Climbing the Walls

Rough surfaces have long presented issues for PSPs when it came to preparing and adhering graphics. Additionally, rough surfaces, including textured walls, often present a problem when it comes to the longevity of adherence. New technology and processes have helped this problem immensely, allowing PSPs to further explore this niche of the industry and to expand this aspect of their businesses. Our experts weigh in on the topic.

The Challenge

Some of the challenges when applying graphics to rough surfaces pertain to walls and the various textures and finishes that have been previously applied.

Jason Yard, Marketing & Training Specialist at MACtac Distributor Products says, “The variety of paints and finishes are the most challenging to overcome. There are hundreds of brands and chemical make-ups of paints, and they all affect how well an adhesive will stick. The other consideration is removability; if a customer want the wall graphic to remove cleanly, it is much harder to select the right product.”

Joe Walton, 3M Commercial Graphics Technical Service states that 3M has been able to address these issues with new products. “3M has two films designed especially for application to textured or rough walls,’ says Walton. “The key to success was developing a film that could withstand high application heat, and quickly and flawlessly conform over uneven texture without tearing or lifting. Once we accomplished that, nothing special was needed to prepare the graphics for such surfaces.”

Avery Dennison also recommends specific products to help meet these challenges; however, pretesting is vital to a successful application.

Ken Halford, Technical Service Representative, Avery Dennison Graphics & Reflective Solutions says, “There are a number of products available from manufacturers. Avery Dennison MPI 6121 Street Graphics product features a unique "micro-fracture" technology that enables the film to conform to very rough surfaces by fracturing and conforming. An application tape is necessary for installation of MPI 6121 Street Graphics product. It is also recommended that print service providers test print and apply premask to confirm compatibility.”

While there are solutions to some of the technical issues, PSPs will find that some substrates are difficult or impossible to work with and are perhaps wise to avoid.

Yard states, “There are many surfaces that are not recommended, such as pressure treated wood, old crumbling brick, plaster, and stucco. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find something to stick. Many of our customers use products like IMAGin® RoughRAP™ and IMAGin StreeRAP™ on other hard to adhere to surfaces like asphalt, unsealed concrete and brick.”

Dione Metnick, LexJet Product Manager, says it is best to avoid: “Extremely rough brick and stucco; basically, surfaces that don't have enough surface area for the adhesive to bond to. In other words, if there are relatively large peaks and valleys in the surface it likely won't accept any material, even one designed for rough and textured surfaces.”

Along with the substrates to avoid, there are a set of preferred substrates that offer the optimum qualities for adherence and duration.

Yard states, “Smooth walls painted with a quality, semi-gloss paint are the friendliest, and accept the widest variety of materials.”

Walton says, “3M films for textured surfaces are intended to be used on low to moderately textured substrates—such as concrete block, brick, industrial stucco, and tile similar to those found in sports arenas, stadiums, restaurants, retail and other public venues. These surfaces can be flat or curved.”

Metnick offers, “We recommend LexJet Simple MTS Adhesive Vinyl (Multi-Textured Surfaces) that has a 2-mil high-performance, aggressive adhesive. The material is a 3.5-mil opaque bright white matte vinyl that's opaque enough to hide existing wall markings and durable enough to resist scuffing, tearing and abrasion.”

Martin Kugler, Corporate Communications Manager at HEXIS S.A., says, “Our films are suitable for bricks, concrete or chipboard. "Rough" means with surface grain and uneven with cracks and crevices not exceeding a depth of 0.2in. To maintain the good contact surface the substrate should also be free from dust, sand, loose paint. If it is painted, the paint must have completely dried and be free from any contaminants such as wax, silicone, oil etc.”

Film Application

Application can be an art in itself. Walton says, “To get an amazing look that can fool viewers into believing they are looking at a painted imaged, rough surfaces do require special films and application techniques.” Walton also states that 3M offers a video in its website to help installers benefit from their vast experience and to offer various techniques.

Halford offers some advice on preparation: “It’s important to ensure that the application area is in good repair and free of “growing” cracks or crumbling sections. Also, take into consideration if the application area is free from drainage or dedicated run-off and not prone to standing water.

For Surface Preparation:

  • The surface must be completely dry. Check all cracks, pits, and crevices for any remaining moisture.
  • It is required to use a push broom on the potential application area. Using short brush strokes, brush the substrate from three different directions to ensure the area is dust free. A push broom in concert with a leaf blower will aid in the substrate preparation time.
  • Be sure that the application substrate is in good repair and free of “growing” cracks or crumbling sections.
  • Also identify that the decal location is free from drainage or dedicated run-off and not prone to standing water.

The Cost

Naturally, specialty products tend to cost more and also affect the way a PSP may change its price structure to accommodate this change. Another factor to take into account is the difficulty of installation.

Walton says, “Installation costs are generally determined by square footage, but also take into consideration the difficulty of the installation. As a general rule, when you use the right films and tools, there should be little if any difference in cost whether the installer is applying the film to low textured surfaces, like poured concrete, or more textured surfaces such as brick. Each of these surfaces does require the use of special tools, including a heat gun and one or more special rollers. The installation procedure is a bit more involved as well, including planning the installation to avoid beginning or ending on a grout line, setting the edges, and then using some unique application techniques. If the grout lines are too deep to conform the film into them, the film must be cut out of the grout line, creating a very eye-catching mosaic effect. This is a labor intensive step so a brand owner should expect a higher cost for such an installation.”


Technology, products and processes are constantly changing. The experts offer their opinions on current and future trends.

Yard says, “Interior wall décor is an expanding market, both for printed murals and plotter cut designs. Interior designers and architects are driving this surge and they are looking for unique finishes and textures like those provided by MACtac’s PERMACOLOR DecoLam.”

Walton agrees that faux wall textures will continue to be on trend. “Graphics on textured walls have a strong following among those who have seen them somewhere and have even used them. Before the films and techniques were available for such an application, most textured walls remained blank, or painted, or had banners or framed images hung from them—nothing that could create the visual impact that a printed graphic can.”

Halford also address promotional uses. “Promotional graphics are being installed anywhere they will catch a consumer’s attention – on floors inside and outside, around pillars in parking garages and subway or train stations, on elevator doors and floors. Campaigns for movie premiers, mall promotions, sporting events and conventions are utilizing street graphics more and more to gain awareness.”