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Window of Opportunity

Specialty Films Expand

By Cassandra Carnes

Wide format graphics have evolved to become one with their environment. Building wraps, vehicle wraps, floor graphics, and wallcoverings are examples of signage meant to impress. However, as new mediums are popularized, specialty media is required for optimal results.


To address the need for more coverage on unique applications, many media manufacturers have set out to provide solutions specifically designed for windows. The use of specialty films help to enhance the look of a full building or vehicle wrap by allowing coverage that takes into account safety and conventionality considerations—such as the ability to see in or out of a window.


Window graphics are typically printed on either perforated or clear films. Both are suitable options, and the choice between the two is dependent on a number of factors including the intended environment and length of use.


Latest Window Graphic Trends

Vehicle wraps commonly utilize window films, but new opportunities for these specialty substrates are emerging. Window films enable a more complete wrap. Also, in some cases, city ordinances prohibit or limit signage on the outside of buildings. Graphics installed on the exterior or interior of windows are a viable alternative. Functionality is also provided, as window graphics have the capability to either restrict or allow see through—enabling privacy or visibility at a client’s request.


The potential of window graphics in the point of purchase and retail store environment is worth exploring. The uncertain economy continues to pressure the retail market, and the desire to promote sales or specials to consumers is clear. “Retail window advertising is the ideal vehicle for short-term or specialized promotions,” admits Matt Myers, business development manager – media, Neschen Americas.


Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc., points to the trend of reverse window films, where the adhesive or static is applied to the face or print side of the film so that the graphics can have the same effect—advertisement on the outside and functionality on the inside. The film is applied to the inside of the window to avoid weather and elements so graphics and films are preserved for a longer period of time.


The availability of white ink brings significant opportunity to window graphic applications. “White on clear film looks terrific when applied to glass,” notes Jim Halloran, VP, Lintec of America, Inc. “If printed with a screen pattern, it provides the appearance of etched glass at a fraction of the cost,” he adds.


Adding white to a printed image on clear film enables the effect of visual dimension. Also, white flood coats offer opacity. “The availability of white ink gives clear window films revitalization; now design elements are unlimited,” suggests Robert Rundle, viscom marketing manager, Ritrama Inc.


Application Considerations

Print service providers (PSPs) are trusted to be well versed in the range of media solutions available on the market. They are expected to ask the correct questions and price accordingly. Primary considerations include the printing method used, as compatibility issues could arise if the media isn’t properly matched.


If see-through graphics are needed, perforated window materials may be the best option. Clear films provide some visibility through the graphics as well, but it is a completely different look and depends on the preference of the end user, explains Molly Waters, technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.


It is important to determine what is more of a priority to the customer, optical clarity or cost. “What you choose for a static storefront window application may differ from a vehicle window,” suggest Tim Boxeth, Tammi Johnson, and Adam Larson, business managers, 3M Commercial Graphics.


Durability is another concern. Determine whether a job is going to be used indoors or outdoors and for how long. Keep in mind the recommended lifecycle set by the media manufacturer.


“The durability of the base vinyl product is slated for vertical light exposure. The closer a product gets to horizontal exposure, the shorter the lifespan due to increased contact to UV light and weather conditions,” explains Mary Ann Kucera, product marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products. “If you overlaminate the base film, it protects the base vinyl and the ink—therefore increasing the lifespan of the finished graphic,” she adds.


Installation should not be overlooked. “Work with a skilled installer who shows off your printing expertise and the customer’s message,” add Boxeth, Johnson, and Larson.


If an inexperienced installer, say a retail clerk, is expected to perform installation, a more forgiving and repositionable media may be ideal.


Edge tape should be used where recommended—usually on vehicle wraps—to provide the best durability from edge lifting. It is also critical the installer is experienced with the type of film they are working with. PET and PVC behave differently during installation.


Between the Two

As noted, clear or perforated films are best suited for window applications based on a number of considerations, including desired appearance and visibility, printing method, and location. The intended effect of the graphic is a strong determining factor.


Perforated window films are a popular option. The specialty media was developed out of the need for a graphic that is viewable from one side of the glass without obstructing the view from the other side.


Many agree that perforated media products are especially ideal in window applications where show through is necessary. For example, in retail settings, perforated window films allow people to see out. “If a clear film has a dark print, it is hard to see through,” notes Kucera.


Appearance is a factor, but environment issues are also addressed. “Perforated window films are generally installed on the exterior of the window and therefore block a percentage of light and heat from coming through the glass. This can provide a benefit in warm climates,” explains Neschen’s Myers.


Judy Bellah, PR manager, Clear Focus Imaging, Inc., notices an increased demand in products that provide heat and light control. For this, the company provides SunSecure interior mount film. The product is identical to the company’s ImageVue film, except the adhesive is on the white side, making it unprintable. One imaginative idea is the installation of unprinted film on building facades in order to create a large, white projection surface. “Several hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, NV are capitalizing on this usage,” says Bellah.


It is recommended that perforated window films be laminated in order to prevent dirt and water from building up in the holes, as well as prevent the media from scratching. Heavy ink lay down can also lead to issues.


If image vibrancy is a priority, Dione Metnick, product line manager, LexJet Corporation, suggests that perforated window films have an advantage over clear films, because of the opaque white surface on the film.


Ritchie Daize, international digital sales manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC, explains that when perforated window films were developed, generic printers did not have the ability to print white ink with a high enough opacity to produce vibrant colors. “The white facestock of perforated window film allows for vibrant color while the perforations allow the glass to be looked through from the other side,” he adds.


Now, many digital printers are able to print white ink to enable vibrant color, so clear films are gaining popularity. Lintec’s Halloran explains that clear films are a better option when the end user wants a painted glass look.


Kucera adds that clear films are well suited for double-sided decals and signage, while translucent films provide light transmission with some privacy, as well as good graphic reproduction.


In response to this, there is a trend in printed clear window graphics used in office interiors.


Clear films can be applied to either the exterior or reverse printed and applied to the interior of a window. Interior application keeps the graphic protected from the elements and reduces risk of vandalism. “Reverse printed, clear films applied to the inside of a window can also have a white backer adhered to them to provide a more solid and vibrant image, increasing detail and density and allowing for photographic quality images,” explains Myers.


With clear unperforated window films, such as PVSee from Clear Focus, text size and image vibrancy are not issues, says Bellah. Additionally, there are no holes to be bridged by ink or filled with water. “Lamination isn’t normally required. Unlike perforated window film, however, the image will not be see through from one side,” she adds.


It is also important to remember that clear films may become washed out, especially when applied to a tinted window.


Ink Compatibility

Media and ink capability is extremely substantial when deciding on a window film.


Traditionally, perforated window films were not printed with UV inks. When the ink cured, it led to clogging in the perforated holes of the media, and once the backer was peeled off to expose the adhesive, ink remained in the holes.


Ultraflex’s Giannantonio says UltraVision 6040 Window Perf UV is developed to prevent this, allowing PSPs to print onto perforated window film using UV inks.


In addition to specialty media options designed to address perforation clogging, PSPs also have the option to print with UV-curable inks by using a perforated vinyl and perforated liner so the ink does not clog the holes. LexJet’s Metnick states that most non-perforated vinyl is compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, latex, and UV-curable inks. LexJet offers perforated and non-perforated window films for aqueous inkjet printers as well.


The role of layflat release liners is also a consideration. On perforated films they are designed to catch overspray and help facilitate a smooth, even transport of film through the printer. “Most release liners perform well with the wide array of printers on the market. An exception is unperforated solid siliconlized paper liners—standard on Clear Focus’ ReflectVue and EconoVue—which are not compatible with UV-curable printers because the inks tend to bridge, or clog, the film’s holes,” says Bellah. For UV-curable inks, the company provides clear PET or white PET liner, both of which are patented.


For printing on non-perforated window films, a majority of Lintec products are printed via UV-curable inkjet. “The films are wet installed. The first generations of UV ink would scratch easily if wet for more than three to four minutes. The way to work around this was to use the liner as a mask,” says Halloran. He adds that subsequent generations of UV ink have improved on this greatly and it is a non-issue in most cases now, but it is important to understand.


The performance of clear, self-adhesive window film materials varies based on the quality of the face film and the adhesive used. “While many films are compatible with solvent, eco-solvent, UV curable, and latex inks, performance and ease of printing, print quality, and longevity can be quite different,” notes Myers.


The Window of Opportunity

Whether on a boat, bus, or building, the ability to incorporate windows into a high-impact graphic is desirable for both safety and visual appeal. Depending on the factors detailed in this article, PSPs have options. In order to provide the appropriate suggestions, is important to consider the big picture, as well as the environment, desired see through, and print method of a window graphic.


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


Nov2011, Digital Output

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