Cathie Anderson

Sacramento’s ARB Digital fills printing niche with precision

This Watermark cabinet from Fringe Studio is made of wood and printed blue by ARB Digital in Sacramento.
This Watermark cabinet from Fringe Studio is made of wood and printed blue by ARB Digital in Sacramento. Fringe Studio

The team at Sacramento’s ARB Digital printed Ruben Briseno Reveles’ photograph of lily pads on travertine tile, making it all but impossible to resist caressing each one.

They drenched a wood cabinet in varying hues of blue for Dutch Flat’s Fringe Studio, helping the tiny architecture firm to win the award for best furniture at the industry-leading Dwell On Design show in Los Angeles last year.

They also print business cards, labels and more for customers who want to use unusual surfaces or who simply want to make sure the color for their job is carefully calibrated.

“We’re known for the quality of what we do, and we relish a challenge,” said Alvaro Rodriguez, the company’s founder. “When we take on something like this, the idea may not pan out at first. You’ve got to be able to be a little bit flexible and give them a reasonable price when they’re first starting, and you will grow with them as they grow.”

Rodriguez recalled being approached a year ago by San Francisco-based Living Plug to print images onto the customizable, childproof faceplates the company makes to cover electrical outlets in homes. He bought into their vision as much as they believed in his abilities to help them overcome all obstacles.

“We … were able to choose the type of material that things should be made out of, so the color would be the best when we printed them,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think a lot of bigger printing companies would have spent as much time with them as I did.”

Rodriguez has been working in the world of printing and publishing for about 30 years. He got his first startup going while he was still in college, fixing and upgrading people’s computers in his native Venezuela. He and a friend became so good at it that Rodriguez dropped out of college after Apple contracted with them to sell the company’s high-end computer systems: the SE/30, Mac IIfx and Quadra computers that quickly took over the desktop publishing world.

He immigrated to the United States 20 years ago because a friend told him he could use someone with Rodriguez’s skills to help sell software and hardware to publishers in Latin America. That work eventually brought him to Sacramento and an encounter with a publisher that got him thinking that he should once again venture out on his own.

“My company used to sell this software to newspapers and printers in general, and it sold for something like 25 grand,” Rodriguez said. “My commission was 2 percent, so I only made 500 bucks from each sale. I ran into a production manager whose paper had bought it. He said, ‘Alvaro, I need to thank you because since we put in this software, we haven’t had a single ad returned for color, and we’re saving over 40 percent on ink.’”

Rodriguez got to thinking he could keep more money in his pocket if he provided consultation on color management to people who valued precision as much as he did. Still, he didn’t move on that idea until one day a new hire at his company asked him how long he’d been with their employer.

Twelve years, Rodriguez told him. The man replied: “Life sentences are shorter than that.”

They aren’t, but the comment motivated Rodriguez nonetheless. He first ventured out as a consultant five years ago, and he founded ARB Digital in 2012. The company’s business has grown by 50 percent to 70 percent annually since he started.

Rodriguez now has two employees, and his wife, Monica Nainsztein, the owner of SpanishOne Translations, is helping him out as a business development partner.

Rodriguez gets much of his business by referral. One of his clients, architect George Bennett of Fringe Studio, said he met Rodriguez while on an off-road camping adventure. When Bennett and his wife and business partner, Stacy Binns, came up with the idea for the award-winning Watermark cabinet, he figured Rodriguez would be the go-to guy.

“For a piece like that cabinet, where it’s very involved in terms of what the (Adobe) Photoshop files have to be like and how we format it and how we laid it out on the print bed, we had to be able to work with somebody who knew us and who would want to be a part of the team,” Bennett said.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee