By Melissa Donovan
Media manufacturers continue to enhance and advance product lines in response to customer demand. One requested feature is ease of install and removability. Installers—whether for vehicle wraps, wallcoverings, counter top graphics, windows, and floors—benefit from ease of use in a media product for multiple reasons but the most prominent is savings in labor costs.
It is because of this that beginner to experienced installers work with this media. “Easy to install pressure-sensitive graphic materials are helping to grow the wide format print industry. Printed graphics can be applied by almost anyone, not just the professional print applicator, allowing for higher levels of installation success the first time,” summarizes Ross Burnham, senior marketing manager, Mactac.
The science behind the success centers on air egress technology, but other solutions also aid in ease of installation and removal.
Above: Drytac offers a range of media in its product portfolio with ease-of-install capabilities.
Taking the Easy Way
There are many advantages to using a pressure-sensitive media that is marketed as easy to install. Perhaps the most popular is to save both money and time. Print service providers (PSPs) are always on the lookout for both.
“Labor, not material, determines profitability. Lower your installation labor cost and you’ve created a competitive advantage. Scale matters. The larger the install, the number of pieces, or number of locations the greater the importance of labor costs and the savings impact of easy install materials,” recommends Craig Surette, director of business development, GPA.
For installs completed by a store employee, these materials are especially beneficial. “First, there is the savings of not having to have graphics professionally installed. Easily applied graphics can typically be applied by anyone at the end user company already on their payroll. Second, there is a time savings, as the end user can immediately apply the graphics, instead of not waiting for an installation team to arrive,” explains Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc.
“Some products and applications are so easy to install that the printed product can be sent to and installed by the end user; completely removing the cost of installation. Not only does this create savings and give printers an advantage while quoting jobs, it also allows them to access multiple or remote locations where they may not have installers such as retail or hospitality chains for point of purchase (POP) needs,” adds Peter Bourgeois, territory manager, Drytac.
When graphics are easy to install at the store employee level, it also makes for less stress. “Another benefit of an easy install film is that it’s less frustration on the employee that has to apply the pressure-sensitive sign. It’s mostly normal employees applying signage at the store level so the easier for the them to apply, the happier the employee will be and they’ll also be more receptive to future signage installations,” says Matt Meyer, marketing coordinator, Plastiprint.
Professional or part of the PSP’s payroll, productivity is also increased because the installer will be able to apply more film in a work day. Also, if a film is easier to install it is less likely the installer will experience any issues such as damaging a panel when trying to reposition the film. Easy-to-install films can also help contribute to a cleaner install, especially when conducted on site,” comments Molly Waters, senior technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.
In the current economic climate, “given the industry situation in which we are simultaneously seeing strong demand and a labor shortage, the benefit has shifted more to throughput whereby easy-to-install materials allow you to complete more projects with the labor you have,” adds Adrian Cook, marketing manager, 3M Commercial Solutions
A PSP saves in labor costs in both the install and the removal. “Products come off clean so you don’t have to invest time and money in removing adhesive residues with chemicals and labor,” shares René Bourgeois, VP Sales North America, ASLAN Selbstklebefolien GmbH.
Another benefit related to removal, according to Meyer, is that most easily installed pressure-sensitive films don’t leave the kind of residue that other adhesive films would. Easy install films are also gentler on the surface they are applied to so you won’t damage the surface or pull up any paint.
“Just because it is easy to install it does not always mean it is easy to remove. It is important to look at the entire life cycle of a product. Graphic removal is often the pain point and where profit is lost. It is important to ensure the product has predictable removal,” cautions Peter Bourgeois.
Clay Reierson, director, market strategy, Xcel Products Inc., advises that most of these materials do cost more. “But if you don’t destroy the graphic during install, this should pay for the additional technologies used in the long run. It’s costly to replace and ship graphics all over the country, sometimes two to three times the cost of the original.”
“It is worth noting that easy-to-install solutions can run 15 to 20 percent higher per square foot than traditional products. This increase can easily be justified by making new installers more productive and more complex jobs less susceptible to rework,” agrees Jason Harmon, East/Southwest sales manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
Most scenarios benefit from using an easily installed pressure-sensitive product. There are hardly any environments or applications where an ease-of-use product would actually be detrimental to the task at hand.
According to Lukas Homik, director of sales, Permalite, Inc., “in most scenarios, you want to use the simplest installation process possible. Ease of use should be defined with each unique material. No matter what you are trying to install you should find the easiest way to do that.”
A common application where easy-to-apply films are found on is vehicle wraps, since they allow for sliding and repositioning films on vehicles, which helps with ease of installation as well as speed, according to Waters. “We also see easy apply films used on general flat signage. This is especially helpful because air bubbles during install are minimized or eliminated providing a cleaner, more professional looking install.”
Based on Meyer’s experience, since easy install pressure-sensitive films are on the less aggressive side, they are really ideal for indoor use. Outdoor use is a per-project decision.
“Flat and typically smooth surfaces allow for many of these easy to install and economical products to be utilized from a few days to up to one year. Examples include retail POP, special events, sports venues, and entertainment and restaurants,” shares Burnham.
While Bekie Berg, product manager, FLEXcon Company, Inc., says that smaller graphics that adhere to flat, smooth surfaces may not warrant easy-to-install products, if an amateur installer is putting them up—an easier to install product should be considered. Conversely, “more complex installations will benefit. That includes large graphics where paneling is required, as well as complex surfaces such as train and bus wraps and building graphics.”
One scenario Reierson thinks they should not be used is window applications. “Even though there are special adhesives for window applications, applications to glass that need to be bubble free are still a little more difficult for inexperienced installers.”
It’s Anyone’s Game
Beginner installers are the target audience of easily installed pressure-sensitive media. However, similar to how almost any scenario benefits from this type of material, the same can be said of the installer—even medium to professional skill level laborers may prefer it.
“These graphics are easier for everyone. There are many factors that can make install more difficult for even professionals. With outdoor applications, when you can’t control the environment, you might want to consider easy install graphics to make the job go a little smoother, faster, and less likely to have any issues,” states Reierson.
Installation is becoming more competitive, so it makes sense that PSPs of all experience levels look for something to give them an edge. “Whether in house or contracted, installation represents a significant portion of a job’s cost, reducing this creates a competitive advantage in quoting. Time savings are significant and with the job market today, faster installs let you do more with fewer employees,” suggests Peter Bourgeois.
Surette adds that these products are lucrative from “simplicity, time savings potential, and the ability to take on more jobs with seasoned and non-seasoned crews.”
The lure for veteran installers is speed, believes Waters. “Time is money so if they can finish sooner and move on to the next job they can make more money.”
“Professional installers prefer materials that are easier to install as well. Moreover, they offer a premium service and have an image to maintain, so any product that allows them to install more quickly and potentially with better results is a more desirable choice,” notes Berg.
Initially, more experienced installers might be weary of media that is easy to install. “The more experienced installers have learned tricks of the trade and are quite accomplished without new adhesive solutions. They may feel that impacts to their learning curve and added material cost might be worth it in complex applications only. Once they get used to the new solutions, they are even more productive,” suggests Harmon.
There’s some science behind what makes ease-of-install media the way it is—and this technology has evolved over the years. A common feature is air egress release liners that minimize air catching between the graphic and surface, allowing for ease of repositioning as well as avoiding bubbles during install. However, other technology is available.
“Air egress release liners minimize bubbles and wrinkles from applied graphic films. The polyethylene coating of the release liner is embossed with a textured pattern that creates tiny air channels in the adhesive. As the film is installed, the air is directed through the air channels to the edge of the graphic,” explains Harmon.
Air is pushed to the edge of the graphic without lifting or stretching it, adds Reierson. Since air egress is a liner technology that creates air pockets, it eliminates the need for a wet application method.
While air egress channels are one method perpetuating easy application, “another common feature is slideability, whereby the adhesive contact with the surface is minimized until pressure is applied,” notes Cook. 3M Controltac utilizes a unique micro-replication technology invented by 3M to activate the adhesive pressure.
ASLAN developed special adhesive systems in addition to air egress channels, which enable easy handling, positioning, and repositioning of the film during application, notes René Bourgeois.
Avery Dennison’s adhesive builds up over time versus being activated when squeegeed. “This aids in the repositionability of the film. Even after being squeegeed the film can be snapped up and reapplied without losing the air egress feature,” explains Waters.
Peter Bourgeois agrees that air egress release is only one form of easy-to-apply pressure-sensitive media. “There are several other methods that can simplify installation. These range from using a thicker base material to eliminate stretching at install or developing an entirely new adhesive that reacts differently to make installation easier.”
Dot patterned adhesive systems are newer technology used for wall, window, and floor graphics. “These products utilize standard smooth release liners and less adhesive, both helping to reduce overall cost. No tools are typically needed for dot patterned adhesive system installs—just using your hand to smooth out the graphic is all that is needed,” shares Burnham.
Referring to it as “spot” or dot adhesive, Peter Bourgeois explains it as a “strong adhesive applied in a dot pattern over a lower tack adhesive. This allows easy bubble-free application on a variety of smooth surfaces that can be installed by end users with no need for squeegees or application tools.”
Other solutions include adhesive coatings with micro-suction technology. “Because the adhesive bond line is never distorted when applied, they yield a product that is infinitely removable, repostionable, and reusable even if debris gets on them,” explains Colbath.
Also, a thicker, stiffer film can be less challenging to install on a flat surface. “This is because the extra body of a thicker film and the film stiffness can make it easier to handle the graphic being installed as compared to thinner films that can be flimsy and more challenging to install,” suggests Berg.
Permanent and temporary adhesives are two options available on ease-of-install media, depending on what the PSP is looking for. Two features of importance are repositionability and tack.
“Many adhesive properties can impact ease of installation. Adhesive coat weight and adhesive type, removable or permanent, can impact the ease of the install depending on the surface type and profile,” says Berg.
Repositionability is an important adhesive characteristic. “It is the adhesive characteristic enabling readjustment and reapplication after initial application, and both permanent or removable adhesives can have this characteristic. Selecting an adhesive with good repositionable qualities can be a huge factor for successful installation to help avoid skewed and misapplied graphics,” explains Surette.
René Bourgeois says it’s less about the adhesive’s durability and more about the tack. “If an adhesive is too tacky installing the film requires more accurate handling, which occupies more time.”
“I find that air egress films do have a slightly lower initial tack, so they are not ideal for surfaces with lower surface energy or heavily textured surfaces such as walls,” admits Waters.
Cook shares a common misconception among newer installers in relation to tack. They believe “a lower initial tack product will build to a lower final adhesion, and a higher initial tack product will build to a higher final adhesion, when in fact the opposite is often true. Typically the initial tack level is an installer-specific preference because it can have a pretty large impact on the installation experience.”
When it comes to adhesive influencing the ease of install, Homik believes it depends on the specific characteristics of the adhesive. A quick tack and quick set on a temporary adhesive can create as many problems as a quick tack and quick set on a permanent adhesive.
“This is why choosing the correct product for the application is so important. The aggressiveness of the adhesive is determined by the installer’s ability or preference, while the quality of the adhesive is determined by the needs of the customer and the application,” he continues.
To put it simply, “permanent adhesive films are very hard to apply to any gloss surface and they are even harder to take off,” says Meyer.
Reierson points out that some permanent adhesives take time—up to 24 hours—to build to full bonding strength. As such, they behave similar to a removable adhesive during installation.
“Adhesive does make a difference and I find that even though the manufacturers refer to them as one way—each one works a bit different. It definitely is easier on big pieces to work with a more flexible adhesive,” adds Angel Georgiou, specialist, marketing senior, imaging solutions, Canon Solutions America.
Ease of install is an attractive media feature for any PSP, whether they are experienced or new to the trade. Today there are various pressure-sensitive materials available that accelerate installing—and removing—graphics applications.
Be sure to visit digitaloutput.net/webinars to learn more about media designed with ease-of-install features. We interviewed various vendors in this piece on the topic and an archived broadcast is available to view.
Sep2021, Digital Output