By Melissa Donovan
Display and point of purchase (POP) signage has branched out in recent years to include every surface imaginable—in and out of a store. Floors, walls, ceilings, counters, and windows—no area is left behind when it comes to digitally printed graphics.
Window graphics are integral parts of a display and POP campaign, many times it is one of the first messages a customer may see and a deciding factor as to whether they enter a store or not. While the message and image are a large portion of what grabs the attention of the passerby, the material is equally important. Whether PVC or non-PVC, optically clear or perforated; the right media can make or break a campaign.
Above: Mactac offers media for window graphics used in display and POP.
In the Know
Window graphics are available in PVC and non-PVC media options. Most PSPs are familiar with PVC-based materials, however in recent years there have been advancements in durability, handling, and printability of PVC-free options such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyolefin, polyester, polypropylene (PP), and biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP).
PVC-based substrates are commonly used in window graphic applications. They are preferred for their durability, rigidity, cost, and broad range of options in terms of final application.
The manner in which PVC is manufactured plays a primary role in its positive attributes. It can be constructed via calendar or cast process. “Calendered PVC is thicker, stiffer, and less expensive; while cast is more durable, flexible, and is a better UV inhibitor,” explains Chris Jones, VP – wide format and graphics, Mac Papers and Packaging.
With two different manufacturing options, PVC is considered for use in both long- and short-term applications. “Whether looking for a short-term, six month POP promotional graphic or architectural accent that can still look great five to seven years after installation, print providers rely on PVC-based media as their go-to choice,” shares Ross Burnham, senior marketing manager, Mactac.
Austin Eck, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc., believes that “PVC films are better in applications where the graphic is expected to last for an extended period. Cast PVC films provide a long lifespan in outdoor situations where a non-PVC film may not be as well suited for that particular application.”
“Print service providers (PSPs) can offer clients a variety of finished graphics using PVC media, including clear, translucent, opaque, or perforated designs,” adds Adrian Cook, marketing manager, 3M Commercial Solutions.
With PVC so familiar, most PSPs are comfortable handling it from printing to cutting to installing and removing. This why René Bourgeois, VP sales North America, ASLAN Selbstklebefolien GmbH, cautions that a non-PVC material may be different from what PSPs are used to in regards to inkjet compatibility, conformability, handling, installation, and removal.
PVC-free options are attractive as more companies—both the PSP and their customer—recognize the increased positives of utilizing sustainable products.
“Non-PVC materials are beginning to gain market share because they can offer sustainable solutions with reduced negative environmental impact. These materials can offer improved technical performance, especially in certain key areas such as clarity, dimensional stability, ink, and adhesive,” notes Richard Southward, global product manager, labels, Innovia Films.
PVC-free options include PET, polyolefin, polyester, PP, and BOPP. PET is one of the more well-known and used iterations.
“PET films are generally transparent but can also be made translucent or opaque. They also provide heat reduction and security with shatter resistance. PET films are manufactured to last over a decade,” shares Michael Butler, owner, Solar Graphics.
Steve Yarbrough, product support specialist, Drytac, explains that “PET products are more dimensionally stable than PVC, so shrinking is not an issue over time, making them more appealing for long-term graphic applications.”
Another non-PVC option is polyolefin, which features a rigid handle, is ideal for installation of larger sized graphics, and is tear resistant, comments Bekie Berg, product manager, FLEXcon.
Polyester films, on the other hand, feature a higher level of clarity, graphics look as if they have been painted on, can be interior or exterior mounted, and provide two year outdoor durability, adds Berg.
“Polyester films will offer greater duration depending on how displayed and type of adhesion method used. Generally PP films are for more short-term applications; they can yellow faster and breakdown in strong UV light,” explains Larry Delesio, media, business development manager, DAF Graphic Media.
BOPP-based films, according to Southward, are available in high-clarity clear and high-opacity white. They can be used in flat and curved graphic applications.
Sustainable window media in the display and POP space is a consideration, but there seems to be juxtaposition in place when it comes to whether to use it or not. The cost of the material versus the fact that most display and POP applications are generally short-term placements is a challenge.
“It is a paradox in the short-term/POP space because the graphics are changed out frequently, which means customers want low-cost materials but they also are cognizant of the waste they create and the eco-friendly materials they want usually have a higher cost,” notes Cook.
Shaun Jaycox, product specialist, S-One Holdings Corporation, admits that “price is a big factor in end users choosing vinyl over non-PVC options. Eco-friendly window media tends to be more expensive than PVC options, but end users are still requesting it.”
“The environmental pressures on plastic usage and recycling impact many graphic markets. In the retail sector for instance, major supermarkets are eliminating certain plastics from their product packaging and extending this to signage materials within stores. A growing trend is that major events specify PVC-free materials for all graphic advertising and signage applications,” comments Southward.
Those requesting sustainable media options for window graphics include larger retail and other businesses with company-wide sustainable initiatives. “Sustainability requirements trickle down from the end user to the PSP. Now, we have discussions with both that include ideas for PVC-free films, post-consumer based films, and landfill friendly, compostable films,” says Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc.
“Non-PVC materials are on the rise as companies want to be greener with their advertising. Eco-friendly materials are a consideration for windows as well as walls and floors. PSPs are requesting as more of their clients want to be conscientious of the environment and their carbon footprint,” explains Yarbrough.
With more demand comes increased availability and options from media manufacturers. “As a result, pricing is becoming more competitive, making non-PVC options viable in the marketplace. A higher degree of availability, combined with improved pricing levels, allows companies to smoothly transition their window graphics to a greener platform,” shares Jones.
The meanings of eco-friendly, sustainability, and green can be ambiguous. “The term eco-friendly can be interpreted in different ways. I prefer sustainability. Are the materials made in a sustainable manner in an environmentally responsible process? Recycled is in its own category, a material made from recycled plastic bottles lowers the immediate impact on landfill or incineration,” suggests Delesio.
For example, Lintec of America recently launched an optically clear printable window film made from 80 percent recycled content. The recycled film offers the same optical clarity without the substantial upcharge commonly associated with environmentally conscientious films, according to the company.
Also, Phil Hursh, owner/CEO, New Concept Supply, points out that while PVC isn’t as sustainable as non-PVC options, he believes it still suffers an unfair reputation. “Use of lead in the compounding of PVC to act as a scavenger for free radicals when the plastic starts to degrade was eliminated years ago. Use of certain phthalate plasticizers that were found to be suspect of causing health problems if ingested was eliminated years ago as well.”
“The supply chain for existing PVC solutions has become more conscious of their environmental impact, taking steps to reformulate and remove harmful chemicals, incorporate more sustainable materials and practices, and strive for compliance with certain regulations,” agrees Jay Kroll, product manager, General Formulations.
To See or Not to See
Perforated and optically clear window graphics are both used in display and POP. The preferred way to view the intended message or graphic is usually the deciding factor in which is used.
“The choice between perforated and non-perforated media is largely determined by the balance of factors for seeing the graphic message on the media, and seeing through the window itself,” notes Hursh.
Perforated films offer one-way visibility while still allowing natural light transmission. “Generally, perforated window films allow the ability to have a graphic visible from the outside while allowing a minimally impacted view from the inside,” says Colbath.
Graphics visible outside the window while still enabling visibility from inside make perforated media ideal for retail store windows. “Customers and employees can still see through the windows while the message is displayed outside,” explains Jaycox.
Kroll points to new perforation patterns with more print surface, which enhance the visual presentation without compromising the one-way vision component. “This makes it a great option for providing privacy for patrons and workers while still allowing visibility for incoming traffic and light.”
Jones suggests the choice between using a perforated window film versus an optically clear material depends on the end user and type of artwork used. “For example, if a client wants a large window graphic with full ink coverage, a perforated film is well suited. This allows a clear view from inside the store while displaying an eye-catching graphic for customers entering the store from outside. On the other hand, if the graphic has less ink or partial ink coverage and a ‘floating’ look is desired, an optically clear film would be the ideal choice.”
“Clear vinyl is useful for projects in which the graphic is meant to look like part of the glass, such as a store logo or company name. They can provide two-way visibility. An overlaminate or coating can extend the life of clear vinyl if required,” adds Jaycox.
According to Cook, “optically clear materials offer unlimited design flexibility for window graphics. PSPs can create full-color graphics, frosted or etched glass looks, and simulated perforations.”
This is possible when the correct printer hardware is used. “With the right equipment—think white ink option—optically clear becomes very versatile, allowing it to be made into a combination of solid/clear, two sided, and simulated perforation,” shares Delesio.
It’s important to note that window graphics can also start as a white base film. “White graphic material helps PSPs with costs, because they do not have to print white, which slows down printing. It can be paired with a clear graphic material on the opposite side of the window to get a two-sided graphic without having to print white. These white materials should include a blockout layer,” recommends Yarbrough.
The Why of Windows
With various options in regards to the construction of the media, sustainability attributes, and one- or two-way viewing, there is a window graphic media available for seemingly every scenario. Out-of-home retail merchandising relies on standout graphics to attract passerby more than ever, which is why windows are an excellent medium for display and POP graphics.
“Window graphics offer the designer, brand owner, and merchant a new medium to provide fresh, eye-catching imaging that can drive interest and potential new revenue. PSPs are incorporating window graphics as part of their product portfolio to help customers’ transform their businesses and facilities more every day,” suggests Burnham.
A window is an “untapped advertising surface” according to Jones. In most cases, it is highly visible to street traffic and pedestrians. “Vivid, eye-catching window graphics grab the attention of passersby and shoppers and are a relatively low-cost way to market and increase interest in products or services,” he advises.
Many times, “the first point of contact for people on the street is a window—they are everywhere and typically offer plenty of space for creative, innovative graphics,” adds Bourgeois.
Delesio believes windows are a “free and existing advertising space for any business that wishes to promote or convey messaging about their products, promotions, or company.”
The surface of a window is unchallenging. Yarbrough states it is an excellent medium because it is smooth, easy to clean, and easy to install to. Also, because of the option to use a translucent material, backlit effects are possible, creating well-lit displays at night—that’s two different appearances from one graphic.
“Window films are requested in POP spaces due to the fact that there is usually a higher number of customers or employees in the area. Advertising that also provides energy saving benefits as well as increased comfortability is a highly sought attribute,” explains Butler.
There will always be a need for people to go out and purchase items—despite the onslaught on ecommerce-based shopping in the last year. Peter Van de Vivere, head of marketing department, Grafityp, believes physical shopping will eventually become an experience. “A way to relax, in which people clearly know in advance what they are looking for. In the future, it will therefore certainly be important that the visual looks of shops and their internal visual decoration stand out. Each of them in their own specific segment and approach.”
“Brick-and-mortar businesses still rely on POP signage to capture customers’ attention. Window displays provide visual interest, draw the customer inside the store, increase impulse sales, and provide product information that customers may need to make a purchase decision. POP graphics can inform customers about brands and special offers that create additional incentive to buy,” suggests Jaycox.
A Way In
In the display and POP space, window graphics are some of the first forms of messaging a customer will experience when immersing themselves with a brand. In a world of saturated media messaging—whether scrolling through your phone or paying attention to the physical scene around you—window graphics stand out for their polish and pizazz.
Apr2021, Digital Output