By Cassandra Balentine
Window media comes in many forms. One popular option is clear, unperforated substrates. These are ideal for corporate offices to retail storefronts, often attracting high-end clients.
There are many opportunities for print service providers (PSPs) to make money with clear, unperforated window graphics. “When I think about the spaces where you see a lot of clear films being used, it’s often in a retail setting. Walking through a shopping mall, stores have windows calling out seasonal trends, current sales, and trying to get mall goers to stop in,” shares Austin Eck, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
“The most ideal opportunities for clear, unperforated window media are point of purchase, interior design, and optically clear graphics for storefronts in retail, hospitality, and banking industries,” suggests Joey Heiob, East regional technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.
Printing on wide format, optically clear materials provides the ability to decorate clear glass, polycarbonate, and acrylics in offices and retail environments. “It was always possible to directly print these materials, but PSPs can easily uninstall the film and install newly decorated graphics,” adds Jim Halloran, VP, sales and marketing, Lintec of America, Inc.
In addition to the common applications discussed above, Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., sees these films being included in artistic representations, putting a new spin on how artists display and promote their artwork.
Above: DIG Creative Solutions of MS often utilizes 3M Scotchcal Clear View Graphic Film IJ8150 matched with 3M Scotchcal Optically Clear Overlaminate 8914 for printed window graphics.
With the many window media options, clear, unperforated solutions offer certain advantages.
One benefit of clear window media is that viewers are able to see the graphic on both sides of the window. Shaun Jaycox, global product manager, S-One Holdings Corporation, points out that perforated window media only enables you to see the graphic from one side.
Previous to UV printing, Halloran explains that most window media had a paper backing. “The Lintec product line features optically clear films with polyester base liners. If printed and installed correctly it looks like the glass was directly printed upon,” he shares.
Heiob agrees, noting that clear films can give graphics the appearance that they are floating on the glass, when compared to a white digitally printed film media. “Clear graphic films also give more visibility compared to graphics on traditional white printed film. It’s a cool visual effect that can really help bring a unique look to those businesses and brands seeking to make a statement.”
Typically, these applications are attractive to higher end window graphic jobs. “Higher prices and profit margins can be offered, but a superior, defect-free product and experience for the customer is imperative,” says Colbath.
What to Know
There are several considerations for print providers designing for clear, unperforated window media.
Designing a graphic on a clear film shouldn’t be much different than designing on a white film. “PSPs will have to note the color pop on a clear film is typically not as vibrant as on white media. You also have to take into account if the clear window film is being applied to an interior or exterior. This is important because the lighting of these two windows will be exposed and can change the appearance of the graphic,” explains Heiob.
PSPs must have expert knowledge of design, material selection, printing techniques, and installation procedures. “Clear films require design skills that standard white vinyl does not. The designer needs to be able to design the graphic taking into account the lack of a white base in the media.
Additionally, the clarity of the products and the types of applications requires the highest care to eliminate defects, debris, and smudges. Use only the highest quality medias, test your materials prior to running the job to ensure print quality and durability, and make sure installers are experienced working with high-end jobs,” comments Colbath.
“You cannot rely on white as a default,” stresses Eck. He explains that a good practice for PSPs when designing for clear media is changing the default background in their design software to something that will indicate the film is transparent. “This will act as a reminder that a solid block of color with knockout text will not be white, but clear for the letters of the text.”
Jaycox points out that clear does not necessarily mean optically clear. “Just because a material is labeled as clear does not mean it will be void of having a slight tint whether warm or cool. Take the time to understand how ink and media react with one another, some inks will appear more opaque and others more transparent on clear media.”
It is also important to remember that not all clear films are approved or designed for all print platforms. Heiob says PSPs should ensure the film they use is designed and approved for the OEM printer that the shop is using. “It’s also imperative that PSPs know that unless they are using a UV printer, they will not have the ability to print white on these films.”
Off to a Good Start
Several applications are good stepping stones for PSPs looking to offer window graphics on clear, unperforated media.
Eck suggests beginning small. “Get used to printing graphics for windows by installing a printed logo on clear film to your business’ front door. Going through the process of designing for a clear film, printing to it, and seeing how it looks when applied will teach you a great deal.”
An example of an easy place to start would be a moderate sized print—such as 36×36 inches—mounted on plexiglass or a similar standoff. “The print can be mounted in the shop with the assistance of a laminator. This helps the PSP become familiar with the products/process in a controlled environment,” offers Colbath.
He says a more complicated example would be a printed graphic that gets wet-mounted onsite, like the front window of a retail establishment. “In this case there is a greater chance of debris and mistakes occurring. Also, the installer must be well versed in optically clear wet mounting,” recommends Colbath.
Simply printing out a good image quality diagnostic file will help an end user understand the capabilities and limitations of a clear substate. Jaycox says applying the printed image in various environments will assist with potential end use applications.
As we’ve noted, clear, unperforated window media solutions are attractive to a variety of print buyers, from architectural to retail and even the arts.
Eck says that while clients include the owners and managers of stores in retail environments like a mall or shopping center, it would not be unusual to get a request of this nature for advertising in public spaces, including some mass transit applications.
The clients requesting this type of application are higher end. Retail, restaurant, and architectural clients are popular users, as they want a higher end feel that differentiates them from the masses, shares Colbath.
According to Heiob, interior spaces with glass dividers are also a canvas for design. “Speak with your client on what effect they are seeking, as each client will have different needs based upon the actual application and their customer demands,” he adds.
“Our typical high-volume customers have sophisticated UV inkjet printers and are constantly interfacing with architects and designers. Many of the questions they get refer to the types of materials they will be using, such as non-PVC,” says Halloran. Since environmental responsibility is often a concern, non-PVC and recycled content options are in demand. “We certainly have non-PVC but are also happy to announce a new 80 percent recycled content PET window film,” he adds.
Tips and Tricks
Media providers offer tips and tricks about utilizing clear, unperforated media solutions for window graphics and decoration.
“It all comes down to quality and experience. Buy the best products and use the best installers. These graphics look fantastic when done right, but nothing is perfect. Setting realistic expectations of what you can provide to your customer prevents problems,” suggests Colbath.
Halloran recommends paying attention to the manufacturer installation instructions. Vinyl installs differently from polyester and scratch resistant is easier to install.
Heiob suggests making sure you know the film’s capabilities. Most clear films are installed using a wet method versus dry.
“Do your research, educate yourself, and make sure you’re choosing the right substrate for the job,” adds Jaycox.
DIG Creative Solutions is a MS-based print and creative agency that offers a range of services, including printed window graphics on clear, unperforated media.
Mitch Wolverton, president, DIG Creative Solutions, says the company sells clear/translucent printed film for a higher margin and with less competition than other traditional opaque adhesive films.
The company has many uses for window graphics with clear, unperforated media. For one, frosted adhesive vinyl films allow for the creation of an etched glass look without the expense of actual etching. Furthermore, printed or solid translucent films enable a stained glass appearance without the cost of stained glass.
Optically clear film is so transmissive, customers can use this property to uniquely color spaces. “In a pediatrician’s office you might utilize the material on exterior windows to engage nervous young patients while still allowing for a clear line of sight outside,” shares Wolverton.
One of the most important aspects of marketing is self promotion, which involves having samples and ideas available for potential clients. For window graphics and decorations, Wolverton suggests applying window media to small acrylic pieces to illustrate clear/translucent optically clear vinyl next to a similar clear/translucent vinyl that is not optically clear. This illustrates the real visual difference between the two types, often opening the door to sell the optically clear product at a premium price.
An example of an easy-to-design application is a company’s history timeline applied to a glass conference room wall or divider. Wolverton says this could provide visibility, branding, and a measure of privacy. “The ability to render type and images with a finer degree of legibility then perforated films is an advantage and key to internal, corporate applications,” he shares.
Before taking on the medium, Wolverton recommends understanding the lighting, natural and generated, for the space that will utilize the media. “A space with incoming natural light can provide a much more pronounced benefit of the film’s translucent properties than a fully enclosed space lit solely by incandescent or fluorescent lighting sources.”
Translucent film can feature different designs on both sides of the glass, and by using solid black and white print, designers have the ability to control exactly how and where the light will pass through the glass. For printed graphics Wolverton recommends 3M Scotchcal Clear View Graphic Film IJ8150 matched with 3M Scotchcal Optically Clear Overlaminate 8914.
It is also important to consider installation. “Do not rely on staff of the facility to take measurements. Do not assume that even though it may look like a bank of windows are all the same size that they are, measure each window separately,” he cautions.
Making an Impression
PSPs have many media options. For window graphics, clear, unperforated solutions attract many clients, including higher end work.
Mar2021, Digital Output