Under Your Feet
Floor Graphics Provide Flare and Direction
By Cassandra Balentine
Floor graphics represent a revenue opportunity for print service providers (PSPs). To ensure installation goes off without a hitch, critical considerations include adhesive properties, lamination requirements, and durability. Success is affected by various factors, including print method, media and laminate pairing, floor surface, cleanliness, traffic, and expected lifespan of a graphic.
Floor Graphic Intricacies
When working with specialized media, whether for a floor, wall, or car, several considerations come into play. Surface and foot traffic are two major factors unique to floor graphics.
Prior to producing a floor graphic application, PSPs must consider the environment, its intended lifespan, as well as customer expectations. “Carefully evaluate the media available for different types of substrates—including smooth, rough, or grained—and exposure conditions such as indoor or outdoor,” suggests Martin Kugler, corporate communications manager, Hexis S.A.
Micah Causey, VP, AlumiGraphics by FloorSignage, LLC, points out that the design should not include small text, as it will be difficult to read from five to six feet above.
For production, media thickness is a factor. “Thicker medias are often heavy rolls, so an awareness of your printer ink head height and weight limit restrictions is imperative to determine what limitations, if any, the PSP may have with printing thick floor vinyl,” says Jaime Sherman, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.
Ink choice also plays a role. If solvent, eco-solvent, or UV inks are used, the standard procedure of ink curing time of 24 hours applies prior to lamination. “If an anti-skid laminate is used, I would recommend printing with no overlap if the graphic exceeds your printable width, as anti-skid laminates do not stick to each other well,” cautions Craig Campbell, graphic products market manager, ORAFOL Americas. “A solution is to butt the two sections of the graphic together and as a precaution, use a matte finish silicone caulk on the seam to prevent premature failure,” he adds.
“Floor graphics are subjected to significant abrasion and wear compared to other graphics, so ink scratch resistance is very important if you want to avoid lamination,” advises Marcel Medved, business development manager, Asphalt Art USA.
Additionally, certain intricacies, such as edge printing may prove challenging, as some print processes affect the edge of the graphic, creating waviness, suggests Paul Filippelli, national sales manager, Canada, Drytac Corporation.
Tammi Johnson, business development manager, 3M Commercial Graphics, notes that printing floor graphics is not much different than other print jobs—overall design, visibility/graphic clarity, and print contrast within the installation environment are important. “There are special considerations for cut-to-shape graphics including images with sharp outer points. We recommend cutting radiuses on any sharp corners after lamination, which will help prevent premature lifting of the graphic,” she adds.
Adhesion can make or break a floor graphic; therefore, it is smart to address longevity and environmental concerns up front. The media’s formulation and application surface are critical to adhesion.
The decision for whether a graphic needs to be removable or permanent is based on customer expectations and the nature of the application. “If a graphic is installed on a short nap carpet, you may choose to use a permanent adhesive vinyl to ensure it stays. But, if you are putting a temporary graphic down on a tile floor in a grocery store, you would want to choose a vinyl with removable adhesive for a clean and quick change out,” recommends Cindy Richards, regional technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.
Karin Biel, marketing, ASLAN, Schwarz GmbH & Co. KG, stresses the importance of using the correct film for the application. “Products made for rough surfaces such as asphalt must not be applied onto smooth surfaces and the other way around. We always recommend testing the media on the surface,” she says.
The adhesive must create a solid bond to the surface and provide removability. “You can’t just put any combination of print material and laminate together, call it a floor graphic, apply it, and hope for the best. Manufacturers with floor and carpet graphics products design them specifically for that application,” states Jaimie Mask, product manager, LexJet Corporation.
ORAFOL’s Campbell explains that intermediate floor graphics should work on high-energy floors sealed with paint or epoxy. He recommends a removable adhesive to prevent damage to the surface. However, if the flooring is low energy, such as carpet or concrete, high-tack adhesive is best. “These adhesives are designed with a high flow rate to fill in all of the porous qualities of the material to ensure adhesion,” he adds.
Many floors are smooth, allowing for a variety of printable graphics to be adhered. However, some surfaces, such as ceramic tile, have a more varied profile. “These types of surfaces generally require a more robust adhesive with a higher peel or thicker adhesive deposit to flow into the less smooth profile,” explains Filippelli.
Dennis Brunnett, product manager, product branding, FLEXcon, adds that the most important consideration is the overall area the client plans to cover, which determines the type of product used—such as standard square sheets or full floor coverage.
He adds that printing method may also affect adhesion. “If you print heavy solvents and change the adhesive characteristics, it may affect how the graphics adhere. The same goes for ink adhesion. If you overlaminate without good ink adhesion, a weak layer bond will be created, which could lead to delamination.”
Sherman explains that while none of the Ultraflex flooring materials feature adhesive, adhesives—such as tape or liquid—may be applied to the material or surface.
Jason Yard, marketing manager, MACtac Distributor Products, says PSPs should consult with the media manufacturer’s product performance guides or sales representatives for recommendations when unsure which media is best suited for a particular floor.
Brian Cheshire, sales manager, Xcel Products, Inc., adds that it is also very important to clean the floor surface in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification and address how the floor will be cleaned after application.
To improve durability, safety, and appearance of a floor graphic, laminates are often used. “Liquid top coats can be used on our products to help improve scratch resistance and color pop, as well as make the graphics easier to clean,” explains Asphalt Art’s Medved.
Yard considers the laminate the most important part of the floor graphic system. “It is what carries the slip resistant certification and protects your image from scuffing, scratching, and fading,” he adds.
Slip resistance is a common concern when it comes to media used in floor graphics. “The main thing to consider when choosing a laminate for floor applications is that the laminate is UL certified for slip resistance. You should have the discussion with the customer to see if they will use a floor varnish or wax. If they do, you should test the wax or varnish to make sure it doesn’t discolor your graphic,” recommends Avery Dennison’s Richards.
E. Tyler Reich, director of product development, Qué Media Inc., says overlaminates help keep floor graphics safe from foot traffic. “Any ink set will degrade very quickly with scuffing from foot traffic. If a laminate is used, the graphic will stay much more vibrant over time, and can be wiped clean without worrying about destroying the graphic quality.”
Durability is Key
Depending on a floor graphic’s intended environment, the PSP must choose the media system best suited for the job and its longevity requirements.
A graphic’s durability is dependent on the product and application. “Lifespan range is from one week to one year for most products,” recommends Medved.
Yard notes that MACtac’s many media offerings address durability expectations. For example, if you want 30 days, 90 days, one year, or three years, MACtac offers a solution.
A floor graphic’s durability is directly affected by foot traffic. For regular to heavy foot traffic, Richards says the range is short term, or less than a year.
Laminates can protect a print up to four times longer than without laminate, so Reich notes that it is very important to use lamination in high-traffic areas.
Print providers should gather as much information as possible from the end user, and manage expectations of what is required of the floor graphic, suggests Drytac’s Filippelli.
Warranty and Cost
The best media for a job is based on the factors discussed above, as well as a shop’s knowledge and preference for a particular brand. Depending on the product and its use, overall price fluctuates. However, beyond media alone, warranty considerations also enter the equation.
3M offers a variety of floor graphic options with warranties that range from three months to one year. The media is expected to maintain original brightness, color, and image quality—with the exception of ordinary and expected wear and tear, and adhere to 3M recommended floor surfaces and be removable without damage to the surface throughout the designated warranty period.
AlumiGraphics’ wide format substrate is made of pliable and durable aluminum foil with pressure-sensitive adhesive. Designed for indoor or outdoor use, AlumiGraphics is warranted against manufacturing defects for a period of one year.
According to Causey, the substrate does not require an overlaminate and the life expectancy is longer than most products, up to one year in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic and in harsh weather environments. “It will hold up to ‘rolling vehicle traffic’ that passes over the graphics, although the graphics can be damaged if the wheels stop and turn or grind on the graphics,” he adds.
AlumiGraphics is available from $2.31 to $4.31 per square foot, depending on the quantity of material purchased.
ASLAN’s floor graphics focus on special surfaces, for which a special adhesive is essential to adhesiveness, safety, and removability. The company offers an insurance warranty that covers possible damages from people slipping on the floor graphic.
Asphalt Art provides five different floor graphic products, which range in terms of indoor and outdoor, and short term and long term. The textured products do not require lamination.
Avery Dennison offers a variety of films used for floor graphics, ranging from cast to high performance, intermediate, and promo calendered films. The company promotes an expected durability of six months on standard interior floor graphics, less if installed in high traffic areas.
Drytac offers PVC-based floor graphics, printable base films, and overlaminate films. The company does not typically offer floor graphic warranty periods, but can provide knowledgeable recommendations for which floor graphic base film and corresponding floor graphic overlaminate film to use for specific applications.
Filippelli estimates that the average cost per square foot ranges from $.90 to $1 for the printable floor graphic film and associated Drytac Protac or Interlam Pro Emerytex floor graphic overlaminate film.
FLEXcon provides standard vinyl floor graphics as well as an opaque option, which is capable of covering floor patterns. The company also offers a variety of overlaminates as well as full coverage floor graphics, which utilize an underlaminate.
FLEXcon promotes a two year shelf life warranty and clean removability up to 180 days after indoor installation. Pricing varies on a variety of factors, including job size, product selection, print method, and top coating requirements.
Hexis offers printable media and matching overlaminates. The media includes special reinforced adhesives to make it suitable for floor graphics and the laminates feature a grained surface to create slip resistance.
Kugler says the durability depends largely on the laminate. Hexis recommends its GSOL170 laminate with anti-slip surface texture. “Our experience with the GSOL170 vinyl cold laminate is that under normal use, one can expect durability up to one year.”
LexJet offers its Simple Indoor FloorAd and LexJet Simple CarpetAd, which are removable for up to six months. “About 24 hours after installation, you can clean them as if they were part of the floor,” says Mask. Both products are warranted when combined with either LexJet Floor Gloss Laminate—3 mil, LexJet Performance Textured Polypropylene Laminate—5 mil, or LexJet Floor Velvet Laminate—5 mil.
The warranty period lasts 180 days after installation when constructed, installed, maintained, and removed in accordance with LexJet’s written instructions.
Mask estimates a cost per square foot of 90 cents, which includes printable media and laminate. “That cost does not include labor or the margin the print shop adds to the project,” she notes.
MACtac provides a range of materials. Its economy media and laminate is warranted for about 30 days indoors. The company’s IMAGin StreetRap and PermaFlex overlaminate combination for textured concrete is warranted for three months outdoors. Additionally, the company’s high-performance media and polycarbonate laminate is warranted for up to four years indoors. “MACtac is very conservative when it comes to outlining warranties. It all depends on the amount of foot traffic, end-use care, weather, and ground moisture—if it is outdoors,” says Yard.
In terms of cost, MACtac offers options of media paired with laminate that range from $.50 to $3 a square foot.
ORAFOL provides a variety of products for floor graphics within its ORAJET and ORAGUARD family of products. “Typically a floor graphic media undergoes the same type of adhesive testing that any other adhesive film would to establish a durability statement, however the reality is that a floor graphic will fail from mechanical damage long before its expected durability expires,” says Campbell.
The ORAJET Series 1663 for floor graphics is rated with a four year durability, “which means the material is applied to a properly sealed substrate and does not guard against failure that is derived from damage due to foot traffic or loads being moved across it,” adds Campbell.
Campbell estimates that a ballpark range for the floor graphic material and the appropriate laminate could be anywhere from $2 to $4 per square foot, but this price could fluctuate lower or higher based on different markets and volumes.
Qué Media offers a laminate that can be applied to any of its permanent adhesive products to offer a floor graphic solution. Its LAM8TAS Anti-Slip Floor Laminate is classified as UL 410 anti slip.
Reich admits that it is hard to gauge the longevity of floor graphics because of unknown variables such as the type of traffic. “Our test graphics have been up in various graphic areas for almost two years now and are only showing minor wear at this point,” he notes.
Ultraflex is the master distributor of G-Floor Graphic Media for the Americas. G-Floor is a commercial grade vinyl flooring product that is customizable with grand format solvent and UV digital, and screen printing equipment.
G-Floor features a five year durability. “The durability of the image is ink related as to manufacturing specifications and Ultraflex offers no expressed warranties on custom imaging,” adds Sherman.
The MSRP for Ultraflex flooring media is typically between $1.50 and $2.50 per square foot, depending on the product, thickness, and texture.
Xcel Products offers two different floor graphic options and both utilize the same white X-Cling removable base vinyl. While the products do not carry a warranty, they do meet the UL standard for slip resistance. “We can’t average the cost of our products because utilization, web width, and volume play a big part,” notes Cheshire.
Whether solo or part of a bigger marketing campaign or event package, floor graphics offer an eye-catching way to capitalize on unused space. From supermarkets to subways, these unique applications provide a pop of color and excitement to everyday locations. PSPs that take on the application learn the nuances for a flawless and effective offering. Understanding the chemical composition of the media is important to determine the best fit in the intended environment. Adhesive properties, lamination, and durability all play a part in creating a successful application.
Apr2014, Digital Output