By Melissa Donovan
Floor graphics are trending, but the options are overwhelming—especially for someone unfamiliar with the application. Print service providers (PSPs) are presented with choice in base materials, the system—with laminate or without, and whether to use a dedicated versus a multi-purpose product.
One of the reasons this application is so popular is its use in social distancing signage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Graphics are placed inside and outside countless environments—educational buildings, retail, healthcare, restaurants, museums, transportation hubs, and convention centers—to direct the public on how to maintain six feet of distance between one and other.
In most cases, these floor graphics experience heavy traffic, so it’s pivotal the correct material is used for the job. When it isn’t, not only can graphic failure occur and void the purpose of the messaging, safety issues arise.
Above: Ollywood Services in the U.K. used Drytac Polar Street FX to complete an outdoor installation in a popular Birmingham, U.K. meeting place.
Floor graphics are available in a number of base media options—aluminum, PVC, and non-PVC for example. Each type is advantageous depending on its prime environment setting and the duration of time it is in place.
“When it’s too overwhelming it can be tempting to throw just any removable adhesive at the floor project and literally see if it sticks. As with any project, there is a ‘good, better, best’ and it’s important to always recommend the best adhesive and print media for the specific application, whether tile, carpet, or concrete,” advises Matt Edwards, digital media product manager, General Formulations.
To whittle down the best base media, Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., suggests understanding what is required of the graphic. “It must adhere to the desired surface and not release prematurely—causing a tripping hazard and unsightly graphics. The material and image must withstand the environment and traffic—walking, machinery, or automobiles—it is used in. Finally, a non-slip surface for pedestrian traffic should be provided.”
According to Scott Wieclaw, president, FloorSignage, LLC, selecting the correct film with the proper adhesive is critical when choosing floor graphic materials. To do this, five important topics need to be considered—the location, surface type, type of use, required anti-skid characteristics, and expectations for life expectancy. All of this variability explains why there are so many base material options, “including PVC in various thicknesses, non-PVC, aluminum foil, polyester film, polypropylene, and polycarbonate,” he adds.
“The key for any successful installation is to understand the application, location, surface, and duration of the graphics—all parts are key to selecting the right product for the job,” agrees Shaun Holdom, global product manager, Drytac. “Unlike other graphic products, the selection of the right product is more important than ever as the incorrect installation of a floor graphic could cause injury to the general public.”
Aluminum-based products are regularly used with textured surfaces like concrete, asphalt, or stucco. When paired with the right adhesive these materials perform well in outdoor environments.
“Aluminum-based material is the leader in outdoor durability. Although it carries an additional cost, it can last up to a year in an exterior environment. Designed for long-term applications, it’s best for use on raw concrete,” advises Matt Buckley, business development director, GPA.
Jeremy Frank, director of sales and marketing, large format digital print, Neenah Paper and Packaging, says that aluminum-based floor graphics really excel when applied to very stippled and textured surfaces like stucco.
“Aluminum-based products are made for mid- to long-term—six months to two years—outdoor graphics, as they conform to the substrate—asphalt or concrete—where they are installed,” adds Shaun Jaycox, global product manager, LexJet.
On the more expensive end of the spectrum, Josh Cormany, home décor division manager, Media One, considers aluminum-based materials specialty and notes that installation can be tricky as the material can tear easily when mishandled.
PVC-based media exhibits a commanding hold on the floor graphics segment and has for some time. Part of its dominance is credited to PSPs’ experience with it.
“PVC films are great for many general use floor graphics. They’re familiar with printers and installers to work for, and for the most part, behave like any other PVC digital media,” shares Austin Eck, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
This material type is available in a number of options, namely one- and two-step processes “so it pretty much fits all the needs of end users. PVC has been in the market for years and is trusted. Another plus is that PSPs will have knowledge of installing procedures,” explains Amanda Smith, product manager, Mactac.
“These options are user friendly and can be seen mainly indoors on most surfaces depending on the adhesive strength—or on carpets as well. This is the easiest and most cost-effective option to work with. Materials can come with anti-slip coating, making one-step solutions more available,” agrees Cormany.
When it comes to whether PVC-based substrates are used for short-, medium-, or long-term durations, this media also delivers. “Some PVC-based products can be used for short- to medium-term—three to six months—with others 12 to 18 months, depending on the environment. They can also be used for longer term interior graphics, depending on foot traffic,” says Jaycox.
With a continued push for sustainable materials from both brand owners as well as their customers, it is no surprise that non-PVC substrates are available and used for floor graphic applications.
“There are instances where a retailer or the business installing the graphic will prefer a non-PVC film. These requests are driven by the need for a more environmentally friendly solution. Non-PVC films often fit this bill and are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or a similar material,” notes Eck.
Compared to vinyl, non-PVC films are more rigid and offer a good tear resistance. “They have no volatile organic compounds and often offer more compliance compared to vinyl, however, they are not as durable,” cautions Bekie Berg, product manager, FLEXcon.
Buckley believes the addition of non-PVC options has created a mid-range floor graphic category, offering “increased durability inside for heavy traffic areas with a moderate cost increase over PVC.”
“Non-PVC based materials have started to make their way into the market. The options will come down to PET films and polyester fabrics that have unique anti-slip coatings and adhesives to make them usable for indoor as well as outdoor applications,” foresees Cormany.
What a Process
Floor graphics can be designed as a one- or two-step process. Two-step systems involve a base media as well as a skid- and/or slip-resistant overlaminate. One-step systems do not require a laminate, with the media providing skid and slip resistance on their own.
While Angel Georgiou, senior marketing specialist imaging supplies, Canon Solutions America, has experienced success with one-step products, she notes that for a more longer life and durable solution, a well-rated vinyl and matching overlaminate is the best option. The two-step process in her opinion is still primarily used for applications in high-traffic areas.
“Two-step floor graphics can provide some longer term durability by moving to a higher tack adhesive and a more durable rigid laminate, while most one-step materials target a mid-range durability over a variety of surfaces,” shares Buckley.
Traditionally, most floor graphic applications were two-step systems with a laminate and base material; the laminate providing both slip resistance as well as protecting the graphic. Since various laminates of different thicknesses and durabilities can be paired with base media, two-step systems are used indoors and outdoors, short and long term.
“For so long, printing and laminating with a floor laminate was the standard process. The strength of an encapsulated ink makes it very durable and creates a perception that it is a far superior product,” says Frank.
A two-part system’s other benefits include “not collecting dirt and debris, and the overlaminate provides abrasion resistance and extends the life of the graphic. In addition, the overlaminate provides a consistent walking surface that is tested for slip resistance and the surface does not change when the ink type and deposition switches as creative is altered,” explains Berg.
“The advantage of a two-step product is that you can select the laminate texture level with the adhesive strength needed for your application. For example, an end user needs trade show graphics throughout the venue. The PSP can offer graphics for inside that will work with tile and carpet as well as for sidewalks. Also, printing directly to the print media allows for a clearer design rather than over a laminate,” adds Smith.
Two-step systems also eliminate unwanted or unused inventory. A PSP can use the vinyl for multiple applications instead of just floor graphics, enabling them to stock just the laminate needed. “It does require an extra step as you need to run it through a laminator, and many shops do not always factor in the labor cost,” cautions Cormany.
One-step systems are a newer innovation thanks to advancements in both material composition as well as ink adhesion. Since there is only one component, these products are a bit more cost effective as the extra step of lamination is eliminated.
“One-step floor communication peel-and-stick graphics are a simple, low-cost solution. From our testing and experience, one step lasts as long and looks better over time versus the legacy two-step products, which are more labor intensive and higher priced,” notes Bob O’Neill, national sales manager, Competitive EDGE Representatives for DreamScape.
The main benefit of the one-step process is saving time. “PSPs do not need to wait 24 hours for the print to off gas and then set their laminator up with the correct laminate before applying it to the printed graphic,” advises Eck.
Molly Waters, senior technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, admits that one-step process films are quicker to produce and this is okay if the floor graphics are for a temporary or short-term need. “But these one-step floor graphics are not going to be as robust as a laminated graphic,” she adds.
One-step systems are rated for six months to a year, according to Smith. She suggests they are ideal for temporary graphics like weekend events or a sales promotion.
They also are a great means to reducing the barrier to entry for sign shops without lamination capabilities, shares Edwards.
“Depending on the one-step material you choose, it can have equal or greater slip resistance and durability compared to two-step materials and there are one-step films designed for both indoor and outdoor use,” comments Wieclaw. He recommends reading the product attributes to ensure the one-step film includes a print- and scratch-resistant coating to lock in the print.
A coating provides extra strength, but the ink set should offer that initial durability. “Because the printed surface is directly subjected to usage conditions, the graphic message is only as durable as the ink,” notes Colbath.
The ink set is important. “Much like picking a certified laminate on a two-step process, the ink used on a single step is critical. This isn’t necessarily the type or brand of ink but the profile issued. Using manufacturer approved or custom profiles is an important step to ensure the ink is properly adhered, cured, and not working against the approved material service,” continues Frank.
“All inks are different and have different reactions on material surfaces, certainly for one-step products there are some ink technologies which are better than others. UV inks are one of the most durable ink sets so this is preferred on some single-part solutions,” admits Holdom.
One of Many
Multi-purpose products are popular. Most are designed to be used on windows, walls, and floors. Compared to a dedicated floor graphic product, multi-purpose products can be advantageous—but a PSP cannot take a one-job-fits-all approach.
The biggest advantage of a multi-use product is that it lowers a PSP’s inventory—stocking one product for many applications. “Multi-use products are engineered with high-performance adhesive systems that meet a range of end use requirements for both permanent and removable applications to reduce the number of SKUs and offer improved inventory turns and efficiencies for PSPs,” explains Berg.
Not only do these solutions streamline inventory, but they allow for easier and consistent color management because a PSP is printing on one product versus several, shares Colbath.
There is also a decrease in production time when working on a multi-surface project. “The added ability to be applied to windows and walls results in a decreased production time to run one material regardless of the surface it ends up on,” notes Buckley.
When it comes to durability, Waters says it depends on the application. “For walls and windows the multi-use films should have a durability of one to five years depending on what film was used. For floors the warranted durability from manufacturers tends to max out at six months due to the added wear and tear that graphics see.”
These means multi-use products are commonly used for short-term, indoor floor graphics and “are not designed for environments such as outdoor walkway graphics, where a high-performance aggressive adhesive is required,” suggests Berg.
“The environments that are best for multi-use products are indoor, dry environments,” agrees Smith. “The applications are short term such as retail promotions, trade shows, and school events.”
When considering a multi-purpose product that will definitely be used as floor graphic, Wieclaw suggests finding a material designed primarily as a floor graphic and includes slip resistance, durability, and an adhesive optimized for both floor and wall usage. “The idea of lower inventory costs will quickly prove to be more costly if the wrong multi-use product is chosen and you find yourself with quick product failure, safety issues, and embarrassment,” he cautions.
When floor graphics first gained prevalence, they were used as works of art in certain environments—very large pieces that really drew passerby into the space. COVID-19 has changed floor graphic usage and this has influenced the design.
Social distancing phrases dominate today’s floor graphics landscape. “With the recent pandemic, floor graphic design trends include small decals placed in hundreds of locations throughout a store. While before the pandemic, you would notice much more imagery being used in the design aspect,” shares Cormany.
Easily readable text is the focus, and not so much the design of the graphic. “This is a departure from what floor graphics used to look like where they were large and used for either promotional or wayfinding signage. This was necessary at the time because you needed to be big and loud for people to truly pay attention to the floor,” explains Eck.
Floor graphics related to the pandemic continue to advance. “We did see an evolution over time from safety graphics to store branded and then to a major brand providing branded floor graphics for use across markets. The great majority of floor graphics were 12 inches or smaller. They seemed to fit the right size, cost, and durability equation as most social distancing floor graphics were replaced short of their maximum durability,” says Buckley.
“Due to the novel coronavirus, there is an increase in wayfinding, physical distancing, and curbside floor graphics. Some of these graphics tend to be smaller in size—less than 18 inches—and are being produced in higher volumes via narrow format conventional print technologies such as flexography and narrow format digital inkjet printing,” adds Berg.
Safety and social distancing communication may be the norm now, with limited branding involved in the graphic, but O’Neill sees this changing. “As companies evolve out of the pandemic you will see many brands utilizing this same distancing communication, but with other key marketing including logos and other cross branding platforms.”
While Waters believes social distancing and COVID-19 precautions will continue to dominate floor graphics usage trends in 2021, this will be combined with the use of floor graphics to improve foot traffic flow and wayfinding within retail and entertainment environments.
“Brands and end users are leveraging floor graphics to communicate a lot more than just social distancing. Brands are combining safety messages with images of their products, which is opening a new channel for retail visual marking,” shares Frank.
Here to Stay
Whether cautioning you to stay six feet apart or point you in the direction of the newest product launch, with just basic text or a beautiful design, floor graphics continue to do their job well—grabbing the attention of the intended passerby.
“Floor graphics are here to stay. We can control a consumer around a location by the use of floor graphics and this will be used as standard practice going forward. Studies have shown that customers interact over 30 percent more with products that are actually advertised and the consumer is standing on a graphic rather than normal point of sale graphics. So the future of floor graphics in a post-COVID world is design, not only to highlight a health message but to promote brands and special offers,” concludes Holdom.
Whether the base material is aluminum, PVC, or non-PVC; the solution is a one- or two-step system; or it is a multi-purpose product, all of these options are a testament to just how popular this application is and continues to be.
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Apr2021, Digital Output