By Melissa Donovan
Imagery for glass—whether a door, window, partition, or other type of divider—is a great way to heighten the visual aesthetic of a space in addition to serving a practical purpose of security, privacy, and protection from heat and UV glare. When designing for commercial and residential projects, architecture and design agencies lean toward digital print as an alternative to other decorative processes like glass etching or sandblasting.
Using digital printing capabilities to create graphics intended for glass opens up possibilities for both print service providers (PSPs) and end users. PSPs accustom to working with retail brands appreciate how the same benefits apply with architectural firms and interior designers. Advantages include the low cost of creating custom, one-off pieces that offer a high-quality appearance.
Above: Work completed for Shriners Hospitals for Children in Montreal, QC, Canada using Contra Vision window media.
A Great Partner
Architecture and design firms are rewarding customers for PSPs offering window graphics. Beyond traditional signage work, partnering with these types of clients secures jobs large in scope—with multiple feet of media printed; as well as repeat business. Conversely, PSPs provide architects and designers with a fresh take on a job.
PSPs offer a different approach to the design process. “Utilizing creativity is key. As a PSP the ability to execute creative and unique solutions—that not just anyone can do—is lucrative. Typically, architectural firms offer a nonstandard approach to design. When customers can be involved in these solutions and incorporate refreshes into their spaces, the value margin rapidly increases,” suggests Tammi Johnson, business development manager, 3M Commercial Solutions.
“Architecture and design firms are always looking for a way maximize the utilization of space in retail and corporate settings. Because of that, designers often use PSPs to create graphics that add pop to these spaces,” agrees Austin Eck, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
Jim Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec of America, Inc., believes architecture and design firms are great partners and customers for PSPs, mainly because they are so involved in product specification. Furthermore, once the agency is aware of the benefits of a certain material or print capability, it typically translates into future business.
This is because “most firms work with customers that have large scale graphic needs and/or multiple locations if they are representing nationally branded companies,” explains Steve Yarbrough, product support specialist, Drytac. This equals a high square footage of printed media.
“Architectural graphics often cover a large surface area so that is a lot of print. Customers are also willing to pay a premium to get the best results, especially when the graphics are a central feature that lifts the design of the building. A successful project also means the printer has a very visible reminder of their work across companies with high print budgets,” adds Roger Hill, managing director, Contra Vision Ltd.
Graphics for glass—whether windows, doors, or partitions—are an attractive and lucrative application to offer architect and design firm customers. The use of graphics on these surfaces are for practical and non-practical reasons. Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumable supplies, Roland DGA Corporation, refers to window graphics as “functional art” applications, or graphics that are used for décor, while also serving a functional purpose. These are found in both commercial and residential settings.
One example of a commercial setting is office space. “Window graphics are growing in popularity as means for privacy and inexpensive decoration for office spaces. They can be placed on glass between cubicles to provide separation or on meeting room walls to create a comfortable space. They can also be changed out frequently, produced in large sizes, and are considerably less expensive than artwork,” shares Cory Jones, associate product manager wide format, GBC/SEAL, part of ACCO Brands.
Windows in Vogue
Current trends in window graphic materials, printing, and design are favorable in terms of architecture and design firms’ requirements. For example, when tasked with creating a design for a partition in an office, a certain level of privacy is required but it may also need to be see through. Printable optically clear media as well as etched and frosted options address this. They are preferable because of their ability to add privacy and decoration to a space without eliminating all the natural light, says Eck.
“Some of the newer, easy-to-install window graphic materials offer frosted or fabric-type finishes that look great in high-end retail, hospitality environments, and even conference rooms. There are more options for perforated window films, temporary and permanent adhesive vinyl, and adhesive-backed fabrics that work well on windows,” shares Shaun Jaycox, product specialist, S-One Holdings Corporation.
For clear materials, those designed with scratch-resistance coatings are popular. “This allows graphics to be printed on surfaces resistant to damage when installed with the additional characteristic of a clear substrate,” explains Randy Garcia, regional technical manager, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.
Other features in material intended for a window graphic that architects and designers specify include longevity and whether certain standards are met. Halloran provides a noted example, ASTM E84, which is a standard test method for surface burning characteristics of building materials.
Popular printing techniques influence window trends as well. Combining white ink options with clear materials presents new opportunities. Johnson provides an example of using white ink in a multi-layered print process where the colors aren’t distorted, allowing for a two-way vision graphic. “These new printing capabilities mean more opportunities to provide unique graphics so designs themselves can be that much more creative.”
“By printing with flexible UV inks, PSPs can create window graphics that have the texture and depth that mimic etched, engraved, or frosted glass. They can also create beautiful stained glass effects without the high cost of the real thing,” suggests Matthew Adams, sales executive, North America, Scitop-USA LLC.
Design trends are also a focus point. “These tend to be heading into a larger format, embracing an entire area of many windows with a still picture, kind of what you see in Las Vegas a lot. These designs are cleaner and eye appealing. Less verbiage and more scenic gives the building a more elegant look especially with the colors and improved images they can now produce,” says Russell Nicoletti, CEO, Infinity Media Company.
Help is Here
Media manufacturers as well as suppliers are available to help PSPs leverage existing window graphics capabilities and reach new customers like architecture and design firms. Different avenues of education exist from in-person consultations to web-based portals that offer options to network with peers and communicate with subject matter experts.
Vendors are resources when it comes to specifics regarding working with architects and designers. “We let print providers know that there are firms that can and will dictate what is used based on sustainability, compliance with certain standards, recyclability, as well as what material is recommended for specific locations and removability. It is best to know beforehand what materials fit this bill when working with firms,” recommends Yarbrough.
A PSP’s skills are priceless to firms of this nature. “PSPs may also have a greater knowledge of local sign codes than designers. That expertise may prove invaluable when trying to help a design firm install window signage for a commercial building,” explains Eck.
Adams says media vendors are creating materials ideal for the architecture and design client. This includes graphic media safe for all surfaces, installation without bubbles, and removable without any residue even after long-term application.
“As trends evolve we try to adapt to those changes with the products we offer. As print technologies and materials evolve, the solutions are becoming easier to print and install while creating the type of look the designers are trying to achieve,” agrees Jaycox.
A Whole New World
PSPs familiar with printing to window media should consider leveraging prior experience to expand into a whole new market opportunity. Both architecture and design firms are lucrative customers. Some of the latest trends in window graphics are aimed directly at the needs of both of these customers, specifically printable etched or frosted glass and optically clear media.
Nov2019, Digital Output