Community, Springfield

Vertical printing takes hold in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD – Shelley Street is relatively quiet. Its curved asphalt beckons semi-trucks and other service vehicles to a wealth of industrial-style buildings, housing everything ranging from restaurant equipment to cleaning supplies. While the anonymity reveals little to the outside eye, a wealth of artistry hides behind the beige brick-and-mortar exteriors. 

Enter Surface Ink founder Joel Gerlach, the kingpin of Springfield’s vertical printing service, who celebrated a ribbon cutting for the company’s wall printing showroom on July 26.

Gerlach is a native Oregonian who grew up in Eugene, a converted Californian, and a proud Springfield business owner. At 33 years old, he is no stranger to creativity, having finished school and relocating to Southern California before even reaching the legal drinking age. At 20, Gerlach began working in post-production visual effects on “Thor,” later “Iron Man 2,” and the first “Avengers” movie. 

He transitioned into on-set, on-location work, again including visual effects supervision, assistant directing, and later directing. Gerlach’s other credits include James Franco’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” At Star Trek’s premiere, Gerlach rubbed elbows with movie star Chris Pine. 

Gerlach and his college roommate and friend, Cobalt Cox, started Studio229, producing and directing over 15 interactive and non-interactive films, VR, and commercial projects for notable brands and production companies.

“We named it Studio 229 because of the dormitory we lived in together,” Cobalt said. “Both Joel and I learned a lot. Learning what our value was and how to respect that value. We definitely worked really hard and didn’t charge enough for our services. But it was a fantastic growing opportunity for the both of us.” 

While Gerlach loved the ability to hone in on his craft and partake in producing many creative projects, something was missing, and that feeling only grew more apparent as time went on. 

Joel Gerlach, owner of Surface Ink, a vertical printing service, stands in his showroom in Springfield. 

At a crossroads 

From November 2022 to January 2023, Gerlach served as the creative director for musical artist Charlie Puth, known for songs like “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and Furious 7’s “See You Again” with Wiz Khalifa. 

Gerlach was tasked with designing a virtual additional fan experience for one of the artist’s iHeartRadio shows in Florida. The goal was to create a more immersive experience for concert-goers, prompting them to scan a QR code at check-in that would later allow their phones to visually and sonically sync up to a song performed by Puth. 

However, what would appear to many as a standout resume addition for Gerlach led to the end of an era in Los Angeles. 

“I just felt so drained, and I couldn’t think of why,” Gerlach said. “I was literally like in the mirror slapping myself in the face going, ‘What is wrong with you? This is so cool.’” 

Enter Gerlach’s “time-to-permanence ratio,” his idea that, regardless of one’s career or life path, keeping intentionality at the forefront of one’s endeavors is critical for success. 

“The idea of permanence being something that lasts, that has a foundation that will go the distance,” Gerlach said. 

After years of working in the industry, Gerlach could not see this philosophy of life transpiring in his projects.

“I was putting so much effort into something that was here and gone in a concert,” Gerlach said. “Yeah, maybe people liked it. Maybe it momentarily impacted them, and they were caught up in the emotion of seeing another reality on their phone. But it just didn’t last.”

After shutting off his LinkedIn and ending his final summary call with the company he worked for in Los Angeles, Gerlach stepped into what would become his showroom on Shelley Street in Springfield. Upon taking in the mildew and the yellow-gray walls, Gerlach knew it was time to embark on the latest chapter of his life. 

“All right, time to get to work,” he said. 

The emergence of Surface Ink

While scrolling through Facebook, Gerlach came across a video displaying up-and-coming technological advancements, ranging from a robotic agricultural device to a tool designed to help entice solar panel usage. 

However, what caught Gerlach’s attention was wallPen, a tool described as the “gold standard” of vertical printing. With very little knowledge of vertical printing or the wallPen tool itself, Gerlach dove headfirst into the endeavor, signing up for the pre-sale of E2, the second-generation wallPen machine. 

The German-made E2 allows the user to print anything from a singular color to complex designs on any surface, ranging from vinyl to brick. It can create compositions up to 17 feet high and limitless in length. The E2 also does so with zero waste and is financially reasonable, making vertical printing optimal for environmental conservation and consumers economically. 

With this knowledge, Gerlach didn’t take long to familiarize himself with the E2’s capabilities and vertical printing as a business opportunity. 

Surface Ink was born shortly after that, in February. 

Gerlach quickly assimilated into life in Springfield and got his business off the ground. He reached out to Becky-Jo Samples, the marketing director at Connected Lane County, hoping to provide vertical printing services. Samples and her team envisioned celebrating the 150 Connected Lane County donors who supported their youth-centered programs through a donor wall. 

Still, they wanted it to be both low-effort and time-efficient. 

Gerlach was up for the challenge, adhering to Connected Lane County’s vision in a singular day. 

“It really transformed our space,” Samples said. The mural features a quote from author Morgan Harper Nichols and will soon include donor names, one per hexagon, placed with vinyl. Connected Lane County’s youth program, the Agency, has also assisted greatly with this project. “The mural really pulled it all together in a way that highlighted what we were trying to accomplish.” 

“Being a part of Connected Lane County means so much to me! It’s a privilege to use my marketing skills to make a real difference in the lives of young people. Education completely changed my life, and now, I get to work with an awesome team that’s doing something incredible. We’re making sure youth in underserved communities get the educational opportunities they deserve. Seeing these young minds grow and thrive as they have a positive experience brings me so much joy,” Samples said.

In retrospect

Oftentimes, life’s greatest adventures come about when one is brave enough to listen to their inner voice, a skill that Gerlach has learned to hone in on over the years. 

“It is so easy for you to undervalue yourself and what you can contribute. Because maybe somebody told you, or maybe you got the sense that you weren’t valued, or you didn’t have something to contribute,” Gerlach said. “But the vast majority of it is you, yourself, in your own mind, not believing in what you’re capable of, and not believing that you could charge the rates that other people are charging, or that you have to work for free or you have to work harder than anyone else to succeed. You don’t have to, and you can charge what you’re worth.” 

These days, Gerlach is focused on being a family man, both a husband to his wife, Katherine, and father to children ages 5 and 6. He is continuing to progress as a Springfield business owner and is in pursuit of writing an anthology or collection of poems and short-written works. 

Gerlach recently talked with his cousin, an artist, about the merit of work done for one’s self. 

“I said, ‘If nobody ever saw what you made, if nobody outside of your own network, or maybe nobody at all ever saw your work, would you be satisfied with that?’” His cousin answered with a resounding “yes,” explaining that the pieces she creates are for herself and not anyone else, a far cry from Gerlach’s mindset in Los Angeles but one he is abiding by now. 

“With this anthology I’m writing, it doesn’t affect me whether or not anybody sees this. For the first time in my entire life, I am working on something purely for the sake of its existence,” Gerlach said. “It’s back to time-to-permanence. It has had a permanent effect on me. I am creating something that I think is really beautiful and really well-written. So do I need somebody else to decide whether or not it’s successful by any metric at all? No, I don’t. I’m just doing it for me.” 



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