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Looking into Window Films

By Melissa Donovan

Window films offer print service providers (PSPs) expanded capabilities and increased revenue. Cost-effective for both short- and long-term promotions, they allow marketers to take advantage of previously unused prime advertising space.


Overlooked benefits include potential energy savings as the film reduces heat from the sun, glare reduction/light control in the film’s role as a window tint, and enhanced security or privacy, adds Judy Bellah, public relations manager, Clear Focus Imaging, Inc.


The actual installation of window graphics is relatively simple—almost anyone can adhere a graphic to a window. But there are certain factors to consider, such as air bubbles—found mainly in non-perforated films, cleaning techniques, and more. These are minor hindrances if issues are handled properly and immediately.


Several types of window films are available for the PSP to digitally print on. These include perforated window films—using light to view the printed side on the outside and see through from the inside; two-way vision films, two sides are printed and laminated to view graphics on the inside and outside; cling window films—plasticized vinyl, which creates a static cling to the window; and double-sided adhesives, where permanent adhesive is used on the face of a graphic and the repositionable side is adhered to the window.


Window Awareness

The versatility of a window film allows for a range of install bases. Almost every structure we live, eat, work, or travel in has a window. This includes, but is not limited to, storefronts, corporate building windows, trucks, buses, trains, and taxis.


Window films are found in three primary markets—vehicle, retail, and architectural. Both vehicle and retail boast the highest demand. Architecture is growing, however, as many corporate offices and hotels realize the benefits of digitally printed decorations.


High-rise buildings, such as hotels—where windows are prevalent, provide big impact in big cities. “This allows for the building to be wrapped, but does not inhibit the ability for hotel guests to see out of their windows,” explains Jodi Sawyer, product manager, product branding business team, FLEXcon.


As Lisa Humrich, marketing manager, Oracal USA, points out, “window films offer unique opportunities to provide additional security, making cubicles more private and decorative.” She continues to notice an increased demand in non-traditional signage venues like schools, churches, and personal residences.


The retail market is broad, encompassing supermarkets and chain restaurants and retailers. Tom Reid, executive VP of sales, Catalina Graphic Films, Inc., believes this is because of low cost, high impact, and ease of changeover.


“The greatest demand is in retail because of the large amount of prime advertising space at a consumer’s eye level,” seconds Dione Metnick, product line manager, LexJet Corporation.


This industry is highly competitive, and window films are one way to capture attention on the street to generate traffic. It is key to surviving in today’s environment, adds David Conrad, senior product manager, finishing, Neschen Americas.


American Screen Art (ASA), located in Knoxville, TN, experiences some of the largest demand for window films in retail sectors. The 55 year old shop services beverage, fleet, and retail markets. “The number of retailers, architecture of facilities, and message variety are all conducive to window graphics. Clients request this application because they want to take advantage of abundant window space,” shares Dennis Alexander, president, ASA.


With the staying power of vehicle wraps, it is no surprise that the usage of window films in this application is popular. Most full vehicle wraps require the windows to be wrapped as well. It is important that drivers have full visibility and certain films provide this advantage.


“People see the benefits and results from the investment in vehicle wraps and consider doing just windows if they can’t afford an entire wrap,” explains Janet Miano, VP, Signs USA, Inc. The Tampa, FL-based company recently witnessed an increase in car graphics for landscapers, sports teams, and political campaigns. In business for 16 years, it services the entire state of FL. An in-house design team produces artwork from conception to design. They utilize Rho printers from Durst Image Technology US LLC; Epson, such as the Stylus Pro GS6000; and Mimaki USA, Inc.


Miano says window films are ideal for vehicles because they are positioned at eye-level, providing more of a visual impact than hood graphics. Some of its popular clients include Edible Arrangements, the car insurance company GEICO, The Humane Society, New York Yankees, and FL hockey team the Tampa Bay Lightning.


View-Through Tools

Perforated window films are popular. Generally, one side of the film is printable and the opposite side is black. When viewed from the back, the small perforations give an illusion of a tint and allow the viewer to see out the window. Viewed from the front, the printed image is only visible and the perforations too small to see through.


Many compare this phenomenon to looking through a bug screen or sticking your head in a loose-weave sweater and looking out.


“When people are on the inside looking out, our eyes tends to ignore the black background and focus on the light coming through, thus allowing us to ‘see through’ the film,” elaborates Molly Waters, sales support manager, technical services group, Avery Dennison.


Perf patterns vary depending on the application. Films with 40 percent perforation and 60 percent surface area—i.e. the area printed—are found on buildings and storefronts to provide a better image and less see though. Films with a 50/50 perf pattern are used on vehicles to provide optimal visibility, but good image quality. Hole patterns are changing to adapt to the onslaught of areas utilizing window films. For example, 70/30 and 65/35 perf patterns provide better visibility in certain stationary applications.


It is important to remember that not all window films provide view-through capabilities. In addition to perforated films there are many transparent and semi-transparent films used to create distinct effects, according to Matt Buckley, technical specialist, FDC Graphic Films Inc.


“Other ways to create see through effects include using an optically clear printing film and printing the design in patterns of lines or holes,” adds Tim Boxeth, business manager, 3M Graphics Market Center. Products such as static cling window films and double-sided adhesives could use this technique. As would two-way vision film, but generally in this instance both sides are printed with a graphic on each, preventing the ability to see in or out.

Kent, WA-based Laurel Graphics’ customers demanded a repositionable, non-permanent double-sided adhesive graphic that wouldn’t leave behind any residue—they found this is Neschen’s gudy window film. The shop made the move to digital printing 1998 and they use over 500 rolls a year of this particular Neschen product.


“We found that through testing the gudy window film, it was the only adhesive that met all of our customers’ needs,” admits Kevin P. Ortiz, digital production manager, Laurel Graphics. Currently, the shop digitally prints a rigid substrate on a UV device from Inca Digital Printers and applies the gudy window adhesive to the second surface. These pieces are generally applied over existing in-store displays as temporary promotional signage.

In Line with Technology

There is always room for advancement, ink and hardware drive media vendors to adapt products and create new opportunities. For example, the rise of UV inks.


“The challenge with UV is the instant cure,” explains Sawyer. “The release liner plays a key role in the function of the product. A perforated release liner with a solid backside is needed to allow the ink to go into the release liner before curing,” to prevent clogging the holes.


Following the trend, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. recently developed a new UV printable window film—UltraVision 6040 Window Perf UV. Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex, says it features a black adhesive backside, a paper backer, and a unique additional center release liner that catches the UV ink while printing; preventing clogged holes.


Other changes include ease of installation. John Coyne, sales manager, Lintec Corporation of America, Inc., explains that films are easier to install than previous versions. In addition, many now offer UV light-blocking characteristics.


Air egress products, such as those from MACtac Graphic Products, make for simpler install and removal. “Not so long ago, air egress was limited to high-end fleets and vehicle wraps. Now, products from promotional vinyl to point of purchase and window applications are available with air release channels,” adds Mary Ann L. Kucera, marketing manager, MACtac.


Squeegee Clean

It is important to understand a window film is not a window, and cannot be cared for in the same way. Windex or other solvent-based glass cleaners damage a film’s adhesive. It is best to use Isopropyl alcohol if a graphic becomes dirty.

With perforated window films, dirt, water, other residues can collect in the micro perforations. According to Ritchie Daize, international digital account manager, Arlon, Inc., when dirt collects, this takes visibility from the inside to zero percent. When water is the issue, it takes visibility from the inside to about 20 percent.


Experts suggest using overlaminates for window films that are washed often and subjected to rain or other elements. Certain overlaminates are used based on various elements, such as whether an application is flat or curved. A liquid laminate may be a better alternative, especially with extreme compound curves.


“Window films can be laminated with PSA optically clear polyester, best for flat surfaces or PSA optically clear cast vinyl, best for curved surfaces,” shares Michael Popovich, digital sales manager, KAPCO Graphic Products. The distributor offers a variety of window films from Clear Focus.


When installing a film, it is suggested a squeegee is used and the temperature needs to be higher than 55 degrees Fahrenheit for both the film and the surface. Prior to application, be sure to ask the customer if they have recently used wax or rain repellant on the windows, suggests Josh Culverhouse, technical support, Oracal. If they have, it is a good idea to apply a citrus-based degreaser to cut through the wax and/or repellant.


“Cleanliness is key,” agrees ASA’s Alexander. “Clean windows prior to installation are important to ensure proper application. Keeping windows clean after graphics are implemented is essential in presenting the appropriate image,” he says. ASA works regularly with FLEXcon products, particularly seeTHRU-sign.


Trim and cut the film prior to application to avoid scratching the window. Once the film and overlaminate are applied, vendors suggest sealing with a liquid edge sealer or encapsulating with a strip of overlaminate to prevent lifting and keeping moisture and dirt out.


As always, warranties can make or break your graphic. Most films are warranted for up to two years outdoor and five years indoor. However, this is voided if an overlaminate isn’t used. It also depends on the application. Daize says many vehicle wrap installers only warrant installation for one year, because vehicle glass moves and adds wear and tear to the application.


The Learning Curve

For a PSP not familiar with window films, printing and installation may require a bit of homework. When printing a perforated film or even onto a clear, PSPs should be aware that at least half of the image density is missing. Only 50 to 60 percent of the area is printed on, setting up the color profile with a high density is crucial.


Bellah also suggests increasing image contrast by ten to 20 percent in the design stage or double-striking the image to lay down more ink, as an additional way to fix a graphic’s lightness.


Adding more ink does run the danger of ruining the print. Oversaturation leads to stretching, de-lamination of the laminate, lifting, and discoloration, cautions Kucera.


Signs USA’s Miano learned a myriad of tips when the company first started creating window films. Many vehicles have curved rear windows and designers must adjust their artwork, otherwise logos and text appear distorted. The company uses 3M for all of its window needs.


When creating a window graphic for a fully wrapped vehicle, colors have to be calibrated to match the other media. “Although the micro perforations are too small to see individually on the print side, when installed on glass they are black, which causes a sizable color shift,” explains Daize.


Small to Big

Practiced in the ability to print and install a high-quality window film, a PSP can add big revenue to its shop. They don’t need to start big. Vehicle graphics provide an easy option. Offer small retail establishments like convenience stores or gas stations the opportunity to market their weekly or monthly sales using cost-effective, easily removable, window films. Repeat promotions always mean more printing, and what’s not to like about that?

Click here to view the Window Films Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!

Nov2010, Digital Output

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