Outdoor floor graphics are a great addition to promotional campaigns and event signage. Like their indoor counterparts, outdoor floor graphics provide an excellent way to take advantage of an underutilized space. However, they must be able to withstand extreme weather conditions and heavy foot and vehicle traffic, even if only for a few days.
You’re likely to find outdoor floor graphics in many places, including stadiums for concerts and sporting events as well as sidewalks and roads for outdoor celebrations. They are used for promotional purposes as well as wayfinding.
Outdoor floor graphics are popping up in more places. “Sporting venues and storefronts are currently the top end users,” shares Jeff Stadelman, marketing manager, Mactac. Sometimes the graphic is a finish line with information on the event sponsors, while in other scenarios it announces a grand opening or informational messages.
E. Tyler Reich, director of product development, Que Media Inc., has seen most floor graphic placements in the retail sector, as well as heavy use in the beverage industry when you look at retail locations such as gas stations and liquor stores. “We don’t see nearly as many applications outdoors,” he admits. “Due to wind activity and different types of traffic, it is hard to keep an outdoor installation stable and looking nice. The outdoor elements are way less forgiving and unpredictable.”
Michelle Kempf, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., agrees, commenting that advertisers and promoters constantly search for new and unique ways to catch and hold customers’ attention. “The ground is a natural progression, as so many of us walk around with our eyes aimed down, hopefully watching where we are going, but many times on our phones.”
“I’ve seen outdoor floor graphics used as sidewalk stop signs for people who walk and text to prevent them from stepping into a busy street without looking first,” adds Stadelman.
Above: Mactac StreetTRAX and PERMACOLOR FloorGrip overlaminate are used for outdoor applications.
Exterior floor graphics are often put through the ringer, facing weather extremes as well as traffic from pedestrians and vehicles alike. Luckily, they are typically only called to serve for a short period of time. Since safety is of utmost concern, finding the right base media and overlaminate for the surface, location, and length of time a graphic is in place is essential, as is abiding by manufacturer recommendations for use.
Outdoor floor graphics are generally short-term applications, remaining up for days, weeks, or months. While there are products available that promote longer term use, it is usually not necessary.
“Categorically, hotels and trade show postings are less than one week, retail applications less than 90 days. However, applications for sports venues, universities, parks, airports, and transit facilities want graphics to last up to one year or more,” shares Micah Causey, VP, FloorSignage, LLC.
“It depends on the purpose of the message and how long it needs to stay. Messaging in a warehouse is needed for years whereas a race is a one-day event,” says Stadelman.
With a focus of floor graphics in retail spaces and events, there is often the need to change the graphics frequently to keep up with special promotions run in those venues, says Austin Eck, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
Janelle Pizzi, product marketer, 3M Commercial Solutions, points out that outdoor floor graphics may last several years when using the proper overlaminate, but removability may become more challenging the longer the graphic is applied. “If the graphic is in a location that sees constant vehicle and fork truck traffic, it won’t last long,” she offers.
“There is a fine line on removability of a product versus its effectiveness to adhere to a surface outdoors. In weather extremes, we would only recommend a Marine Grade adhesive, but the cost is very high, and the residue is going to be a factor when removing the product,” adds Reich.
Thinking it Through
There are many considerations when choosing media and/or overlaminates for an outdoor floor graphic. Basic considerations include location, traffic, weather, the surface it’s applied to, and the length of time it is in use.
Outdoor floor graphics require planning for the location, proper preparations, and installation procedure or they won’t work. “There are many things to understand and yet they are not that much different than typical signage requirements,” admits Stadelman.
Print service providers (PSPs) offering floor graphics should consider the type of traffic expected to crossover the graphic, the anticipated duration of the graphic, and the composition of the surface, shares Michael Richardson, business development manager, Jessup Manufacturing Company.
Causey suggests considering the time of year that the graphics will be applied and the weather conditions the graphics will be subjected to. “The answers to these questions determine which material will meet the criteria and expectations of the customer. Although cost is an important factor, many times it is cost effective to spend more for the best material with a reliable performance record to avoid the pitfalls and profit loss associated with product failures and replacing graphics.”
Ask as many questions as possible to ensure the best outcome for your clients’ outdoor products. “Doing a site survey is ideal, but not always possible,” advises Kempf.
Traffic and Safety
Traffic—both foot and vehicle—is a common concern for floor graphics. For foot traffic, anti-slip properties are always necessary.
Slip resistance is an important aspect. “Outdoor floor graphics add to this by increasing the need for wet as well as dry slip resistance,” notes Matt Buckley, business development director, wide format market, GPA.
Is the type of media applied to the sidewalk truly safe for pedestrians if it rains? “There is currently only one specification acceptable for this condition in the U.S., which is NFSI/ANSI B101.3 and the print provider is responsible for making sure their media choice is approved for the protection of their business and the pedestrians,” warns Stadelman.
Arguably more important than the base film in some instances is the overlaminate. “For the safety of those walking over the graphic surface, all floor graphic overlaminates need to be tested to the ASTM E84 slip resistance standard,” recommends Andrew Smith, application engineer, 3M Commercial Solutions.
Location, Surface, Weather
PSPs should be cognizant of where they are placing the floor graphic, specifically how much overhang coverage the space has, what kind of foot traffic the space gets, and what the climate is like when they are placing it. “Any weather extremes will impact the longevity of the graphic, but other factors including the type of surface it is adhering to can also influence the life of the graphic,” says Edwin Ramos, national sales manager, GBC & SEAL.
Other questions to ask include will the product conform to the receiving surface, is it water resistant, and what are the adhesive properties, recommends Larry Delesio, business development manager, DAF Products, Inc.
The surface the graphic is installed upon is an important factor. Characteristics like roughness and temperature make a difference in the final outcome. Pizzi points out that many outdoor floor graphics require a graphic suitable for concrete or asphalt surfaces, which are porous and can prove difficult for getting a product to adhere properly. Durability against weather-induced challenges is essential for external floor graphics, but since it is an element not easily controlled, it is important to pick an effective media solution.
Several things to consider are the service temperature of the adhesive on the print media and laminate if required, application temperature of the media, and slope or incline of the surface. “Slope will increase slip potential and should be considered when searching for the correct material for the job,” advises Steve Yarbrough, product specialist, Drytac.
Using media with an ultra-aggressive laminate helps ensure it can stand the test of time outdoors. “Make sure you pair this with an overlaminate made for floor graphics with safety approval and has a strong enough adhesive to stay adhered to the media despite moisture, heat, humidity, and other elements,” suggests Ramos.
PSPs should have a full and complete understanding of the project, customer expectations, and requirements, which all have a part in a successful install. Longevity, performance, minimum and maximum temperatures, weatherability, and adhesive are all factors that should be considered when selecting graphic flooring for outdoor applications, says Bill Rothe, VP, BILD Print Media, by Better Life Technology. “Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations,” he adds.
Weather, Traffic—or Both
Safety and durability are two essential characteristics of a good floor graphic material. However, will one media do it all?
Generally, products that conform well with strong adhesive handle moderate traffic well and extreme conditions, notes Delesio. “Look for products constructed with special features to perform under harsh exposure. For example, a product will resist expansion and contraction associated with very cold or hot conditions.”
Since materials that typically handle traffic are usually textured, they are able to withstand additional handling, says Ramos. He adds that textured materials usually respond more favorably than non-textured films to changes in the elements.
It’s possible to have a product that meets a variety of applications. “Heavy traffic is an issue for all floor graphics as you’re intentionally placing a product in a situation where it will suffer damage in use. I expect all outdoor floor graphics to be able to handle heavier traffic loads as the greatest value comes in exposure to a high amount of foot traffic. Extreme heat or cold is an issue for most vinyl films—to mitigate this you should look at a foil product that won’t shrink or curl,” explains Buckley.
The best material when used outdoors in extreme weather conditions is a foil-based outdoor graphic, agrees Rothe. “Printers should look for the most dimensionally stable material when used as an outdoor floor graphic.”
Stadelman says it’s not about the car wheels running over the graphic as much as the turning of wheels when on top of the graphic. “So much weight and torque can really tear the graphics up and destroy them.”
Kempf calls out the importance of face film, material construction, and the adhesive when evaluating material for exterior ground graphics. “There are premium products available that are appropriately constructed for extreme environmental and/or traffic situations. Aluminum-based products backed with special adhesives that offer resistance to chemicals typically do well in extreme environments, but come with a higher cost,” she shares.
Install and Removal Tactics
Installation and removal steps are not to be forgotten when selecting the right media and overlaminate for an exterior floor graphic.
For proper install and uninstall, Kempf says it is important for the printer/installer to have as much information regarding the exterior space as possible and be able to adjust accordingly based on weather and foot or road traffic conditions.
Many materials require heat when installing and removing the graphics. Heat can stretch or conform the material and loosen the adhesive. “This is a time consuming process and is best handled with experienced installers,” offers Causey.
Both heat and rolling applicators help film conform to rough surfaces to aid in application, shares Eck.
The objective is for the material to achieve 100 percent contact with the surface, explains Causey. “It is critical to firmly compress the material and avoid spanning gaps that can allow moisture to travel underneath and break down the adhesive, resulting in the graphic losing its bond. Properly installed graphics should take on the texture of the surface it is applied to, appearing as if it is pained on,” he adds.
Rothe believes that install and uninstall methods have a lot to do with the substrate the graphic is installed on. “A foil graphic is best used in an asphalt application, whereas any outdoor graphic material could be used on cement with the appropriate adhesive for the application.”
“The floor will dictate the application method due to the surface texture,” agrees Yarbrough. “The rougher a surface is, rollers may be used to get the graphic adhered to all of the recessed areas. Some instances may require a heat gun.”
“Usually outdoor surfaces are rough, so a product with a thick adhesive layer is going to work best. Depending on the nature of the adhesive, sometimes a little heat being used for removal can help things along when the life of the graphic or campaign is over,” explains Reich.
Delesio suggests making sure the surface is clean, free of dirt, salt, water, and chemical contaminates like oil and grease. He says rounded corners will avoid premature edge lifting.
In terms of cleaning, Buckley believes it is often sufficient to sweep or blow the area clear. “Normally washing and chemicals are not required to prepare cement. Consult the product directions for service temperature range—most products are designed to be applied in a mild environment. Extreme cold, heat, humidity, and moisture will all affect the ultimate adhesion of the product.”
“Don’t power wash the area prior to application,” cautions Stadelman. “A simple broom to remove the dust and stones is enough to ensure a good bond to the surface. Temperature is moderately important, the surface should be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but warmer is better.”
Richardson says installers can use a high-powered leaf blower to clean the surface of loose dust and debris prior to installation. “If the graphic is large, a 90 lb. roller with telescoping handle for installing linoleum flooring can be used to aid in making sure good contact between the ground and adhesive is made.”
Floor graphics are an easy add-on to event and promotional signage. “It may sound like a cliché, but the applications are limited only by your imagination—make a powerful statement on asphalt, brick walls, or concrete parking lots,” offers Richardson.
The opportunities are limitless, but it is imperative PSPs are well versed on the anti-slip and durability properties of the media chosen.
Apr2020, Digital Output