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The Complexities of Protection

Warranties Provide Peace of Mind

By Cassandra Carnes

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.


Enhancing the Sale

For Matt McDonald, owner, Premier Wraps Inc., the value of warranties when working with wide format graphics is, “extremely huge.” They also offer a bonus when it comes to selling. The company began in 2004, stickering and lettering semi trucks for fun and side money. After quoting a large fleet project, McDonald purchased the large format digital printing equipment needed to complete the job.

 

“Our main focus now is vehicle wraps, but we do make signs for existing customers when needed,” he adds. The Fontana, CA-based shop uses a Mutoh America, Inc. ValueJet 1614 printer and all Avery Dennison media.

 

In regards to protective coatings, Premier Wraps uses both liquid and film. “We only use liquid laminate on window perforation. Everything else is cold laminate,” says McDonald.

 

He recalls creating a sign for an existing customer, where protective coatings were a draw. The sign was laminated with Avery Dennison’s DOL 6060 Anti-Graffiti laminate. “The customer had a lot of issues with taggers, and when we suggested this coating they didn’t hesitate to spend the extra money,” he says.

 

Lamination enhances the durability of a wrap, while ensuring the quality is maintained year after year. McDonald says his shop always puts its vinyl and laminate warranties in writing for the customer. With proper care, customers can expect to get three to four years or longer. The shop recommends wraps be hand washed with a soft, non-abrasive sponge to maintain life expectancy.

 

Warranty Limitations

Warranties enable PSPs to pass confidence on to customers, and feel at ease with an understanding of protection. However, failures happen, and warranties are put to use. Once a claim is made, the cause is investigated.

 

“Extreme temperatures and UV exposure are the worst enemies of all digital prints,” says Daize. “Depending on the extremity of these factors, a protective film may or may not take responsibility for the integrity of the digital print.”

 

Proper installation is also essential in terms of maintaining the validity of a warranty.

 

“Many actions or combinations of actions or components may negate a warranty,” says Roba. These would include a PSP not following the recommended processing guidelines, the use of unapproved components or ink sets, the addition of competitive materials, improperly cured ink, or improper installation techniques.

 

It is also important to consider the limitations of an active warranty once other elements are added to the mix. Warranty periods are limited by the least durable element in the total graphic. For example, MACtac offers a ten year durable print media and seven year outdoor durable overlaminate. If the customer uses a two to three year outdoor durable ink set, then the ink becomes the limiting factor. “Our overlaminate films feature UV stability and protection, but the inks will still only last a certain number of years, so that is what the warranty is built upon, the entire graphic, not just the unprinted media,” says Stadelman.

 

Industry Advancements

As digital print technologies advance, many new ink sets are designed to provide extra durability that is typically offered by protective films and coatings. While these advancements may add some durability, they will not displace the role of laminates, in terms of both protection and image enhancement.

 

“Even the most advanced inks cannot protect a vehicle graphic from a tree branch or other abrasion like laminates can,” says 3M’s Greenquist. She explains that since the introduction of inkjet inks, 3M has not required a protective coating on all types of graphic issues, but the abrasion protection and UV resistance they provide help ensure that the customer’s image look as good as it did the day it was printed.

 

“Consider the impact of shipping and reusing a graphic—preventing edge crush and fading to the media have nothing to do with ink sets,” asserts GBC’s Pierce.

 

Fundamentally, lamination enables a change of the finish, thickness, rigidity, as well as added durability. LexJet’s Leto doesn’t see this need disappearing. However, there is a reduction in the need for lamination of short-term graphics that do not require a different finish, or more thickness or rigidity.

 

George Mash, VP, FDC Graphic Films, Inc., points out that lamination does provide a measure of UV protection that adds durability and abrasion resistance, but it also offers the ability to add a finish to the graphic not available by ink printing alone.

 

Neschen’s Conrad also notes the advantage of protective films and coatings over straight prints, and sees it as an opportunity for new innovations from media providers. “The advances in ink technology actually opens the door for new types of lamination applications, of which most or all require some sort of finishing, thus actually broadening the scope of lamination possibilities,” he says.

 

Peace of Mind

Guarantees and warranties are a symbol of reputation. Knowing that a supplier stands behind their products is important, especially in an industry that offers choice. However, they are not to be abused. It is important that the terms of the warranty adhere to the graphic as a whole, considering substrates as well as ink. Following manufacturer guidelines is essential; otherwise the warranty could be voided in the result of a failure.

 

“The importance of the warranty is based on the end user’s need for certification of performance expectations. It is more important that the system provides performance as described by the manufacturer, and expected by the ultimate end users. The warranty is an added peace of mind, so importance is very client specific,” says Roba.

 

Manufacturers and suppliers of digital wide format equipment, inks, underlying media, and protective films and coatings thrive on innovation. As PSPs extend beyond the ordinary, it is important to partner with these experts to ensure a smooth process and installation, as nobody gains from a failed graphic—warranty or not.

 

Jan2011, Digital Output ProtectiveCoatings

 

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