The Ins and Outs of Window Graphics

Window graphics provide a revenue opportunity for print service providers.

The learning curve with window graphics films isn’t steep, the applications are virtually unlimited, and the potential rewards are high. Every glass surface becomes a window of opportunity, said Judy Bellah, Public Relations Manager, Clear Focus Imaging.

While nearly anything will stick to glass, to ensure customer satisfaction, collaboration between the print service provider and their customer is recommended. “Once the PSP understands the client’s objectives in terms of type of application, desired visual effect, interior or exterior mounting, required longevity, and removability, they can then focus on selecting the optimal window film(s) for the job based on the print technologies they have available,” said Bellah.

Two major items to consider when designing and printing window graphics are the viewing distance and the message, critical to conceptualizing how the window graphic will look once installed, noted Kylie Schleicher, Marketing Coordinator, Ultraflex Systems.

Consider the height of the building and the distance that the windows will span, as well as how close someone will be when they look at the image. The person viewing the graphic could be standing on the sidewalk and looking up into the sky at a large multistory building, or standing in a parking lot looking at the window at eye level.

Messaging goes hand in hand with the viewing distance. The message will be broken up into pieces, so the design must be cohesive enough that the overall message does not get distorted if part of the window is blocked or out of view.

Understand where the seams will be and if there is any overlapping during the printing process, said Schleicher. “ If you print the job and a seam is placed in the wrong location, the sizes or message could be altered.”

Pop Goes the Color

Window graphics look to garner attention, and this should be done with the design as well as the output, by using solid bright colors that pop.

Print providers need to balance the goal of getting as much color and pop on the film without over saturation of the ink, said David Timmerman, Technical Services Representative, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions. “PSPs should be prepared and have a few yards of extra material on hand to print small proofs to help confirm the right ICC profile is being used and providing acceptable color output.”

One issue to consider—profiles may or may not be available for the printer/RIP/media combination. “I recommend that PSPs do their homework to see if a profile is available for the media intended for the project,” said Timmerman. “Consult your media provider for available profiles. Avery Dennison has a database full of profiles with different printer, RIP, and media combinations. Also check with your printer provider and RIP companies as they may also have profiles available for similar media.”

Material Intention

When deciding on material, consider whether you need it to be clear, transparent, perforated, or block out. The intention of each graphic can be different, so the media selection is crucial, said Jason Yard, Marketing Manager for Bemis, which supplies MACtac pressure sensitive materials for a variety of wide-format applications, including window graphics.

“Choosing the correct material is key,” Yard said. “Almost anything will stick to glass, however you want it to last for the intended time frame, and in most cases it needs to remove cleanly. Speaking with a knowledgeable representative will make your decision easier.”

Adding perforated window graphics to one’s print portfolio can open the door to entirely new markets and new revenue streams,” said Bellah. The company’s window-graphics media, which deliver graphics on one side and a clear view from the other, is used for outdoor advertising, including vehicle and building wraps, POP, retail, and commercial window signage, and corporate identity.

“We offer a line of US-made premium films as well as value-priced films depending on desired image life,” said Bellah. “The majority of our films are for exterior mounting; we also offer several interior- or exterior-mountable films. Interior-mount films may be a suitable option to prevent graffiti or when local ordinances prohibit exterior-mounted signage.”

Will the film be applied to the inside or the outside of the window? “If installed on the inside or second surface for outside viewing, then an optically clear film would be preferred,” said Jim Halloran, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Lintec of America, a global producer of pressure sensitive materials. “If installed on the outside, elements such as temperature, humidity, and water exposure must be considered. Your customers should also be aware of the greater risk for vandalism when applied on the outside of the window if the graphic is near ground level.”

The expected lifespan of the graphic should also be a factor in the film choice.

Finally, don’t forget about what happens when the film has to be removed from the installation site. “Choosing the wrong film such as some permanent cast vinyls can create a nightmare scenario upon removal,” Halloran added.

Once the design and material are specified, the PSP can make sure the right equipment is used for the project. An eco-solvent printer will create a more translucent appearance for applications such as stained glass window replication, said Halloran.

“A UV- curable printer will create a more opaque image and typically has better options for white ink that can be placed behind colored ink for greater pop to the image."

“Because latex and UV inks also give the option of printing onto polyester materials, I believe that either of these platforms would provide the greatest success,” said Timmerman. “However, if a PSP only has a solvent or eco solvent printer they can still provide excellent window graphics.”

Avery Dennison customers like printing on Avery Dennison SF 100-103 Ultra Clear with UV white ink to get great image clarity and color pop, he added. Customers can wet apply the SF 100-103 Ultra Clear material to the window for easy installation.

Here Comes the Sun

Also, understand the exposure to UV light hitting the window, says Jaimie Mask, LexJet product manager. If it has constant exposure all day everyday it could cause the graphic to fade a lot faster, which is not a big issue for short-term graphics (up to three months), but will be if the customer expects a more permanent installation. In that case, laminating can help extend the life of the graphic.”

The other concern is the adhesive on the graphics. The adhesive strength could lessen with constant sunlight.

Laminate can help protect the images from fading too quickly, but could also hinder the viewing from inside the building to the outside, said Schleicher. “It is very important to choose the correct laminate. We recommend using an optically clear laminate. Optically clear laminates will not distort the interior viewing. If the wrong type of laminate is selected, the interior view will be distorted and not satisfying to the customer.”

Installation—Nice & Easy Does It

Installation is one of the most important factors involved in a window graphic.

“First, understand the material's adhesive: for example, do you want an adhesive with air egress to make installation easier?” asked Mask. “If you choose a material with no air egress, can the material be wet-mounted? Wet-mount allows for an easier installation as you can reposition the graphic. Also, an important thing to remember when using clear substrates with wet-mount is that it usually takes about 24 hours for the "foggy" look to dissipate. Most likely when you wet mount a clear material it will look a bit "foggy," so just give it time to cure.

Another pointer in window graphic installations is to be sure to stay clear of the silicon caulking on window edges. Try to butt up against, and not over the caulking, since that creates a weak link in your adhesion to the window and you could possibly start to see failure if you do not abide by this rule of thumb. And, try to keep your panels in manageable sizes.” I always recommend staying within your wingspan, aka the length of your arms outstretched from fingertip to fingertip,” said Mask.

While most window graphics are installed wet, MACtac’s B-free Window Films are designed to be installed dry. Because of the air egress adhesive, the install time is quicker with no messy cleanup, said Yard.

One obvious reminder—windows have to be clean prior to installation. “The windows should be cleaned properly with cleaners that will not leave any residue on the windows or affect the adhesive on the graphics,” Schleicher commented.

Creative Interior Imagery in West Pittson, Pennsylvania, recently created a themed environment using wall and window graphics for a medical center. They used LexJet Velvet WallPro SUV for the walls and LexJet Simple Perforated Window Vinyl (70/30) to cover the windows of the nurses' station. The trick was matching the transition from walls to windows, as well as matching the paint scheme inside the building. To match the paint, they went to the paint manufacturer's website, got the RGB formulations for the paint, converted it to CMYK, and incorporated that color into the background of the graphics so that you can't tell where the wallpaper and window graphics ends and the paint starts. Also, to ensure a perfect match from walls to windows, they created custom profiles of each media using the i1 color profiling system.