Wall graphics are an ideal medium for providing retail, office, and residential environments with the ability to creatively add color, personality, and promotional messages to surroundings. Depending on the desired look, longevity, and environment, these applications range from do-it-yourself applications to commercial grade wallcoverings installed by professionals.
Wallcoverings range from adhesive-backed pressure-sensitive media to products resembling traditional wallpapers applied with paste. Magnetic systems are also an option. Depending on the media, installation needs vary.
The level of expertise required for installing wall graphics is dependent on the type of media chosen and the application’s environment. While a skilled installer may result in a quicker, more professional install—saving time in the end, many consumer-focused solutions are available and feature easy-to-install qualities for inexperienced users.
“For wallpaper-like applications, it is ideal to use a professional wallpaper hanger,” notes Jeff Leto, product manager, LexJet Corporation. However, some end users are comfortable with this type of installation and will do it themselves.
For adhesive-based applications, Leto notes that wall mural installation is similar to any other flat panel vinyl application.
LexJet’s wallcovering media options include LexJet WallPro SUV, DuPont Tyvek, LexJet Simple Flo Wrap Vinyl, and Photo Tex from Photo Tex Group, Inc. The installation method varies depending on the type of adhesion method used.
Some adhesive-backed solutions are designed to be easy enough for a novice user, but larger jobs benefit from an experienced installer, which is the print provider in many cases. “A good installer saves time and money—and provides a quality job—regardless of the product,” notes Mary Ann Kucera, product marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products.
The company offers DecoArt DecoSatin, IMAGin wallNOODLE, IMAGin ROODLE, IMAGin digiTrans, MACmark, IMAGin RoughRAP, and B-free GRUV.
MACtac’s pressure-sensitive products should be installed on a clean, dry 50 to 70 degree Fahrenheit vertical wall. For sheet rock installations, the wall should be wiped down with isopropyl alcohol on a lint-free cloth just prior to application.
In a wall mural application, there should always be one inch overlap and two to four inches of excess on all edges so that all four sides can be trimmed. “Be sure to measure several times to ensure proper fit and placement before adhering,” suggests Kucera. She notes that each panel can be dry fit and installed using the hinge method. It is also important to re-squeegee all edges after trimming.
Peter Spotto, sales manager, DreamScape, points out that installation for commercial wallcoverings is mostly handled by professionals. However, anyone familiar with hanging wall murals should be able to master the technique. “Many PSPs who have installed adhesive-based wall media can install commercial wallcovering,” he says.
DreamScape manufactures vinyl commercial grade printable, textured wallcoverings. In addition to vinyl, the company also offers two eco-friendly non-PVC wallcoverings, Terralon and Nolar. An adhesive-backed wallcovering, WallWrap, is also available.
Spotto notes that commercial wallcoverings are installed using vinyl wallcovering pastes and wall primers. After wall preparation and prime, the vinyl wallcovering paste is applied to the back of the media with a paint roller. The ends are folded over to the middle, pasted sides together and set for ten minutes—also known as booking. This step allows the adhesive to penetrate the fabric backing for good adhesion. The panel is then aligned on the wall and smoothed. The next panel is matched with a one-inch overlap between panels. Spotto recommends cutting a small notch every 12 to 18 inches along the overlap to help see underneath and position. Once the panel is brushed smooth on the wall the seam may be cut using a straight edge and utility blade.
Repositionability and removability are two critical components that help determine a project’s ideal wallcovering substrate. Each quality factors into the appeal of certain wall graphic media solutions.
For dorm room graphics and retail point of purchase signage, the ability to remove or change out quickly is a necessity. Durability and permanence are a priority for other wallcoverings, such as those found in hospitals or hotels.
“Whether you are an experienced installer or a novice it is always good to have a certain amount of repositonability,” suggests Kucera. Even experts are vulnerable to trapped air or missed registration. The ability to reposition the graphic lends itself to a better install.
Often, repositionability depends upon the surface texture. “The smoother the wall surface, the more repositionability,” says Joe Walton, advanced technical service engineer, 3M Commercial Graphics.
The company offers changeable, removable, and permanent adhesive options to meet all application types. A majority of the films are applied dry with a plastic applicator or squeegee.
Kucera admits that in some instances, installers want a non-positionable media—such as MACtac’s IMAGin RoughRAP—to promote confidence the graphic will stay put.
Media manufacturers are keen to the variety of repositionability requirements. Therefore, a range of solutions are on the market, offering a gamut of repositionability properties.
“Most materials are repositionable to some degree,” admits Leto. For instance, LexJet Simply Flo Vinyl can be repositioned, but it is as not as repositionable as Photo Tex.
Walter Gierlach Jr., president, Photo Tex, notes that the media is 100 percent removable and repositionable and the adhesive never weakens.
The Application at Hand
Many considerations are pertinent when it comes to providing wallcoverings. For example, if the environment is for a school indoor air standards, such as GREENGUARD Children & Schools, need to be met. “LEED points may be obtained for ‘green’ building projects if a proper wallcovering is selected,” comments Ben Matlock, product manager, Hewlett-Packard (HP).
The company provides its HP PVC-free Wall Paper as well as its new HP Wall Art design software. To install HP PVC-free Wall Paper, users should start with a clean wall, free of debris. Each printed panel of HP PVC-free Wall Paper should be loosely rolled, printed side facing in, and soaked in a tray of water for 15 seconds. The panel is then slowly removed from the water, folded onto itself, and allowed to sit for one minute. Then it is ready to be adhered to the wall. Air bubbles are easily removed with a damp sponge or wallpaper scraper. Any additional small air bubbles will dissipate on their own as the adhesive dries. To remove HP Wall Art, use a sponge to thoroughly wet the wall, starting at the top. The panel will start to peel back almost immediately and remove in a single sheet. Some adhesive may remain on the wall. It can be sponged off.
Other environmental considerations, such as light exposure, are also relevant concerns. “Will it be used in a place with a lot of glare, sunlight, or photo flashes?” asks Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. “If so, a glossier SAV film or wallpaper embossment should be avoided,” she adds.
Ultraflex supplies digitally printable, high-quality, Class A Type II building industry standard wallcoverings—Wallscapes. Three different embossments, Matte, Suede, and Stardust are available. They are installed using traditional wallpaper paste and/or glue.
The surface is another essential consideration, as well as how the wall is prepped prior to installation. This includes a thorough knowledge of paint type, gloss level, cleaning procedures, and dry time. Linda Babilo, product manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC, recommends noting any heat or steam vending equipment that would be near the graphic, as this can affect the applied material.
For interior applications, Arlon offers DPF 206, a printable fabric film with a high-tack removable adhesive. DPF 207 is also for interior use and provides a tighter weave in the fabric. It is printable matte white vinyl film with a clear removable adhesive. For exterior applications, Arlon recommends its DPF 6700 or DPF 8000 with Series 3220 cast overlaminates.
When applying DPF 6700 or DPF 8000, heat enhances the pressure-sensitive adhesive to create a long-term bond. Arlon recommends that the installer align and loosely tack graphic on the wall. The film should be pre-heated to 100 degrees Celsius prior to adhesion using a high-density rubber roller horizontally across the wall.
Garry Hollis, business manager, Korographics, urges PSPs to consider the condition of the wall the material is being applied to.
Korographics offers Type I and Type II commercial grade wallcoverings. According to Hollis, the installation for its range of embossed wallcoverings involves the application of wallcovering paste—available at retail stores such as Home Depot, Lowes, and Sherwin Williams—to either the media before installing onto a wall surface or directly to the wall. The media is designed to be overlapped and double cut where the panels meet. This ensures a tight seam that is invisible when done properly.
Techniques and Tricks
With the range of printable wallcovering substrates available comes multiple installation techniques.
Every wallcovering installation requires a clean, prepped surface before graphics are applied. Arlon’s Babilo recommends pressure washing the surface with a 1:20 ratio of trisodium phosphate (TSP) to warm water mixture, followed by a warm water rinse to remove most surface oxidation and accumulated debris and chalk. For heavier accumulation, use a stiff bristle brush with the same TSP solution, warm water rinse, and allow the wall to dry for two days.
For long-term results, seal the surface with a coat of paint or concrete sealer and be sure to allow a minimum of two weeks dry time. “In cold or humid environments, an extended drying time is recommended. Failure to allow paint to fully cure results in an incomplete bond of paint to wall surface, this can cause your graphic to lift when repositioning. Use of a sealant provides a more reliable base for installation,” says Babilo.
Regarding the installation of adhesive-backed media, compared to smooth textures, rough wall applications present more of a challenge. MACtac’s Kucera admits several more details are involved in installation, such as cleaning with compressed air, using proper heat—usually a 220 degree Fahrenheit minimum—and proper pressure with a foam or rubber type roller. It is critical that the rough wall is dry and prepared thoroughly. “For outdoor installations, especially larger ones, a helper is almost mandatory,” adds Kucera.
When its time to install a wallcovering, Ed McCarron, director of sales and marketing, IntelliCoat Technologies, points out a few tips for success. One of the most critical is to use pre-mixed commercial grade wallcovering pastes, which are sold at most home improvement stores. Additionally, he stresses the importance of pre-wetting the back of the paper with a sponge before applying paste—and to apply a thinned layer of paste or sizing to the wall prior to installation. By acting as a breaking point, the panels can be removed in one piece without the unwanted removal of paint or dry wall.
All of InteliCoat’s wallcoverings feature heavyweight latex bases. The latex in the paper acts as a moisture barrier and gives the product dimensional stability. In cases where a product is paneled together, the more stable it is the less likely a seam is created in the middle.
InteliCoat’s wallcovering options also feature different top coats or treatments, designed to meet various printer technologies.
What to Offer
The print service provider’s offering is influenced by customer demands. It may require research to understand what the customer is currently using, and what other substrates would work. “For example, if the customer does a lot of venue work, is there an opportunity for short-term wall graphics or posters?” asks Kucera. “If he is working with a restaurateur, is there an opportunity for wall murals on brick or painted sheetrock? Maybe a graphic on the outside of a building?”
Wallcoverings provide marketers with the opportunity to think not only outside the box, but about the box itself. The possibilities are endless with the right attitude and tools. Media and its installation process provide a short- or long-term approach, depending on the customer’s goals.
In part two of this series, we look at two recent wallcovering applications.