By Melissa Donovan
Windows are necessary to see in and out, but they also present challenges whether outside facing or placed internally in a building. Specialty films and vinyl are designed to adhere to windows and combat common issues. Features like blocking glare, keeping heat in—or out, and offering privacy and security are all attributed to these materials.
Companies specializing in window film installation are knowledgeable in choosing and applying the right material for the job at hand. As it becomes necessary in this day and age to really diversify oneself from the competition and meet client demands, many window film install companies add digital printing to their services to offer custom window graphics. Privacy and design are taken next level when meeting custom requests.
Shade to Graphics
In 2010, Great Lakes Film and Shade, LLC started out of owner Brian Hongsermeier Jr.’s house as a commercial and residential window film installation company. A decade later the company significantly expanded its service offering. It now provides automotive window tint, printed wall graphics, floor graphics, 3M DI-NOC installation, vehicle lettering and wraps, as well as flat glass film installation.
The company’s changes are reflected in its geographical location as well as a new name. As of December 2020, it had just moved into a 5,000 square foot building in Milwaukee, WI; were finishing up a second 2,000 square foot location in Madison, WI; and also has a facility in Rockford, IL.
Part of the move was necessary due to the fact that in 2018 it leased a Mimaki USA, Inc. UCJV300-160 printer/cutter for its custom print applications—expanding its equipment portfolio. Prior to this, it had outsourced printing services, however as demand grew, Hongsermeier began his search for in-house printing capabilities.
“I was waiting for the tipping point of demand, possible opportunities, and looking for the right equipment to fit our needs,” he explains.
With the Mimaki printer in house, the company changed its name to Great Lakes Film and Graphics to better align with its capabilities and markets served. Today it employs a staff of six and services most of WI and Northern IL.
Hongsermeier first learned about the benefits of digital printing about 12 years ago. He witnessed decorative films take off and believed printing could be extension of that. “I wanted to set Great Lakes apart as being able to print in house and shorten both design and production time.”
The Mimaki UCJV300-160 64-inch printer/cutter allows Great Lakes to stand out. When it leased the Mimaki device in 2018, according to Hongsermeier no other local window film company had their own printer at the time.
It chose the printer/cutter for practical reasons. The original vendor it was outsourcing to also had the printer/cutter, so it was familiar with its output—and so were its clients. “For our business we needed to be able to print white with quality and consistency. The range of the printer is amazing,” adds Hongsermeier.
Part of the UCJV300 Series from Mimaki, the device offers inline cutting capabilities and features multi-layer printing for transitional or double-facing images. The UV LED ink is instantly cured, meaning applications are efficiently created in short turnarounds. Great Lakes runs CMYK plus white and clear in the printer.
Hongsermeier admits that dialing in a profile using white ink is probably the most challenging part of a job. This is especially true when a design is trying to match an off-the-shelf decorative film that may have already been used. Besides this, other challenges include the common struggle of obtaining usable, high-resolution artwork from clients as well as understanding their vision and bringing it to life.
Media and Location
The right media needs to run on the device as well. When it comes to substrates, the key criteria for the folks at Great Lakes is visual quality. “We need material that is optically clear and provides distortion-free viewing. If we have a clear space, it needs to look like there is nothing there,” explains Hongsermeier.
Common materials printed to include optically clear window film, stock frost film, and vinyl. Brands include Lintec of America, Inc. and ORAFOL Americas, Inc. Enhancements in printable and non-printable window film in recent years have influenced where and how these substrates are used.
“A common misconception of window film is it turns purple, fades, and bubbles. That is just not the case with modern technology and industry-leading manufacturers bringing quality products to market. Designers, architects, and contractors include film use as a possible solution to many problems—heat gain, fading, and glare control. Window film use is incorporated more during the project design stage at this time and covering more glass,” shares Hongsermeier.
For example, a good portion of Great Lakes’ business includes frosted films used in floor-to-ceiling office partition glass. The company applies both stock and custom print options. While corporate settings commonly achieve a more open office environment feel, privacy is still needed in certain instances, and this is where frosted films come in. A custom designed frost might be used in a conference room to provide privacy or a custom printed frost may be created as a branding opportunity for the company to share its message throughout the space.
Offices aren’t the only locations that benefit from window films. Great Lakes does work for other market verticals like education, museums, and hospitality.
More Than Install
Designers, architects, and contractors request window film during the project design stage. This presents more opportunity for window film installation companies like Great Lakes. It allows them to educate and showcase its talents when it comes to digitally printing film and even vinyl to create custom designs that serve practical and aesthetic purposes.
Apr2021, Digital Output