Windows of Opportunity

Print service providers are always looking to diversify and expand their customer base. Window graphics allow PSPs to produce new creative media spaces and provide premium ad placement for their customers’ marketing messages.

This month, WFI examines some of the reasons to consider adding window graphics to your portfolio of services for existing and new customers, and probes the cautions to keep in mind before jumping into this space.

Most important, we also investigate some of the head-turning applications made possible by the newer generation of films, as a way of demonstrating the creativity possible in this growing segment of the market.


Why Consider Window Graphics

There are many good reasons to explore the window graphics segment of the printing industry. Among the best reasons is window graphics’ ability to expand your customer base and increase capabilities to existing clients.

“It’s always a wise business practice to expand your base of customers,” says Paul Roba, North America technical manager with Avery Dennison Graphics and Reflective Solutions. “You can offset the ups and downs of business by diversifying your clients. You can offer window graphics to your existing customers, broaden your product portfolio, and use it to provide an entrée to new customers.”

Window graphics are an upsell from the floor and wall graphics PSPs are likely already offering customers, adds Jason Yard, marketing and training specialist for graphic products with MACtac. And customers are likely to be intrigued by the potential offered by window graphics.

“A lot of retail establishments, restaurants, and fast food places have an abundance of windows. If they’re not being used, they should be.”

Jim Holloran, vice president of sales and marketing for Lintec of America, agrees. “It’s an advertising area; space that already exists,” he says. “With the technology existing today, if you can leverage UV or latex printing with the right substrates, you can turn glass into works of art.”

Tammi Johnson, business development manager for one of the film lines of 3M Commercial Graphics, agrees. “There’s already real estate there,” she says. “You have a site where you can add graphics to promote that facility’s products or to add a decorative element. And beyond that, if someone has a window and doesn’t want to promote their own products and services, they can use that window as leased space. Maybe that window represents a multitude of businesses. It will bring people in off the street, and in addition it can be used to promote your community involvement in an awareness campaign.”

Another compelling factor, Johnson says, is that window graphics can be produced on the same equipment PSPs are already using in house to produce their signs, point-of-purchase materials, vehicle wraps, and other graphics.

With a fairly small portfolio of products, they can create a wide range of effects. Perforated films can provide a view through the window, while ensuring some privacy. Clear window films allow for unobstructed views from each side of the window. And the use of layering can allow PSPs to provide their customers with different messages on the inside and outside of the glass, she says.

Judy Bellah, spokeswoman for Clear Focus, argues that with perforated window graphics, virtually every glass surface is a window of opportunity. “Part of the challenge is simply becoming more aware of the advertising and decorative potential of ubiquitous glass surfaces,” she says. “The next step is to look at one’s existing customer base and target key markets with the most promise, such as retail stores, auto dealerships, commercial offices like banks, credit unions, real estate firms, and other suitable sectors.”

Bellah adds that the concept of perforated, see-through window graphics is still new to many businesses. Rather than just trying to make a sale, PSPs can offer greater value in their relationships with customers by educating them to the benefits of window graphics. Those benefits, she adds, include a wide array of uses ranging from promotional to branding to architectural and residential.

Additional benefits include heat and glare reduction, as well as clear visibility through the window for staff and customers. “Clients will be more likely to work with shops that understand their needs and help them satisfy their marketing objectives,” she adds.


Cautionary Wisdom

All these upsides don’t negate the fact that window graphics represent a very different kind of graphic, and one with different issues. One of the most important concerns of those who produce window graphics is installation.

“Windows are obviously made of glass, which is a high-energy surface,” Yard says. “That requires a low-tack adhesive. So if an installer or a store employee doesn’t have the experience to install these kinds of graphics, he or she will find them more challenging than a floor or wall graphic.”

Many shops keep in-house installers on staff, while others contract out the installation, he adds. Often, they will ship their graphics to the end user, including instructions so the manager or counter person can handle installation.

“In many cases, when we talk about end users doing the application, it’s generally a poster-sized, not a full window [graphic],” Yard says. “The smaller window usually is a temporary graphic, so if they get a bubble or a wrinkle, it’s not a problem. It’s likely going to be down in a month anyway.”

In general, higher-end, longer term graphics are installed by professional installers, he adds. Some graphics can be sustained outdoors for three months to three years. If it’s an indoor application, it can last five to seven years. “But much depends on the media you choose,” Yard adds.

For his part, Roba feels embracing window graphics has very little downside. As long as PSPs acquire and use the proper products, convert them properly and install them properly, there are lots of accompanying positives.

“The only downside is if you get into large window opportunities,” he says. “It’s difficult to install, because you need special equipment and permits. It’s a great challenge for a small shop. But they can definitely sub out installation.”

If installing graphics yourself, keep in mind most are applied wet, Roba says. Wet applications offer the opportunity to correctly position the graphics, as well as ensure excellent “wet-out” of the adhesives to avoid leaving squeegee marks after the installation is complete. Solutions like soap and water, isopropyl alcohol and water, and/or commercially sold solutions are appropriate.

“But never use window cleaners like Windex,” he says. “The ammonia in those products will result in premature failure of the pieces. And your final cleaning on the window should be with isopropyl alcohol, which eliminates any ammonia, and any residues that could negatively impact the installation.”

In material selection, he adds, it’s essential the converter verifies that the adhesive on the material chosen will work with the wet application.


Secrets of Success

Bellah believes there are only upsides to entering the window graphics niche. But the right equipment, media, and expertise can enhance the chances of long-term success.

“PSPs that have cut their teeth on wrapping curvaceous vehicles should be able to transfer their experience and skills with relative ease to flat-glass applications, such as retail store windows,” she asserts. “Those specializing in banners and other types of traditional signage that don’t wish to take on vehicle wraps may decide to partner with a local company experienced in vehicle graphic production and installation. The combined expertise can be a win-win.”

Although window perf films cost more than some other print substrates, they represent only a small portion of overall job costs, and any extra expense tends to be offset by the films’ significant advantages, Bellah reports.

While the majority of window graphics films are exterior mounting, interior window films are an option for preventing graffiti, or for situations in which local ordinances prohibit use of exterior-mounted signage. Clear Focus offers several products for second-surface applications, Bellah says.

The most successful PSPs focus on the end task, know who will install the graphics, and understand the substrate on which they will print, Holloran says. In other words, they correctly match the substrate to the application.

“There are differences between acrylic, PET, and PVC,” he reports. “They shrink differently, perform differently, and remove differently.”


Applications Worth Noticing

No one entering the window graphics market should be concerned their creativity will be hampered by lack of material choices. Today’s array of window films is wider and more varied than ever before, experts say.

One notable example is perforated window film used in combination with building wraps, Yard says. “They use a product like RoughRAP that’s designed for rough brick and concrete block, as well as a perforated window film to provide a continuous image that moves across both the windows and the structural walls of the building,” he explains. “It‘s often seen on a high-rise or, for instance, a five-story hotel or hospital. We‘ve had it in different climates and applications.”

Privacy films for office settings are another increasingly popular choice, Yard says. “This is used indoors, and it’s in a lot of conference rooms or office fronts that include glass windows. Instead of putting blinds or shades on that front window, privacy film will be installed to provide some opacity so interior occupants enjoy natural light, without allowing outsiders to see in.”

Attention-getting looks can be achieved with some of the newer window films, Roba says. An example? By screen printing on Avery SF 100 Ultra Clear, one shop created custom gem tone colors like rich rubies, emeralds, and sapphires to decorate the window of an upscale clothing store.

Another look is that of etched glass. “One of our most successful campaigns was the use of an etched glass film on 7-Eleven storefronts,” Roba says, referring to Avery 900 Supercast Window Film Etchmark.

“It was the store brand promotion, to create a privacy screen to cover the backs of magazine racks [positioned in the front of the store with their backs toward the parking lot]. It was both a functional and decorative application.”

Privacy is often sought by business and professional offices, such as dentists’ offices, he adds. One of Avery Dennison’s customers printed on opaque vinyl as well as perforated window film. The opaque vinyl created privacy, while the window film allowed for safety and security in the doorway.

MPI digitally printed calendered film was used to achieve privacy, while MPI perforated window film was used for safety on the doors.

Durabilty and special effects are two benefits of a new 3M Commercial Graphics product, an optically clear cast film called 3M Scotchcal Clear View Graphic Film IJ8150. “When you apply it to the surface, you’re not going to end up with any hazing, and you will have an optically clear image on a long-term durable material,” Johnson says. “If you have the ability to print white ink, you have more flexibility to create special effects, like one-way vision, with one film.” These days, everything is being wrapped, and this particular film would go over the windows of wrapped buildings, Johnson says. “Because it’s cast, it would be very long lasting,” she adds. “This one has an expected service life of seven years, and might be used in branding or for architectural looks.”

Another film from 3M Commercial Graphics is not termed optimally clear, but is clear enough for promotional purposes, she says. That film is the 3M Changeable Window Graphic Film IJ61. The difference between this and the above film is that this one is designed for short-term window applications of about one year, and those in which users are more conscious of their budgets.

“These appear on stores, quick-serve restaurants, cafes, anywhere a short-term sale needs promotion,” she says.

Clear Focus has also been used to generate stunning results. Sonoma, CA-based Zipper Gifts owner Steven Saden contacted FASTSIGNS in San Rafael to help him and his partner Elizabeth Cashour dress up the facade of their wine country gift store. “Ryan Powell at FASTSIGNS showed Steven the Clear Focus window film display in his shop,” Bellah relates. “Steven knew immediately it was exactly what he wanted for his store.”

In some cases, amazingly durable results can be obtained with the right products. One of the customers of Lintec of America provided window graphics to a Florida bank, and those graphics continue to adorn its window five years later, Holloran says. The substrate used, he adds, was “our item number E-2200 ZC, and that’s a 2-mil. scratch-resistant polyester with UV blocking in the adhesives. It’s still going strong. It was printed on an EFI VUTEk UV printer in 2007.”

When considering whether to begin offering window graphics, print service providers should keep in mind that many end users “are looking at every space they can utilize to get their message out to their customers, even to the point of personalizing their messages,” Johnson says. That spells increasing opportunity for skilled PSPs working within the window graphics segment.

Adds Roba: “There’s very little downside for a small- to mid-size print shop to get into offering window graphics as part of their product portfolio.”