LEGO customization options have come a long way from the days of tedious hand painting and decal application.
In just the past decade, several custom LEGO design shops have popped up in part due to digital UV printing technology that can produce very high quality prints in shorter time, with more colors, higher accuracy and in smaller quantities than pad printing, the process that LEGO uses.
One of the standout LEGO customizers that uses digital UV printing is DigitalPrint by Patrick Baroni.
I first noticed his work several months ago when his photo of an adorable mini racing track popped up on one of the hashtags that I follow on Instagram.
The print was sharp and the design looked very much like LEGO so I quickly went to his website to hit the buy button but was disappointed to find none. I had guessed that maybe it was just commissioned work for a private client and that his posts on social media were for portfolio purposes. Nothing was for sale to the public.
Then just a month ago, Patrick posted an overt ad for personalized graffiti walls made out of LEGO masonry bricks. I’d seen graffiti walls done before but they were printed on flat wall panel pieces — not across multiple bricks with indentations as on Patrick’s — which would make them difficult to blend into a MOC building. Patrick’s design also offered the option to choose your own words for the graffiti which made his product extra attractive.
I quickly got in touch via direct message since it gave me an idea for the #bc_inthestyleof_priovit70 challenge to create a brick-built scene. (Patrick graciously sent me this personalized graffiti wall to use in this review.)
Digital UV printing
I had my doubts about the quality of UV printing because my introduction to it was regrettable, but since then, I’ve seen some really good custom designed LEGO printed with this process that have changed my mind.
One of the advantages that digital UV printing has over pad printing is that it can print more than five colors on any flat surface, which means it could easily handle a gradient design on a masonry brick:
The ink makes it all the way into the grooves, something pad printing couldn’t pull off.
The way UV printing works is that UV-curable ink is dried by UV lights as it is printed, adhering the ink to the surface of the material. The resulting print is a slightly raised texture as seen in this macro shot:
This is acceptable to me because the graffiti wall only serves as a decorative element in my photos and isn’t in sharp focus, but notice the highlights created as a result of the textured print.
Practically speaking, it’s less of an issue when shot at a more normal distance than this macro shot. At a different camera angle or light position, it would be further mitigated.
And to the naked eye, you don’t notice it at all, even viewed up close.
Passion for LEGO
I didn’t get a chance to review one of Patrick’s minifigs but judging from his Flickr gallery, his work looked so much sharper and cleaner than some of the UV printed minifigs available from other customizers:
“The printer can partially affect the final yield of the product, but in reality there is a trick that every customizer knows in order to make the printing process more precise, clean, thin, beautiful: the time. The time that we dedicate to the creation of vector files and the time we dedicate to printing, proofing and preparing the piece… all the things that you can do because it’s a passion.”
Indeed, DigitalPrint by Patrick Baroni is more of a passion project than it is a business which is why I was hard-pressed to find marketing or sales information on his Instagram and Flickr accounts or even on his website.
Most of his business is generated by word-of-mouth and social media.
“I have many requests from friends and followers on Instagram or Flickr. I try to please everyone, but, as mentioned, it’s a passion and our time is dedicated to something else, especially during summer.”
Patrick says he doesn’t want to compete with anyone who does LEGO customization as a profession: “I am employed as an advertiser, and LEGO must remain as a passion. If it should become a real job, probably ‘poetry ends’ and the fun with it.”
This mindset affords him the time for his custom design work, more than a commercial enterprise could take.
“Take this Aloy minifig, for example: it took me more or less 25 days to create it for a friend. That would be unthinkable for a company that has personnel costs and productions much higher than mine.”
Patrick’s job as an advertiser also shows in his presentation of his custom designs. “Often it is more important how a product is presented than the product itself. Make beautiful photographs, create curiosity, create expectation…it’s very important. It enhances the product. It’s no longer a simple custom minifig, but it becomes a quality minifig.”
The LEGO look
Looking at these photos of Patrick’s minifigs, their designs pretty much adhere to the LEGO aesthetic of having a maximum of 5 colors and using thick black lines to separate them.
You can barely make out the textured ink anywhere on the torso and face. The printing on the arm is also really good, even though these curved areas are where UV printing generally fails.
“UV print, being flat, can’t manage to make curves less than 2mm so the print tends to fade and turns out fuzzy,” Patrick explains.
“Certain pieces are really difficult to print. Many times I prefer to give more importance to a beautiful design on the torso rather than details of little importance on other parts of the minifig since I already know from the start that they will come out badly or not well defined. I can’t count how many pieces I threw out because I didn’t like them. In some cases, pad printing is better.”
When buying custom printed LEGO parts, textured printing is hardly a dealbreaker for me. Fuzzy arm prints might be though if I knew I couldn’t replace the arms without disrupting the torso design.
Instead, I look for crisp printing and consistency with the LEGO aesthetic. As a LEGO photographer, I make it a priority to get my minifig subjects in sharp focus, so the print on them has got to be top notch.
DigitalPrint by Patrick Baroni nails the LEGO look and delivers clean prints. His passion for perfection in both his designs and printing really come through in his work.
The graffiti wall is a personalized item so pricing could vary depending on how big your word or wall requirements are. The one I received was quoted at €15 for 26-27 printed masonry bricks. I think it’s great value and adds a very special touch to my urban scene. This graffiti wall will be staying in my Brooklyn brownstone MOC even if the neighborhood gets gentrified!
(A special thank you to Brickcentral mod the_aphol for the English translation from Italian!)