By Courtney Saba
Floor graphics are designed to be durable, built to withstand the high traffic areas they are commonly placed in. In the case of floor graphics installed outdoors, vendors look to provide enhanced durability. Varied products allow brand owners to customize driveways, roadways, and pathways found in zoos, amusement parks, fairs, and other open air venues.
These substrates are engineered for durability despite undergoing human interaction, vehicle traffic, and environmental elements. Part of their composition includes adhesive strong enough to fuse to surfaces like asphalt, concrete, and brick. Some vendors suggest pairing the media with overlaminates, while others offer a solution manufactured to withstand its installation period on its own. In either scenario, when a floor graphic is placed outside, the material should be designed for the outdoors.
Ideal for the Outdoors
Floor graphics used in outdoor spaces rely on a strong and secure bond to achieve success. In comparison to floors found in interiors, exteriors present irregular surface characteristics. This is why most vendors don’t suggest using a product intended for inside outside.
Successful outdoor floor graphics need to meet a number of criteria. According to Kylie Schleicher, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc., outdoor floor graphic media is engineered to be thicker and stronger to live up to foot traffic, vehicles, and weather.
Common floor types found outside include asphalt, concrete, brick, and stucco. “It’s important that the media is able to conform to the peaks and valleys of the ground surface. This prevents the graphic from lifting up and produces an aesthetically pleasing ‘painted on look,’” shares Alison Zepp, VP, marketing & strategy, Jessup Manufacturing Company. The adhesive must be permanent, resistant to water, but also removable without leaving a residue, she adds.
One of the main features to be considered is the adhesive type, agrees Craig Campbell, graphic products market manager, Orafol Americas. “The most important aspect of providing outdoor floor graphics is to ensure the type of adhesive on the film is intended to be used on the substrate the graphic will be applied to,” explains Campbell.
One also needs a good quality print media that handles environmental changes—heat, rain, snow, direct sunlight—expected of an exterior, horizontal surface. Simultaneously, the graphic supplier must create a safe walking surface that can also withstand all that nature throws at it and protect the image from wear and fade.
According to Jeffrey Stadelman, marketing manager, Mactac Distributor Products, the company uses only high-performance films in the design of exterior floor graphics. These films need to breathe to allow moisture found in concrete to escape rather than become trapped underneath and result in bubbles, blistering, and failed graphics. The films and adhesives are engineered to handle constant temperature changes, for example, the heat of the day and cold of the night, repeatedly.
In general, floor graphics are presented with many challenges. Specifically speaking to the outdoors, media is designed to protect from human traffic, vehicles, and weather. Using a floor graphic material intended only for the indoors leaves room for application failure.
Matt Buckley, wide format product manager, GPA, suggests the reasoning for the failure of indoor floor graphics utilized outdoors is due to the general lower adhesive bond. While this allows for clean removal, it is not strong enough to securely bond to outdoor surfaces.
In addition, Stadelman notes that outdoor graphics require a high-tack, high-bond, and high-shear adhesive that easily conforms to rough, irregular surfaces, while indoor graphics are made with a low-coat weight, low-tack, low-bond, removable adhesive.
Micah Causey, VP, FloorGraphics, LLC, says that indoor floor graphics are commonly made of vinyl, and these materials feature memory. “So when installed and molded to textured concrete or asphalt, they will fight the adhesive and lift up. This allows moisture to get underneath and causes the graphics to come off, creating a failed application.” he shares.
In some cases an overlaminate is the means of protection for a graphic, and in other scenarios it is the print media itself that holds its own against outdoor elements. Whether or not an outdoor floor graphic needs an overlaminate depends on the type of material used and how long it will be in place.
For example, GPA offers an outdoor floor graphic material that does not need an overlaminate because it is engineered to accommodate traffic on the print surface.
In regards to foot traffic, the media’s slip-resistance needs to meet ASTM International—formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials—standards. ASTM is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a range of materials, products, systems, and services. This ensures safety precautions for pedestrians are covered in both wet and dry conditions.
Stan Holt, business development manager Americas, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., says the product the company offers features a built-in texture, providing the certified non-slip surface without the use of a laminate.
FloorSignage offers an aluminum foil-based media that does not require an overlaminate. A built-in slip-resistant texture protects graphics and pedestrians.
Another major factor in the success of an exterior graphic depends on the length of time it is exhibited. Whether the graphic is long or short term generally determines the use of laminates or if they are required at all.
Although many outdoor floor graphics are short term, Matt Hatfield, marketing, DaVinci Technologies, Inc., provides insight into long-term exterior graphics that do not require laminates. “Several products on the market do not require an overlaminate. These are designed to be quick and easy to install, without the extra time needed for lamination. DaVinci Technologies offers a product made from pliable aluminum foil, a unique property that aids in the longevity of the media. It is rated with a one year expected life performance,” explains Hatfield.
“The vast majority of ground and floor graphics are short term, less than 30 days. Thus by making the media textured this eliminates the need to overlaminate. This saves both time and money,” says Zepp.
It is important to note that this is a preferred scenario as long as the media in question passes the appropriate slip resistance tests.
With outdoor floor graphics, a combination of media and overlaminate provides the ultimate in durability. Adding an overlaminate provides the additional protection from weather and UV degradation while simultaneously providing high traction for safety. This offers the right balance of outdoor endurance, image quality, and slip resistance.
“An outdoor overlaminate is thicker and tougher and has UV absorbers in it so the sun doesn’t degrade the quality of the film,” shares Elizabeth Ziegler, senior technical service specialist, 3M Architectural Finishes – Commercial Solutions.
Schleicher concurs with Ziegler, explaining that thicker materials are durable and will last longer in high-traffic environments. “Materials may also be coated to further protect images and coloring from sunlight. These coatings offer a slip-resistant finish, prevent scuffing, and absorb weight and friction,” says Schleicher.
According to Stadelman, laminates are specifically designed to take heavy foot traffic and still provide a high-traction surface when properly maintained.
These make the final graphics a little more expensive when compared to indoor floor graphics, but this product design is required to make sure the graphic creator and the end customer or property owners are providing not only a good looking graphic but a safe walking surface.
Campbell agrees that it is the laminate that truly protects exterior floor graphics. “The texture of the laminate—which can be irregular or a grit-type of texture—gives an anti-skid surface that prevents slips or falls. The thickness of the laminate also provides the mechanical protection needed to preserve the graphic,” suggests Campbell.
Hatfield recommends a clear, textured vinyl overlaminate with UV protection and a thickness in the four to six millimeter range, while Stadelman prefers a heavily textured laminate that offers superior pedestrian traction, even when wet, and exceptional durability.
Outdoor floor graphics continue to be an attractive trend in graphics applications. Floor graphic media designed for the outdoors is engineered to withstand foot and vehicle traffic and any weather- and temperature-related issues.
Their adhesives are generally stronger and able to bond well with common exterior horizontal surfaces like asphalt, concrete, brick, and stucco. Similar to its indoor counterparts, however, this media must still be removable without leaving residue behind in busy vehicle and pedestrian areas.
The durability of the media and—sometimes—overlaminate allow a long lasting work of art, as well as ultimate protection from environmental elements, human traffic, vehicles, and UV exposure. Media and overlaminates used for exterior floor graphics continue to evolve and increase in strength and durability to create customizable art in an outdoor space.
Apr2016, Digital Output