By Melissa Donovan
Floor graphics serve multiple purposes from wayfinding to promotional messaging. With popularity growing, it’s understandable that print service providers (PSPs) need to research the best materials for the scenario at hand.
While many substrates designed for floor graphic application work well across all types of surfaces, there are advantages to using a more targeted product depending on where the graphic will be placed and for how long.
We’ve divided product types based on surfaces—stippled/textured hard surfaces, smooth hard surfaces, and carpet. The first article in this series focuses on stippled/textured hard surfaces. Common types of flooring that fall under this category include concrete, asphalt, brick, and stucco.
Above: Jessup Asphalt Art is an anti-slip media that conforms to uneven outdoor surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, and paving bricks, providing a painted on effect.
Not to Be Foiled
In terms of material composition, aluminum-based products as well as vinyl products are preferred when it comes to stippled/textured surfaces. They offer a level of durability required for concrete, asphalt, brick, and stucco.
Aluminum-based products are heavily favored. This is “due to their natural ability to easily conform to the surface without heat and they do not require an overlaminate. Additionally, a foil-based material has no memory so it will maintain the shape of the textured surface it is applied to and not shrink,” explains Micah Causey, VP of business development, FloorSignage, LLC.
“The foil base clad in a conformable printable surface provides superior durability for these types of surfaces—i.e. like a parking lot where they are driven on. Also, the foil composition allows the product to conform to irregular surfaces like asphalt and concrete,” adds Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc.
Another option is vinyl-based products, which Amanda Smith, product manager, Mactac, believes “adhere to rough surfaces well and also are considered a better economic version.”
Russell Nicoletti, president, Infinity Media Company, an exclusive importer of FloorAppeal, shares that fabric is also used in these situations because, “it is soft and adheres and conforms well to the rough and textured surfaces.”
Inspecting the condition of the surface is important to determine the best media and even adhesive used. “Stucco, for example, is plaster applied to a concrete floor. Depending on the technique used to install stucco, the surface profile could have high peaks that are more difficult for products with a lower coat weight of adhesive to adhere to, and with the peaks there is higher risk for damage when the product is removed. A conformable film, such as vinyl, combined with a heavier coat of adhesive will allow for better contact of the adhesive to the surface as compared to a stiffer film with a lower coat weight of adhesive,” recommends Jodi Sawyer, strategic business unit manager, retail and advertising, FLEXcon Company, Inc.
Sticking to It
Of course, material is only as good as the adhesive it is sticking too and that adhesive has to adhere well to the surface in question. Stippled/textured surfaces present challenges on the adhesion front, requiring an aggressive combination to ensure the graphic stays down for its intended lifespan.
“If you ever studied chemistry, you know the extreme challenges of getting an adhesive to stick asphalt. The type of adhesive used depends on the durability expectations of the customer. Choices include permanent, high-tack removable, and, for shorter term applications a removable adhesive,” notes Mike Richardson, business development manager, Jessup Manufacturing Co.
Durability expectations revolve around how long the graphic will be in place. “For more temporary applications, having an acrylic removable or water-based adhesive is good for ease of removal. Water-based adhesives are easy to clean up once the graphic is removed,” advises Michael Aldrich, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
More permanent or longer term installations benefit form solvent-based adhesives. “A heavy coat weight of solvent-based acrylic adhesive with a high peel adhesion and medium shear will provide the necessary adhesion to the textured surface and excellent resistance to chemicals, heat, humidity, and other environmental challenges. If properly installed, this type of adhesive will provide a strong bond to the surface and prevent moisture from getting underneath the graphic, which could result in lifting,” explains Sawyer.
With stippled, textured hard surfaces—especially those outdoors—Gareth Newman, Drytac Academy manager, Drytac, also suggests a high-tack solvent or hot melt adhesive, which is a more aggressive option. “These types of adhesives can withstand the cold/hot extremes from rain and wind.”
“Permanent adhesive is preferred so that it will withstand the elements and not come up and cause a tripping hazard,” agrees Shaun Jaycox, product manager, S-One Holdings Corporation.
It is important to note that despite the word “aggressive” in the description, these adhesives still provide ease of use for the installer. “Most are pliable enough to create an easy install, but then can be removed usually with little residue left behind,” admits Angel Georgiou, senior marketing specialist, Imaging Supplies, Canon Solutions America.
Getting in Step
Floor graphics are applied in one- or two-step systems. A one-step system involves a durable media while two-step systems use a media and overlaminate combination. Both are advantageous for stippled/textured hard surfaces.
The best option typically depends on how long the graphic is in place as well as other reasons. “The PSP needs to think of the application, required durability, and slip resistance,” recommends Smith.
When it comes to riding out high volumes of traffic, in the two-step camp is René Bourgeois, VP sales North America, ASLAN Selbstklebefolien GmbH, saying that a two-step product is preferred “since rough surfaces often come along with heavy mechanical wear.”
Newman says whether one- or two-step is used is dependent on the foot traffic in the desired location. However, he points out that two-step products can protect the ink of the graphics for longer, making them ideal for long duration campaigns.
For short-term applications, up to six months, Colbath recommends a one-step product. “If you are applying a graphic to a textured surface, a thinner, one-step product will confirm easier. And, with no laminate there is less chance of delamination over time.”
“Most one-step products are more temporary and offer removable acrylic adhesives, or there are water-based adhesives. Some of these one-step products have a glass or sand coating that adds a non-slip surface,” adds Aldrich.
Preparing for Success
Prior to installation, cleaning and care of the floor must be undertaken to ensure proper application. Stippled/textured surfaces present a few challenges compared to other flooring options.
First and foremost, the surface in question needs to free of debris and dry. “Stucco and brick need all loose debris and paint to be removed for adhesion,” says Jason C. Leonard, technical sales manager – digital print, Neenah Paper and Packaging.
Removing debris or dust can be done in a few ways. Georgiou suggests a wire brush to ensure the grooves in the bricks are as clean as possible prior to installation.
A rigid/rough bristle broom is also helpful when clearing out loose debris or sand, suggests Sawyer. “If graphic placement is outdoors, inspect the surface to make sure that it is in good condition before application of the graphics. Sealed or unsealed, it should be fully cured, dry, limited to hairline cracks, and free of flaking debris and other contaminants.”
Power washing is an option, especially if the surface is “exceptionally dirty” with not only debris but oil, recommends Jaycox.
“Usually thorough sweeping is sufficient, but if the surface is oily or covered in a layer of grime from pollution, it may need to be power washed with a commercial degreaser. Allow sufficient time for the surface to thoroughly dry before installing the material,” notes Causey.
If the surface is exposed to water—whether intentionally through cleaning or rain—it is important that 24 hours go by before installing graphics. “Dry weather allows for the surface to dry out,” says Smith.
Because of the porous nature of surfaces like concrete, Aldrich says it is best to avoid liquids all together. “The surfaces will hold moisture for some time and if you’re applying over these surfaces while damp, it will most likely cause your application to fail/fall off.”
Jaycox states that in general the temperature of the area where the graphic is applied should be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Although, Sawyer encourages reviewing the minimum application temperature recommended by the media manufacturer on their product data sheet.
The level of difficulty when it comes to installing to a stippled/textured surface ranges based on material used, graphic size, and other factors. As long as detailed instructions are followed, Richardson says any installer is able to complete a successful installation.
That being said, some of these surfaces do present challenges that may be more easily overcome by a medium or highly skilled installer. Newman provides one example of bridging over grout areas or missing concrete. If the graphic is placed over these crevasses it can lead to premature ripping, which causes trip hazards.
With the irregularities found in a textured surface, aggressive techniques familiar to a more seasoned installer are sometimes favored. “Apply the graphics and squeegee out any air bubbles. Then roll out the graphic with a soft rubber j-roller to seat the graphic. For some products, light heat can be applied to allow the material to conform to irregular surfaces,” advises Colbath.
“Installation of items like stucco and brick should be left in the hands of a professional installer. Many products will require heat to contour to the rough surface,” agrees Leonard.
Heat can be applied using a gun or small torch. “This can help when applying to allow the material to become softer to get the material into some of those cracks, crevasses, hills, and valleys on the surface,” recommends Aldrich.
In addition, “tools like soft rubber rollers to push graphic media into uneven surfaces make the application process easier,” shares Lily Hunter, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.
After installation, care and maintenance methods need to be reviewed and then kept in place for the duration of the intall. This ensures the graphic remains in place for the proper amount of time and functions/appears correctly.
The material composition of floor graphics for textured surfaces is the way it is for a reason. “These graphics are designed to take abuse,” notes Colbath.
Keeping an eye on certain applications, like those placed in high-traffic areas, is important. “Mechanical wear caused by twisting tires of cars or forklifts might damage the products,” admits Bourgeois.
“It is a good idea to keep them clear of debris that can get ground into the graphic from repeated traffic,” adds Colbath.
Much of the post-installation cleaning mirrors the preparation part of floor graphic installation. According to Sawyer, the best way to clean the top surface of the graphic is by using warm water or mild soap—dish detergent—and a sponge. She cautions against using burnishing pads or abrasive cleaning pads or harsh cleaning solvents, as they can damage the graphic.
Power washing isn’t recommended, as it could cause the graphic to lift around the edges. If a high-pressure hose is used, “we recommend power washing with the nozzle 36 inches from the graphics and avoid spraying the material’s edges,” says Causey.
“Keep at least 3.5 feet distance from the surface and use a 25 degree nozzle,” adds Nicoletti.
If the graphic starts to lift around the edges, it should be removed immediately and replaced with a new graphic to avoid risk of injury, recommends Sawyer.
Keeping up with the care and maintenance is two-fold, as the graphic needs to visually serve its purpose but also remain safe to walk on. “Outdoor floor graphics should be cleaned with a brush and mild cleaner to maintain a high traction rating and a safe walking surface. If this cannot be done, the graphic must be removed when dirt and grime accumulate,” concludes Smith.
When it comes to stippled/textured surfaces, the best type of floor graphic media involves aluminum-based or vinyl. The material composition of these two products provide a level of durability required to adhere well into cavernous surfaces like stucco or brick. Paired with the correct adhesive, the material is rated to last either for short or long term depending on the needs of the client.
If you are a PSP interested in floor graphics used on smooth hard surfaces like tile, laminate, or wood check back in our May issue. Or maybe you’re looking to uncover some tips on floor graphics for carpets, that’s in our June issue.
And for a conversation on all-things floor graphics, visit digitaloutput.net/webinars for archived broadcasts with participation from vendors in this article.
Apr2022, Digital Output