A Real Glass Act

As leading print service providers diversify into new areas and seek to grow their customer rosters, many find window graphics offer clear advantages.

Because window graphics are typically installed at eye level and boast considerable stopping power, they appeal to large and small business clients alike. They also are attractive to advertising agencies, design shops, and other providers that lack the equipment, experience, or expertise to produce window graphics, and thus meet their own clients’ demand for this unique product.

Window graphics represent new media spaces that didn’t exist a few years ago, and also offer cost effective ad placement for marketing messages. Few other media deliver as much impact as a mini-billboard sized graphic positioned right next to the door of the retail store or company it is promoting.

That fact alone makes window graphics ideal for urban or shopping mall environments in which density, a high volume of pedestrian traffic, and a plethora of other ad messages scream out for promotional pieces that turn heads.

Window graphics are changeable and great for promotions and sales, making them timely for clients and high-volume revenue boosters for providers.

In short, it’s transparent that window graphics offer a profitable opportunity for business expansion to providers already well versed in large-format printing.

Selling Windows

Though not a large part of its output, window graphics for the last dozen years have provided substantial plus business for Portland’s Oregon Blueprint, a family-run company focused on banners, billboards, vehicle graphics, and point-of-purchase materials, founded by president Chris Underwood’s grandfather Walt in 1945. OBP Signs & Graphics is Oregon Blueprint’s color division.

“We’re not dealing with the customer in terms of selling them,” Underwood said of his vehicle graphics business. “We do a lot of work for other sign shops that can’t afford the equipment that we have. We’ve done a lot of fairly high-exposure national campaigns. We also get business from ad agencies and display companies that lack their own production facilities.

“We partner with them to do their production, so they can concentrate on what they do best, and leave the expertise in window graphics to our company.”

The window graphics his company provides tend most frequently to be stand-alone in nature, Underwood said. But in some instances they can be integrated into a more comprehensive program, one that features the product being promoted, a mannequin, and perhaps a banner for a backdrop, he adds.

Digigraph Xpress LLC of Kansas City, MO, is another print provider with an expertise in window graphics, which are regarded as complementary products to the shop’s banners, fleet graphics, trade show displays, and posters.

President Joe Duffy said his company mainly serves retail and other small businesses that seek the graphics to help them build identity. The company handles everything from straight-cut vinyl to white-backed transparent film.

“Most of ours are corporate branding, and I believe they should work as part of larger branding campaigns,” Duffy said. “But in many instances, they stand alone, hopefully reflecting a consistent branded look of the company.”

Window graphics are not top of mind with every client, he added. Many customers who come to Digigraph Xpress for window graphics do so at the behest of architects or designers they work with, who understand the graphics’ value in visibility and stopping power. Because they’re not top of mind, window graphics represent a growth area for shops, Duffy said. “You can do four-color work that, dollar for dollar, makes quite a valuable impression,” he added. “It can be illuminated at night. And doing it on the inside [of a shop window] frees you from having to be concerned with permits and durability of the materials.” As a manufacturer of window graphics, it’s the responsibility of Vernon Display Graphics, a Carlstadt, NJ-based provider, to give national companies what their design firms or departments are seeking. “Sometimes, what we’ll do is a flagship store, where we do the entire window,” said general manager and vice president of sales Andrew Gabriel. “We give that window virtually complete coverage, which would be cost prohibitive in all the retailer’s stores.”

But there isn’t much persuading required of Vernon. “For the liquor industry, we’ll do large window graphics that are generally on a static cling interior mount,” Gabriel said. “Generally, it’s their idea to do the window graphic. We’re not dealing with a mom-and-pop that we have to convince.”

At Denver’s New Vista Image, a seven-year-old company specializing in corporate interior graphics, wall murals, museum exhibits, and vehicle graphics, the staff is comparatively new to window graphics.

But the company has begun working with a retail association called the Downtown Denver Partnership, which uses New Vista Image-produced window graphics on the windows of an empty storefront that stands prominently along the 16th Street Mall, a heavily-trafficked pedestrian mall with a free shuttle.

The window graphics are changed out seasonally by the partnership, and have showcased graphics to help sell downtown Denver as a viable retail center, said New Vista Image president Ann Brown. Among graphics used have been eye-catching images of fireworks, and of the Denver skyline at dusk, she said.


Keys to Success

A number of factors are important in ensuring success in the segment of window graphics, veterans of the field say. Among the most important is picking materials that fit the project’s requirements. “You must have the knowledge of what will suit [clients’] needs,” Underwood said. It might be “low-tack with an adhesive for short-term projects, or window cling for something that’s put up for a month. You can use a more permanent adhesive, such as polyethylene film designed to last longer, for longer standing applications.”

Perforated films are popular, because they allow those inside the interior space to look outside through the glass, while also permitting exterior light to penetrate through the window. “If you have a showroom, where people need to look out and light’s important, that’s the right material for a graphic,” he added.

As for regulations impacting window graphics, they appear to differ widely from one city or town to the next, Underwood reported.

“You have to be aware of what you’re getting into, and what’s legally accepted,” he advised. “Some municipal restrictions regard a window graphic on the outside of a window as an outdoor sign, requiring you to get sign permits in order to hang them—although some try to get around that.”

For his part, Gabriel reported some municipalities don’t require permits for window graphics because they regard that space as part of the owner’s store. Others insist store owners obtain an outdoor signage permit, he said. However, a larger issue is often where the graphics are going. “You may need a lift if the window is particularly tall, and that sometimes requires a permit,” he reported.

At Digigraph Xpress, Duffy reports he hasn’t had to deal with many permit issues, though graphics from his shop don’t usually go outside. “Most of the stuff we do is on the inside for that reason,” he said, referring to the fact that creating graphics for insides of windows is one way to avoid or reduce permit issues.

Brown reports her shop faced a number of concerns to ensure its window graphics look right. “The installation has to be done in warmer weather,” she said, referring to a temperature range of 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit recommended for installation. “We had to gear our installation around a day with temperatures in that range. That involved rescheduling at least once.”

Resolution was another key issue, as New Vista Image was producing window graphics that used photographic images. “We worked with a Denver photographer, and sometimes photographers’ work is geared to a small application,” she said. “We needed it to be at least 300 DPI at full size.”

Also, when working with panel-to-panel images, adding a half-inch bleed on all sides can be critical. New Vista Image always conducts a site survey and takes its own measurements, no matter what dimensions the client cites. “There needs to be some flexibility for the installer,” Brown reported. “But it’s amazing how many people produce panels without bleed; with no margin for error.”

For those window graphics providers that produce a higher volume of work, the hiring of competent and experienced installation teams is a must.

“Your installer makes you or breaks you,” Duffy asserted. “You don’t want to roll it up and send it to the customer and have them put it up themselves.

“An experienced installer, knowledgeable about the material used—and there are lots of great products—who’s tested it before putting it up, is crucial.”

Underwood calls good installation right up there with selection of the right products as keys to success. “We hire outside installers,” he said. “We have a couple of groups of several installers here in Portland, and they only do installation. They travel around the country and they know what they’re doing.”

Reflecting on her work for Downtown Denver Partnership, Brown surely speaks for many print service providers who would like to produce more window graphics. “We like the visual effect,” she said. “And it’s good advertising for us.”