Ask The Expert

Q: Can you provide some general best practices for graphics applications?

A: The graphic installation field is heavily influenced by new trends and new products, which is why it is important to seek ongoing education.  Graphics applications may seem intuitive to a degree, but without making a conscious effort to stay up-to-date and informed, it can be easy to fall behind concerning trends and best practices.

It is for this reason that tradeshows like the SGIA Expo occur every year—they offer compelling opportunities to not only preview the latest graphics products, but also to learn tips and tricks from industry peers and suppliers that know material properties best.

Vehicle Wraps

Vehicle wrapping—one of the longest-standing, easily recognized graphic application types—remains a popular subject within the industry.  One the most recent movements in the vehicle graphics market is toward the use of tuning films—vehicle wrap vinyl that serves as an alternative to automotive paint, allowing for a complete color change of a vehicle’s exterior without the hassle of repainting.  Tuning films are available in a wide array of colors and finishes and can be used for partial- or full-vehicle wraps. However, the finish and type of wrap chosen can dictate some specific application techniques that need to be taken into consideration.

In the case of full-vehicle tuning films wraps, customers will typically want every inch of the vehicle covered, which can require removal of parts that you wouldn’t otherwise remove.  It is important to keep these parts organized and in a safe place. Make sure you relay to the customer that areas like door handles and door sills may wear faster than the rest of the wrap.

Tuning films used to create matte or textured finishes also have specific application requirements. It is important to only use a heat gun, not a torch, to apply films with matte or textured finishes. If overheated, a matte or textured finish will show hot spots or gloss up and compromise the desired look of the vehicle. Be cautious with the application of heat and work in small areas for best results.

Use a soft sleeve or a felt squeegee with matte or textured films to avoid marring these films during application.

If a seam is unavoidable, use a half-inch overlap and follow the seam to the contour of the vehicle so it is less noticeable.  Relief cut any shapes that are greater than a moderate curve.

Take your time—tuning films wraps take longer than printed wraps and are expected to bear a similar appearance to paint, making patience and attention to detail key.  Be sure to use materials appropriate for the application. Some tuning films types are ideal for full wraps, but textured films are designed only for partial wraps on hoods, roofs and spoilers.

Environmental Graphics

Environmental graphics include those applied to walls, floors, furniture, architectural elements and more. These applications have grown in popularity recently, and there are many new products on the market which installers should be familiar with.  Also, depending upon the surface to which an environmental graphic will be applied, there may be certain installation procedures that must be followed for best results. It may seem simple to apply wall or floor graphics but skipping preparation and cleaning steps can negatively affect the longevity of the graphic.

For instance, IMAGin® RoughRAP® is a product specifically designed for application to textured/rough surfaces such as concrete, cinder block or brick walls.  Despite being a specialized material, RoughRAP’s efficacy can still be affected by whether or not the surface to which it will adhere is properly prepared.  A concrete wall, for example, should be clean, dry and more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit before the graphic is ever installed.

Specific tools may be required for successful application, too.  In the case of RoughRAP a heat gun and foam roller are ideal for applying this sort of graphic. In other cases, it might be a specific type of squeegee or it might be the use of a heat gun versus the use of a torch.

Remember that every surface’s considerations are different—it is not safe to assume that applying a floor graphic to linoleum requires the same approach as applying a floor graphic to carpet or concrete.  Applying a wall graphic to an interior painted wall will be different than an exterior wall. Know your application, know your media, and know your surface. Clean, dry, surfaces are always a good place to start with environmental graphics.

Window Graphics

Window films are another type of graphic product growing in popularity as new décor films are being used for privacy and advertising, providing a mix of functionality and creative expression.

While window films have always been part of the graphics market, the installation of window graphics has often been cumbersome, time consuming, and costly because they required the use of application fluid and the wet application method. Thanks to IMAGin B-free® Window Films that is no longer the case because of the patented air-egress adhesive system specific to IMAGin B-free Window Films. 

The process of applying a bubble-free window graphic via the dry method is fairly simple. First, tape the graphic into place on the window. Remove the first few inches from the liner and make a hard fold in the liner—an approach known as the “hinge method.” Firmly press down using a felt squeegee with a left to right movement and slowly remove the liner as you continue securing the graphic with the squeegee.  Trim excess material away from the rubber or silicone window seals (at least ¼ inch), and you are finished.

No matter if you choose to use traditional window films or IMAGin B-free Window Films, always clean the window using isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth prior to application. Avoid ammonia-based cleaners that leave residue and only install when temperatures exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Finally, use a laminate to protect inks and vinyl if installing outdoors.

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