By Melissa Donovan
Print service providers (PSPs) considering offering wallcoverings already have many of the necessary tools in their arsenal, from the printer to a familiarity with certain media products. What they may not have is the capacity to provide installation services.
In this saturated market, offering a client a one-stop shop—meaning print and install—is a big differentiator. So, if install isn’t on the current list of things a PSP can do, reaching out to knowledgeable resources about how to add it should be top priority.
These resources include media suppliers, current installers, and trade associations. Collaborating with these folks provides a look at how to determine which substrate type to use, how high or low the learning curve will be, and most importantly when it might make more sense to outsource install.
Above: 3M Commercial Solutions offers media for wallcoverings.
If a PSP is willing to learn how to install digitally printed wallcoverings, there are initial steps to take. These include at-home research, signing up for classes or seminars, and even hiring a professional installer to shadow.
Making the decision to bring installation in house is a commitment, attests Bekie Berg, product manager, FLEXcon. “Bringing the skill in house provides the PSP with complete control over the job from the printing, install, and removal of the media and can offer cost savings over hiring a professional. However, becoming an experienced installer requires investing time and resources into training.”
PSPs just starting out with wallcovering installations may choose to train an existing employee over hiring a new one. “They often do not have enough project volume to justify bringing on a full-time experienced installer right away, so they will often try to build up the skills of a current staff member. The most important action they can take is to invest in proper training,” advises Adrian Cook, digital print marketing manager, 3M Commercial Solutions.
A good place to start, according to Josh Culverhouse, graphic innovations manager, ORAFOL Americas, is reaching out to a preferred media manufacturer’s product technical support team. “This provides as much practical information as possible, for example tips and tricks, things to understand as it relates to different paint types, and what digital print materials would be recommended for each paint type.”
“It all starts with education. A good place to begin is either with the manufacturer or distributor of the wallcovering material you are using. Many suppliers provide free installation guides on their websites. Distributors create very detailed how-to videos that are helpful,” agrees Rick Nerenhausen, VP product management, S-One Holdings Corporation.
Third-party, non-vendor affiliated organizations are an option. Anthony Pappalardo, sales manager, North America, Dickson Coatings, shares that the Wallcoverings Association (WA) offers a two day installation course—referred to as TecTrac—covering multiple medias and textures.
There are a number of different wallcovering media/adhesive combinations. Learning and conducting an actual wallcovering install differs from simple to complex depending on the favored solution.
Traditional wallcovering products are either paper- or fabric-based and adhered using wallpaper paste. Newer options include pressure-sensitive adhesive-backed film, vinyl, paper, and fabric. There are also materials that feature adhesive activated when water is placed on the printed material.
Jason Amato, product manager, Dietzgen Corporation, admits that traditional wallcovering products are more difficult to install compared to others, as they require more tools, time, knowledge, and technique for the installer to sufficiently complete the job. Meanwhile, pressure-sensitive materials are designed to install with less effort in an abbreviated amount of time and with minimal mess.
Pressure-sensitive materials include vinyl, cast vinyl, polyester, polypropylene, and fabric and are available with various adhesives and coat weights like removable, permanent, repositionable, high tack, and low tack. “It is important that installers know exactly what material they are working with and the most effective installation method for each film/adhesive combination,” says Berg.
“There are many different face film options from PVC to polypropylene to synthetic media. All act differently from each other, and all have their challenges. However, PVC is the easiest to install as you can stretch and distort the graphic, while woven paper is harder as there isn’t any give in the media and less second chances of correcting mistakes,” adds Gareth Newman, manager, Drytac Academy.
Prior to deciding which material to use, certain considerations need to be addressed. These include customer requirements and whether the graphic is in place for short or long term. “Some of the more temporary, self-adhesive products may shrink over time—while they are installed on the wall—and you may begin to see seams between the panels. A commercial grade wallcovering installed with wallpaper paste gives you a better long-term look if you want to keep it up for a few years or longer,” shares Nerenhausen.
Gauging customer expectations is essential. “The learning curve is that only the end user knows what type of wall the material is being placed on and when and with what type of paint was used. This all plays into which material will work best for their wall. So, you have to educate the buyer right from the start to explain what works on specific wall surfaces with certain paints,” explains Walter Gierlach Jr., president, Photo Tex Group, Inc.
It is important to understand the paint type used on the surface the wallcovering adheres to. “Knowing whether the paint is a generic contractor grade or a high-end residential paint is important when it comes to selecting the correct wallcovering media,” recommends Culverhouse.
In the Thick of It
Some tips and tricks related to the actual install process range from making sure to test material and wall compatibility before determining the final media type to preparing the intended surface prior to install.
Test several media options on every single wall that is involved with the project, suggests Culverhouse, since you never know if a painter utilized multiple types of paint throughout. To do so, first apply three eight- by ten-inch or five- by seven-inch sheets of material to the wall with approximately 30 lbs. of pressure using a squeegee to ensure a solid bond.
In an ideal scenario, the test pieces have 24 hours in place to identify the best solution. If this isn’t an option, at least allow 30 minutes to get an idea, notes Culverhouse.
3M offers the 3M Adhesion Test Kit, providing a method to determine the best media for the job at hand. “A small investment in time to conduct an adhesion test with this kit can greatly reduce the chance for failure and rework that can destroy a project’s profitability. Every wall is different, and assuming that a particular media will work without testing can lead to graphic failures,” warns Cook.
Berg believes the size and format of the wall graphic impacts how installers approach installation. “Larger wallcoverings are often overlapped and lining up the panels in advance can save time and effort. Removing a small part of the liner at the top of each piece before climbing up a ladder makes each panel install safer and faster.”
Installation tools are of the utmost importance—from squeegees and knives to rollers and heat guns. Pappalardo notes that professional installation crews use new trimming blades during every new installation. This ensures a perfect line on the edges and avoids fraying.
Pressure-sensitive media types require a clean surface to ensure successful installation. “Use a soft, clean, lint-free cloth to remove all dust from freshly painted walls. Wash existing walls with a mixture consisting of one ounce of synthetic detergent per one gallon of lukewarm water. Avoid soaps or cleaning agents that contain oils, lotions, conditioners, or waxes. Wait at least one hour for the surface to dry thoroughly after cleaning before applying the primer,” explains Amato.
To increase a PSP’s odds of success when it comes to traditional wallcoverings that require paste on the back before adhering to the wall, Pappalardo offers these recommendations. “In most cases you need to apply a primer coating to the surface of the wall. That should be a matte primer, which will allow the paste to absorb into the primer without off gassing or bubbling.”
For the installation of a traditional wallpaper, Amato suggests applying a thin film of adhesive or paste using a half-inch nap paint roller on the back of the material. “Book” the wallpaper by folding the paste side on itself and make sure the side edges lineup perfectly. Then set the paper aside to allow the paste to soak in for ten minutes.
After ten minutes, “align the top of the wallcovering and any adjoining edges. Smooth the panels into place with a smoothing brush, starting at the center of the panel working toward the edges. Use a plastic smoother to push air pockets to the edge,” continues Amato.
Removal is Something Else
Many PSPs’ customers are repeat clients. If the wallcovering in question needs a refresh, whether it’s three months from install or three years, is the PSP responsible for its removal? There are mixed opinions on this. Whether responsible or not, offering removal services has its benefits.
Offering removal services is an additional means of revenue. “It prevents a customer from hiring a competitive PSP to complete the job and gives the PSP an opportunity to provide a full-service solution when they sell the printed wallcovering,” says Amato.
“If a PSP is going to offer installation it should include removal of the material. A job is not considered complete until a product performs as expected for the length of the promotion and cleanly removed without causing any damage. Providing this level of service is expected from any end user that is hiring a PSP to print and install their graphics,” adheres Berg.
Removal services are helpful in securing new jobs. “If a customer already has a wall graphic and wants to update it with new graphics, being able to offer the turnkey solution including removal of the old graphic to installation of the new graphic is valuable,” explains Cook.
Culverhouse believes removal should be a separate statement of work and not part of the initial installation statement of work. “Due to unknown variables a PSP or installer should never guarantee clean removability of any graphic film from a painted wall surface—even if a material with removable or changeable adhesive was utilized,” he advises.
Depending on the type of job—short or long term—Nerenhausen thinks removal services should be offered. “If it’s for a temporary wall, sure. That way they can come back and provide a new graphic when the current one is ready to come down. If it’s a long-term wallpaper job, I would suggest hiring a professional to do the removal. They’ll have the equipment that makes easy work of it.”
It is worth noting that some wallcovering material, for example Photo Tex, is marketed as a self adhesive. In this scenario, Gierlach says it can be easily removed at anytime without damaging the walls—making a removal service unnecessary.
Some PSPs simply do not have the time or resources to commit to bringing wallcovering installation in house. There are groups and associations available, however, that when required act as a trusted partner and extension of a business.
The Professional Decal Application Alliance (PDAA) provides access to certified installers nationwide. PDAA Master Certified Installers undergo extensive training and testing and are subjected to a variety of materials from different media suppliers during the process.
Amato suggests the United Application Standards Group (UASG). Consisting of certified installation experts located throughout the U.S. and found via the group’s website, uasg.org, UASG members have at least three years of experience in the industry and operate under a code of conduct that prohibits them from soliciting the customers of a PSP behind their back.
The WA is a nonprofit trade association representing wallcoverings manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers. Found at wallcoverings.org, it provides communication between various segments of the wallcoverings industry while promoting the use of wallcoverings in the marketplace.
The Wallcovering Installers Association (WIA) is dedicated to superior craftsmanship in the hanging of every type of wallpaper. WIA is focused on the interests and needs of wallcovering installers and those involved in the craft. PSPs can search for installers at wallcoveringinstallers.org.
Media manufacturers provide resources. ORAFOL offers a network of certified installers throughout Canada and the U.S. that partner with PSPs for contract installation services. Culverhouse suggests using them for more complex jobs.
3M offers accreditations like 3M Certified Graphics Installation and 3M Preferred Graphics Installer. They are tested and given certification to prove they are properly trained on installation techniques. These installers are available through 3M’s network and PSPs can fly them to locations to ensure a job is completed professionally.
For PSPs not wanting to make the commitment to bring installation services in house, these groups and associations are excellent options to consider.
Not every PSP is the same, and as mentioned—despite wanting to offer installation services, some may not have the capacity to do so. But, if they have the bandwidth, they should consider it.
Installation services are a great opportunity for a PSP to increase revenue and retain customers. “The complete wallcovering solution offers more profit for the PSP and might attract more work from its existing customer base,” shares Newman.
“It’s usually a benefit for a PSP to offer installation to customers to provide a turnkey solution. If a PSP has enough project volume to warrant a full-time installer on staff, it can make sense to build an internal capability that becomes a competitive advantage overtime,” suggests Cook.
Other PSPs may be better off outsourcing in the short term. “If a PSP only has one installation person on staff, it may be best to outsource the work until the business grows enough to support more than one installer,” adds Amato.
Berg argues that just because the PSP offers wallcoverings, doesn’t mean they should install. “There is nothing wrong with hiring a trusted professional to do the installation. What matters the most is that the product gets installed and removed properly and the needs of the end user are met no matter who handles the installation.”
“Build a network of installation subcontractors who will, in turn, bring print jobs to you. When you manage all aspects of the job, you can work with your installer as you create the graphics, print the tiles, and provide them with extra panels or reprints, as needed,” agrees Nerenhausen.
Consider All the Options
The level of commitment when it comes to learning about installation practices is up to the PSP and the bandwidth of their business. If outsourcing makes more sense, there are plenty of ways to partner with a trusted installation professional.
Wallcovering installation is a profitable add-on to any print job and PSPs should consider all the options.
Jun2020, Digital Output