Out-of-the-box applications continue to drive innovation in the graphic arts. With advancements in digital technologies, media, and inks, print service providers (PSPs) are able to offer more without additional capital investments. However, entering new territory can be problematic without protection. To prevent graphic failure it is important that media, ink, and protective films and coatings are used properly. Media manufacturers offer warranty programs to boost confidence in products and build brand loyalty.
The latest trends in wide format graphics often include applications vulnerable to a harsh weather conditions, foot traffic, fingerprints, and even vandalism. Protective coatings and films are used to reduce exposure. Before production and installation, PSPs consider a variety of elements, such as the condition of the environment the graphic will be placed in, as well as expected life. This helps to determine the appropriate protective measures.
Comprehensive warranty programs or performance guarantees generally cover substrate, ink, and coating combinations and are tailored for a specific use or customer. This is typical for cast and calendered films, as well as liquid coatings.
It’s What’s Underneath that Counts
When researching warranties of protective films and coatings, underlying media plays a large role. “The print media needs to have an equal or longer warranty than the protective film,” says Ritchie Daize, international account manager, Arlon, Inc. He notes that the print media and inks used must be compatible and share a warranty before introducing a third element to the mix.
Stephen Berman, chief executive, Clearstar LP, seconds the importance of underlying media warranties, as they cover some of the physical characteristics, such as adhesion and cold crack performance that cannot be improved with the use of a protective coating. Warranties offer limited coverage for protective coatings. “Proper selection of a coating tailored to the end use and performance expectation is more important,” he says.
Choosing a media and laminate solution that is warranted by the same company is strongly suggested. When different companies warranty laminates and media separately, it is difficult to determine what went wrong in the event of a failure. “Few suppliers or manufacturers offer warranties on both the print media and the laminate. This is where warranties tend to break down,” explains Jeff Leto, product manager, LexJet Corporation. “Getting either company to agree about what went wrong and to take responsibility for their particular end of the equation is next to impossible,” he warns.
LexJet offers a 30 day, 100 percent money back guarantee on all of its products, in addition to separate warranties on specific product combinations. For floor graphics, the adhesive-backed vinyl must also be warranted to remove cleanly. LexJet’s indoor floor decals and carpet decals—together with the approved laminate—are warranted for 180 days. For vehicle wrap applications, Leto suggests using a matched system like LexJet’s Simple Flo Wrap and 2.4 Mil GraphicsGuard UV Gloss laminate. He explains that together, the system is warranted for one year to include clean removal; against loss of adhesion; and against cracking, blistering, or peeling of the media in vertical exposure applications.
Many warranties are designed to cover entire systems, which include a combination of ink, laminate, and media. “The media is critical to both the overall durability and the appearance of the graphic,” shares Jeffrey Stadelman, technical marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products. “A vehicle wrap, for example, is a fairly complicated application. There must be synergy between the laminate, the ink, and the print media to work properly.”
MACtac provides its Open-Image Warranty, which is an umbrella warranty system that includes overlaminate films as both a standalone product when used over photographic prints, and as a component of a final system when used in conjunction with other MACtac products in a wide variety of applications.
Terms of Warranty
Depending on the application, a variety of elements go into determining and defining a warranty. Indoor versus outdoor use, geographical location, temperature, UV light exposure, life expectancy, as well as the desired level of protection, are all factors.
Additionally, there are two common forms of protective overlaminates—films, which are broken into cast and calendered; and liquid coatings. The compatibility with underlying media as well as their expected performance may differ with each type.
“We are not comparing apples to apples when we compare a cast to a calendered film,” says Jennifer Greenquist, inks and warranties business manager, 3M Graphics Market Center. Cast films are typically thinner, more flexible, and stronger than calendered films. Since they are able to conform and adhere well to challenging contours, it can save both time and cost during installation. “You do pay for those features,” admits Greenquist. “As a result, cast films tend to have the best warranted durability.”
3M offers several cast films that feature a seven year warranted durability of the entire graphic. The company offers a finished graphics warranty of up to three years on its calendered films, which are thicker, less flexible, and cost less. The company does not offer a specific warranty on laminate films or liquid laminates since they are always used, at minimum, over some other type of media. Instead, 3M assesses the durability of the film, ink, and protective coating being used together. The weakest component has the greatest likelihood of causing a graphic failure, and that is a factor in the warranted durability. 3M liquid laminates are also very flexible, but the warranty often depends on the type of liquid clear—aqueous, solvent, or UV—and the durability of the ink it protects.
Film warranties cover the film itself, such as yellowing, cracking, crazing, and delamination. Image fading is covered by the warranty of the ink manufacturer in most cases. Some film warranties spell out a specific life extension for the digital print, but this is rare due to a range of variables, explains Arlon’s Daize.
Arlon does not offer a matched component warranty with any specific brand of liquid laminate. However, there are many brands it will honor a warranty with through past experience and lab testing. The company provides a five year warranty for its cast protective films and a three to five year warranty for its calendered protective film. When film is sold through distributors or used in generally accepted environments a standard warranty is applied in case of failure. This is usually equal to the print media being protected.
“Each application is unique. The best and safest way to ensure proper wear of a particular media and film/liquid combination is to have it tested in the lab or field. Typical liquid warranties for fleet graphics range from two to five years,” says David Conrad, senior product manager, Neschen America.
Neschen and SEAL films and adhesives are covered by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, making them user friendly and worry free in the areas of quality defects, freight damage, general customer satisfaction returns, and credit adjustments. “This guarantee is simple and straight forward, ensuring the customers that they are getting the best quality finishing combination for specific applications when applied properly,” says Conrad. They also offer a liquid coating that is included in some of the OEM media suppliers’ fleet warranties when used with specified media and applied according to specifications outlined by the OEM.
Ed Pierce, product manager, lamination supplies, GBC, notes the importance of a guarantee over a warranty. “Warranties are always laden with legal requirements that are difficult to prove. What really matters is that you buy from someone you trust to stand behind the products. If your relationship is weak or the company is unlikely to accept responsibility the warranty will be of little value,” he says.
For some of its films, GBC offers a warranty in alignment with the expected life of the graphic. “Like most manufacturers, we rarely process claims. More often, we work with our customers to help them make our products work beautifully,” says Pierce. “Work with someone who can provide a media that is designed for your application and is compatible with the overlaminate, mounting adhesive, ink, and other items used to make the finished product.”
Terminology can lead to confusion. It is important that expectations are in line with what the vendor or supplier offers. Many manufacturers carry a materials warranty, which covers product quality as shipped from the factory. A performance guarantee is another warranty level, this provides assurance that the print media and laminates are tested for approved ink sets and are deemed compatible. “It provides an increased level of comfort, demonstrating that the manufacturer has performed the appropriate due diligence to ensure the product will accept ink and provide an acceptable image,” explains Paul Roba, North American technical manager, Avery Dennison.
“A market-specific level of warranty, known as the OEM warranty, is typical for manufacturers of RVs, boats, and personal recreation vehicles,” he adds. This warranty provides coverage for the previous levels of warranty in addition to some manufacturing costs associated with the graphics. Finally, a platinum warranty is still higher and covers most of the costs included in the previous levels, plus portions of removal and replacement of graphics in the field as deemed appropriate by the supplier.
Avery Dennison applies rigorous testing and qualifications of its manufactured products, and the inclusion of other quality manufacturer’s components for the Integrated Component System (ICS) Warranty Program. As an organization, the company has identified its strengths and those of allied suppliers to provide an open architecture of compatible components in a warranted graphic package. The ICS program analyzes, tests, and quantifies the performance expectations of allied suppliers’ components and provides coverage accordingly.