Master of Fine Arts in photography and is a former print lab technician, sees himself “as a facilitator between the classroom and the lab. It’s applied learning. I also get to have those moments of teaching,” so that when students leave UW-Stout they understand the technology they could be using in their careers.

One student, for example, didn’t understand why colors were coming out differently on his print than he expected. Kolden not only explained why, because of how the printer was calibrated, but showed the student how to recalibrate the printer to get the results he needed.

“There’s a lot of applied knowledge they can gather from this place,” he said. “I help students be part of the process, but ultimately they have the final say and control.”

Kolden also works closely with faculty, giving demonstrations for classes and visiting classrooms to speak with students about the lab’s resources.

Planning and development of the new lab began several years ago, with much of the work undertaken by the manager of the old lab, Andrew McIntosh. He passed away in July.

Student success is one of the FOCUS2030 strategic plan goals for UW-Stout.

The School of Art and Design offers seven fine arts programs, including a master’s in design. First-year SOAD students start in the Pre-Bachelor of Fine Arts program, which is the gateway to a BFA degree. The university also offers a B.S. in video production and a B.S. in arts administration and entrepreneurship.