By Cassandra Balentine
Sometimes, a general purpose product is the best solution for a given scenario. While we extensively cover specialty media options in Digital Output—including sign and display, window, floor, wall, and vehicle vinyl media—there is something to be said for one product versatile enough to adequately cover a range of applications. That’s where multi-purpose vinyl media options come in.
“Multi-use products are engineered with high-performance adhesive systems that meet a range of end-use requirements for both permanent and removable applications, reducing the number of SKUs and offering improved inventory turns and efficiencies for print service providers (PSPs),” shares Bekie Berg, product manager, FLEXcon. “With the versatility of these products, PSPs can quickly turnaround same-day print requests. In addition, these products are easy to install and priced competitively.”
Above: The Drytac Polar line is suited for indoor/outdoor, permanent or removable, and short-term/long-term windows, walls, and retail.
As the name suggests, multi-use/multi-purpose vinyl products play many roles in the wide format printing space. Multi-purpose solutions are available to cover short-term, removable graphics for applications like displays, windows, walls, counters, and floors; and long-term, permanent options for use in architectural graphics to add privacy and ambiance to a room.
“Multi-use vinyl graphic films allow sign shops to use one print media for multiple applications,” explains Joey Heiob, East regional technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions. This helps to reduce the inventory a shop needs to maintain, which can save money and make it easier to decide what film to use for the requested application. “Typically shops will choose a film for wall, floor, point of purchase (POP), and window graphics.”
Austin Eck, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc., says multi-purpose vinyl presents a value in understanding the intricacies of a film. “Every product is slightly different, and if the installer finds a film that works well for them, it is a bonus if they can apply it to multiple substrates.”
Robert Rundle, director technical sales and business development viscom, Nekoosa, notes that multi-purpose print media offers PSPs options to provide a consistent looking medium for POP campaigns that encompass floor, wall, and window graphics. Also, having a multi-purpose vinyl readily available allows printers to respond quickly to jobs on all three applications with confidence.
“The wide format market has many products intended for multi-use, and likely an even greater number of products that have unofficially become multi-use through the experimentation and imagination of users,” comments Roy S. Ritchie Jr., president, DreamScape. “If there is one thing we know about the creatives in this market, they will find a way. I’ve often referred to the digital print industry as the wild west—and I’ve meant that as part compliment and part warning. PSPs so often create fantastic solutions to unique challenges but there can be failures when products are pushed outside the boundaries of their design,” he cautions.
Nearly any print provider benefits from stocking a multi-purpose media.
From the local franchise sign shop to the largest visual communication service providers, the wide format print industry can look to leverage these products to grow their business. Ross Burnham, senior marketing manager, Mactac, says wide format printers have found value in utilizing fewer media products for broader applications. “This helps to maximize their spend on materials and provide a better finished result, as each function of the shop gets more experience from working with the material over time.”
Multi-use vinyls are found in every market segment, especially in commercial vehicle wrap shops that wrap different types of vehicles, and franchise sign shops that produce different types of signage, shares Adrian Cook, marketing manager, 3M Commercial Solutions.
René Bourgeois,VP sales North America, ASLAN Selbstklebefolien GmbH, points out that smaller sized print shops might favor multi-purpose options due to a lack of storage space.
Multi-use products are ideal for PSPs that print a variety of applications, including smaller print shops that do not have room to inventory a lot of different products, agrees Berg. They help them expand their market reach.
Companies looking to simplify and better control their printed graphic campaigns find multi-use vinyl appealing. Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., says the ability to use one product for multiple applications allows users to eliminate the need to carry multiple products. “This creates higher inventory turns and better management. Typically, this can really help smaller shops where lower volume usage leads to many partial rolls sitting in a back room waiting to be used. However, larger PSPs can benefit from this as well.”
“Most print providers that need a multi-use product are usually turning out high-volume graphics, or on short notice,” notes Steve Yarbrough, product support specialist, Drytac.
Rundle sees success among larger UV offset printers who handle multi-state retail advertising campaigns and want a uniform look, texture, and color across graphics throughout all of their stores.
Overall, any PSP providing a range of services is a prospective user of multi-purpose media. “If a print provider is serving a niche or is only specialized in providing a certain type of service, they might not get the same benefit from a multi-purpose vinyl as a print provider that is installing window graphics one day, making a business signs the next, and installing a POP display the following,” states Eck.
Multi-use or multi-purpose vinyl options offer reduced inventory costs as well as ease of use and installation.
Often a go-to for several types of quoted jobs, Yarbrough says products of this nature allow PSPs to keep inventory costs down and the product moving rather than sitting on a shelf taking up space.
“Since these products are popular in the marketplace, they are readily available from distributors so shops can purchase them quickly when needed,” suggests Cook.
Using the same product in multiple applications provides more conformity over the look of the job. “Graphics printed on the same vinyl will have the same colors and aesthetics,” explains Colbath. “From a production and installation standpoint, it simplifies the production of the graphics. The color management, printing, finishing, and installation will be standardized to one product streamlining the process.”
“When a single film is utilized for multiple types of applications and uses, it reduces the amount of inventory a shop needs to maintain and allows the shop to become comfortable with printing on and installing one film. It also allows for application continuity—the visual outcome meets their customer’s design expectations,” comments Heiob.
Burnham adds that by continuously working with a media, there is a higher confidence across the shop. “From color management, print, finishing, and installation—all team members have the ability to optimize their efforts using a familiar go-to product. The printer can also benefit from consolidating their purchases, leveraging potential volume discounts for the material.”
Another plus is that products can be paired with different overlaminates to vary their appearance, extend the life of the graphic, and provide even more versatility, shares Berg.
Drawbacks to Consider
There are challenges when working with multi-use/multi-purpose media.
“There is some truth to the expression—a jack of all trades, a master of none. You might find that a product designed for application to windows installs with greater ease than a multi-purpose vinyl or that another product has better durability than a multi-purpose film in certain conditions,” admits Eck. This is why it is always important to check the technical information of a film and compare it to the expectation of a client. “In some cases, a multi-purpose film will serve just fine, but PSPs need to know when they should opt for a film designed solely for a type of application.”
No one media solution can be used in all applications. “The customer must know the limitations and pivot to another product accordingly,” recommends Colbath. Also, as the price may be more, the customer must be educated on why and how the benefits outweigh the higher cost. “The bottom line it is imperative to know when a multi-use product makes sense, and when it does not.”
Yarbrough adds that understanding the limitations of any media is a key responsibility of a PSP and their sales representatives. “Multi-use does not mean use it for everything. Using a product on floors that is designed for windows and walls may not be a good idea. Getting educated by the media manufacturer will benefit everyone involved, keeping production and installation costs down.”
Shaun Jaycox, global product manager, S-One Holdings Corporation, says alternatives may cost a little less per square foot; however, the overall expense of using a multi-purpose product will likely be less. “Some customers may spec a specific product and it may take more time to present the multi-purpose alternative for approval, but overall, it will be worth the time and effort to transition to multi-purpose products.”
Some may feature various adhesive options while utilizing a common face stock. “Understanding the difference between surface types and adhesive options is needed for a successful end result and a happy customer. For example, adhering to glass versus a zero volatile organic compounds painted drywall surface require two very different type of adhesives—removable versus high-tack,” explains Burnham.
“Limitations always come with the surface the product is being stuck to. A one-for-all is a good wish, but not reality when taking the whole process—application, durability, adhesion, removability—into account. So, if you limit yourself to a multi-purpose vinyl, you do limit yourself to certain jobs being left open for the competition to step in,” says Bourgeois.
Most multi-use films are calendar films, which are designed for flat application use. Heiob points out that this means they typically cannot be used on textured substrates, compound curves, or recessed surfaces. And, typically these films have a relatively short expected life span of one to three years.
“As with any textured surface, durability of the printed ink is important because the edges of a raised texture are sometimes easier to scratch than a flat surface,” comments Ritchie.
Berg shares that multi-use products are not designed to be used in applications that require conformability and/or applied with heat—such as vehicle wraps—and they would not be a fit for applications that require the sparkle and pizzazz glitter films can provide.
Multi-purpose products are made to work well for a variety of uses. This is in contrast to speciality products meant to do one thing really well. So what physically differentiates the two options?
“Tailored solutions typically possess the exact combination of film thickness, adhesive strength, and liner weight needed to create a specific application,” notes Rundle. “While multi-use products are very convenient and easy to use, you may potentially sacrifice some characteristics that are tailored to substrates optimized for a specific application. For example, an adhesive peel value may be slightly higher on a multi-use product to accommodate for wall and floor applications versus what you would commonly find on a substrate designed for window graphics.”
Adhesives in multi-purpose products must be formulated to perform on multiple surfaces. “For wall, window, and floor graphics, you want to ensure it has the proper removability, leaving little or no glue residue and for floor graphics specifically meeting slip/performance ratings,” shares Jaycox.
Multi-purpose products are designed to be subjected to many applications. “This usually means they are high quality in nature to ensure they perform in the manner that is expected,” explains Colbath.
Berg describes multi-purpose media as typically either clear or white, general purpose films not specifically designed for one application surface, or to meet specialty test standards or application requirements.
“In many cases a multi-use product will get the job done, even if a slightly better specialty product exists,” says Cook. For example, maybe you don’t need air release for a certain project but you already have a substrate loaded on the printer. Often it doesn’t make sense to purchase a different product to try to save a few pennies when you could just print on that substrate and move on. In other cases, if the project requires a special adhesive for a low surface energy substrate, you’ll want to get the specialty product to ensure the graphic doesn’t fail.”
“Tailored products provide dedicated performance to the surface it’s been designed for,” explains Bourgeois. “Whether it’s clean removability or extra tough bond, being specially firm for easier application, or conformable for wrapping jobs—tailored products provide multiple benefits for easier, hassle-free applications.”
Berg suggests that if your customers require a high-end wall graphic with the look and feel of fabric with repositionability, window graphics with the “super clear” look, or even floor graphics with a specialty overlaminate such as safari or velvet, you’ll need to source other media options besides multi-purpose.
Eck shares that applications to walls, windows, or floors often call for specially designed films and specially designed adhesive systems because the substrates and the type of wear and tear that the substrates take are so vastly different from a traditional type of sign application. “Using a specialty product that was formulated solely to perform in one circumstance will likely lead to easier installs and better performance,” he admits.
“Multi-purpose products may have an adhesive that works well for certain surface energy substrates or surfaces and not at all for others,” says Yarbrough. “Using a floor graphic material rated for indoor tile should not be used for outdoor graphics on asphalt, there are different properties to every surface. With every surface there are adhesives that are made with specific characteristics to be able to bond, hold, and remove cleanly. Heavier coat weights factor in as well for irregular surfaces. A high-end optically clear adhesive for windows would not be needed for walls, again making sure the correct media is being used for the application is key.”
At the end of the day, it is important to understand the feature set required of the application. “A self-adhesive media with a clean releasing micro-spheric adhesive can be applied to almost any smooth surface and therefore lends itself to possible use on multiple surface types. Specifiers and users need to verify what criteria are necessary for the given project, such as flame retardancy, slip resistance, durability, and longevity. It isn’t realistic to expect any one product to be the best for every need, so specifiers should also prioritize those most critical needs,” explains Ritchie.
One for All
A variety of vinyl media options are available to graphic arts users. While specialty solutions are required for certain situations, PSPs benefit from stocking up on a multi-purpose media option that is easy to quote, profile, and install for a range of applications.
Feb2021, Digital Output