By Cassandra Balentine
Wide format graphics are all about impact. With the help of display hardware and lighting, backlit graphics generate attention. Many variables—like the type of display hardware or substrate—provide options for lots of print service providers (PSPs).
While fabric media is trending in backlit, especially paired with popular silicone edge graphics (SEG) frames, more traditional backlit films hold their value. “When done correctly, backlit film displays vibrant graphics to catch the attention of a passersby and effectively highlight promotional products and services,” says Nate Goodman, product manager, Drytac.
Andreas DeGroot, senior marketing manager, Sihl Inc., adds that backlit films offer a luminous quality that gives a graphic the appearance of depth. “It is very eye catching, which for retail graphics is ideal. Because of the backlit nature, it is also easier to read any information printed on the graphic, making it memorable.”
Retail and restaurant signage as well as point of purchase (POP) are ideal candidates since they benefit from the quality and readability backlit film displays offer.
Backlit Film Popularity
Backlit signage provides a standout solution for retail and restaurant settings. In the retail space—including venues like airports and bus stations—cosmetic, jewelry, and high-tech customers want the color pop and high-quality look achieved with the help of backlit films. This type of signage is also prevalent in wayfinding, kiosk, and museum applications.
Rebecca Fuhrman, marketing development manager, Tekra, a division of EIS, Inc., suggests that backlit films have stood the test of time due to their durability and ability to produce crisp images. “The versatility of film and various plastics allow there to be an option for each application from menu boards to scrolling signage,” she adds.
Angel Georgiou, senior marketing specialist, imaging supplies, Canon Solutions America, agrees, explaining that although traditional films have slowed down in the inkjet market, they are still used for retail high-end product applications on UV and latex printers. She points out that many are looking for a replacement for traditional photographic backlit films that were printed on Lightjet or Lambda printers.
Backlit signage helps readability when there is little ambient light or excessive sun glare. “Displays of food and jewelry are perennial favorites for backlit signage as well as signs competing for attention in crowded areas with other signage,” offers DeGroot.
Kylie Schleicher, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc., suggests that retailers seek to attract attention with crisp, clear images and vibrant colors, particularly in the technology sector. “High-tech promotions for smartphones and tablets allow the customer to visualize the product as it is intended for use.” She says backlit films use advanced ink technologies to produce vivid images and offer higher output resolution enabling the customer to see how the phone/tablet will appear.
Fabric vs. Film
Although still relevant and utilized, backlit film is competing with fabric. However, like any substrate decision, there are advantages and challenges to each selection and the choice is largely dependent on the specific job.
Ted Isbell, graphic specialist, Piedmont Plastics, agrees. “Although fabric backlit products are growing at a fast pace, polyester film backlit products are still extremely popular for many applications we are regularly in contact with as a company,” he comments.
Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation, says backlit film products are ideal for indoor retail signage, and even for decoration and art applications. “They are popular because they offer a look and feel that is different from fabric,” she shares.
Fuhrman points out that specifically, polyester and polycarbonate films are seen in high-end, large format graphic display applications. Compared with backlit fabrics, “films offer crisper, more vibrant colors, which allow for more pop as well as smoother gradients in images such as skin tone,” she continues.
DeGroot believes that advertisements with a lot of detail or those that require a wider color gamut benefit from backlit film over fabric. In addition, films are better for displays that will be viewed up close or in place for an extended period of time.
“Films have that ‘photographic look’ and can be scrutinized at distances of inches,” agrees Shaun Jaycox, product specialist, S-One Holdings Corporation.
In addition to quality, cost is a factor in determining the best solution. This takes into account the media cost, but also labor in terms of production and installation.
Georgiou says that with films, you’re paying for the “durability, stability, image quality, feel, and look of those images in a light box that is 4×5 feet.” She explains that if printed on aqueous inkjet, the product provides beautiful images, but may become quite expensive per square foot. “Fabric can be less expensive—we offer a $.54 square foot 100 percent polyester fabric. Fabric panels can be folded and sent out instead of rolled up in a tube, which reduces cost,” she points out.
Hunter admits that sublimated backlit fabrics can be easier to install than backlit film. “Sublimated backlit fabrics are generally SEG, where the silicone keder or beading is sewn into the fabric. These are easily installed and extruded frames.” Fabric can cost less overall, and it doesn’t require a diffuser layer like backlit film does. “These days, more fabric manufactures offer lower cost fabrics for sublimation backlit applications,” she shares.
On the other hand, Schleicher shares that backlit films can be less expensive than fabrics and are easier to finish and install. “There is no need for sewing or grommets and films can be adhered to acrylic and installed to the frame easier.”
Isbell says fabrics are best when printed via the dye-sublimation (dye-sub) process, which adds labor, transfer paper, and a higher cost per square foot of fabric media.
DeGroot sees several benefits to textilebased backlit graphics, but says film is more durable and looks better over a longer period of time. He believes that films do not dirty as easily as a fabric graphic might. “Most backlit fabric is imaged using dye-sub, and the image quality is not as good as an image printed on a coated film backlit.”
Backlit Benefits in Retail
As previously mentioned, backlit film products offer advantages from a color vibrancy and readability standpoint. These factors really matter when it comes to retail and restaurant settings. Ease of graphic changeover and the ability to view in day or night settings is also important.
“Backlit films offer versatility,” states Fuhrman. Various film types enable outdoor signage, such as menu boards, and the high-end look that is often sought for retail and cosmetics. “The breadth of plastics available for the digital print market is widening daily, and this allows customers to find a film that is tailored to a specific project, whether they need crisp print quality, heat, chemical, or water resistance,” she says.
In a retail or restaurant setting, Georgiou believes it is polyester film’s stability that stands out. She says they are dimensionally stable for ink adhesion and archiveability of an image. “Where the ozone might be a bit more mixed with odors from a restaurant, the film images would weather better for the long term.”
Schleicher says backlit films are easily changed, offering retailers the ability to update their promotions frequently.
“For graphics that will be installed by the retail store or restaurant personnel, film backlit signs are easier to install and end with a professional look,” explains DeGroot. “Backlit films either drop into channels or are clipped onto the frame.
Mary Davis, director, wide format and graphics, Mac Papers, agrees, noting that backlit films are ideal for POP, retail, and restaurant settings because they are easy to refresh for a new promotion or menu. “In restaurants, backlit films can also offer benefits for low or ambient lighting dining environments, helping the menu or signage grab customer attention. Menus in particular are easier to read when backlit.”
Features to Consider
In addition to the advantages specific to retail and POP applications, several other considerations help PSPs determine which—if any—backlit film is the best fit for the job at hand. Durability and cost are primary considerations, but other factors enter the decision, including “green” requirements, printer/ink technology compatibility, the media’s white point, versatility, thickness, and finish.
Environmental considerations drive some decision making when it comes to selecting the right media for a backlit job. “Having an offering that allows for recyclability is important, as well as having an offering that is print receptive on eco-friendly press types, such as latex,” says Fuhrman. However, she adds that durability, color, and versatility remain important in conjunction with environmental properties.
Davis sees requests for paper- and fiberbased backlit options for eco-conscientious reasons. This makes sense especially if the finished product is used in a shorter term application.
“Many companies consider their environmental footprint, choosing to select ecofriendly products. They will not purchase PVC films so PET alternatives provide great options,” offers Goodman.
However, Isbell argues that he “sees little regard for this product to be eco-friendly,” and that print quality is a larger concern in most applications.
The coating of the media plays a role. “You want to have a film with a coating compatible with the ink type of the printer,” cautions DeGroot. “Aqueous inkjet printers typically deliver the best color density and resolution. Latex and eco-solvent inkjet printers deliver great image quality with better production speeds. UV-curable inkjet printers are best for high production rates with no wait time before post processing. The best option for flexibility and durability is a polyester-based film.”
“Many films are compatible with today’s most popular pigment ink systems, which provide excellent lightfastness over time, especially when compared to images made with dye-based inks. Although dyes provide a broad color gamut with impressive color vibrancy, they are more prone to light fade than images made using pigmented inks,” explains Jaycox.
White point is also up for discussion. “When a graphic is placed in front of a light source, every little defect is highlighted. It is important to have an even opacifying layer—the white layer that diffuses the light. If the opacifying layer is not even, it can create hot spots where the light will be brighter and the colors of the graphic distorted. Pinholes are a serious flaw that generates a beacon of light coming right out of the graphic,” continues DeGroot.
Hunter notes that while the white point of media is important, some clear backlit films can be used to achieve a different appearance, and in those cases white point isn’t a consideration. “It all depends on whether you’re looking for a transparent or translucent look,” she suggests.
“A good white point provides a more appealing image in terms of vibrancy and color pop. It also enables automated routers/cutters to read print marks more effectively,” points out Goodman.
Isbell shares that white point is important, but not as important as the light source behind the backlit image. “With so many different LEDs producing various lumens, the light source is the determining factor,” he says.
Davis adds that since many backlit films have white added with UV printing, white point isn’t as important.
The type of finish that is chosen depends on the specific look you’re trying to achieve. A matte finish reduces glare, while gloss delivers more shine. “It really depends on personal preference, the specific application, and the particular atmosphere of the retail or restaurant environment,” explains Hunter.
“While a smooth gloss finish seems to be most popular, a matte finish gives a less shiny look and a velvet finish can help diffuse the light source. In this instance, films that offer double-sided printing give the printer greater options to make a single film work for multiple projects,” recommends Fuhrman.
Versatility is another important consideration for backlit media. Davis suggests that options acceptable for both indoor and outdoor use are ideal. PSPs can then use the same media for a number of different applications depending on their customers.
Goodman adds that having a print media that can be used on multiple print platforms and for multiple applications is advantageous. As such, many print providers would be attracted to such substrate options.
Tamara Pitman, product manager and Kristina Devine, senior marketing and pricing specialist, Coveris Advanced Coatings, note that backlit prints feature rich colors, specifically deep black. “For this reason, day/night backlit films are desirable because “the images look great even when the light box is off.”
The thickness of a film is another point. “Thicker films work well with channel displays and thinner films work with clip or snap displays,” suggests DeGroot.
Isbell says in an effort to reduce the cost, many people will go with a thinner gauge of PET film. “These products will often show oil canning or a waviness when installed,” he cautions.
Gary York, wide format specialist, Agfa Graphics, warns of wrinkling as a concern for backlit film. “People sometimes use paper for a cheap backlit, but if you use a film or fabric that is properly stretched, there won’t be any wrinkling of the media. If it sags on the display, that’s a bad thing. People don’t want to see saggy or wrinkly displays.”
He adds that backlit media should be able to withstand high-heat environments without melting.
Backlit applications provide an attention-grabbing alternative to nonilluminated signage. Films are especially attractive for retail, restaurant, and POP applications because they offer a high-end look that is both vibrant and readable. While fabric offers a suitable alternative in certain scenarios, backlit film holds its value and place in the graphic arts thanks to its versatility and cost effectiveness.
Oct2016, Digital Output