By Cassandra Balentine
From aesthetics to security and practicality, architectural window media serves many purposes. Depending on the type of material selected, installations help provide privacy, reduce glare, regulate temperature, and communicate essential information to passersby.
The addition of printed statements and/or graphics have the potential to add value to these applications. “Digital printing is, without a doubt, the most cost efficient and versatile enhancement for architectural window media,” offers Michael Butler, owner, Solar Graphics. “Research has shown that open office floor plans and open spaces dramatically improve workplace productivity and mental health among employees. Glass curtain walls are becoming widely used to create sound barriers for hallways and conference rooms while still maintaining openness. What better to spruce the glass up than digital print?”
Ross Burnham, senior marketing manager, Mactac, notes that designers and print providers use a combination of stand alone designs and the integration of floor and wall themes for their customers’ end use projects. “A print provider can utilize their existing portfolio of solvent, eco-solvent, latex, UV, and UVgel wide format print technology to expand their window offerings and grow business,” he offers.
Clear window film is a great medium for digital printing as it is 100 percent optically clear. “You won’t see a hazy box around your desired graphic and you can cover the entire glass pane with the clear so that no edges are visible. Another neat feature is an optically clear medium that can be installed as a graphic on the interior, which will help it against the sun and other elements,” continues Burnham.
Evolution of Window Media
In the past, providers were entirely reliant on manufacturers producing different looking printed patterns and images to install on glass. “Examples are something that looks like sandblasted glass or perhaps rice paper or some type of lined patterns. Now, providers are able to create virtually anything they or their customers design by using a clear base material,” offers Randy Garcia, technical specialist – window films, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions. These films provide visual privacy and deliver branding or messages while providing UV protection from sun damage and fading.
“Windows for architectural interiors have evolved greatly over the years,” agrees James Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec of America. He explains that a couple of decades ago, if someone wanted an etched glass effect it had to be sandblasted. “The cost of this can be upwards of $80 per square foot.”
With the advent of frosted films, fixed patterns were available at a much lower cost and offered permanent or removable options. These were limited to fixed patterns or designs. “Digital printing allows the customer to purchase a pattern of their own design or choosing. Customers also incorporate design elements including logos or company specific items,” offers Halloran.
The challenge is getting the word out. Steve Wood, business development manager, Madico, Inc., notes that most architectural window film providers are not incorporating digital print at this point.
Weighing Pros and Cons
Adding digitally printed messaging to architectural window film placements brings opportunity. There are advantages and challenges to consider before adding or expanding this service.
“The biggest benefit would be the freedom to create unique patterns and designs without the reliance on a manufacturer’s offering,” shares Garcia.
Halloran agrees, noting that with digital print, custom designs are less challenging to install and changeout. “Digitally printed film is easily and inexpensively shipped to the install location relative to decorating glass and shipping it. Also, an optically clear film that is printed and installed correctly gives the appearance that the glass was directly printed.”
Bare windows offer a new palette to work with. “Wide format graphics are used to support school spirit and brand messaging or to inspire employees,” offers Burnham. “Window graphics also provide privacy while allowing natural daylight to brighten any room.”
It can be taxing to obtain the right printing technology and learn how to optimize it for window film media. It is a little easier for those that understand printing. “It’s not necessarily difficult, it just takes additional training and monetary investment. It is also important to obtain a quality printer, which itself is not difficult to do but requires some research,” admits Garcia.
Certain areas benefit from digitally printed architectural window media installations. For example, Wood sees a large opportunity for office fronts, particularly with the use of white ink.
According to Garcia, interior windows for environments like homes, hotels, commercial, and retail spaces are all candidates. “These spaces have clear windows for which the end user may want privacy, a decorative element, or some brand identity. This allows for an opportunity to create something satisfying that is not simply an out-of-the-box solution.”
Burnham adds educational facilities, sports complexes, resorts, restaurants, and family destinations like theme parks to the list, noting that locations with a constant flow of patrons that are exposed to messaging and environments designed for that location or venue would potentially benefit from window graphic installations.
“An interesting circumstance that many people overlook is that when you have glass walls spanning from the ground to overhead is people often walk into them. Many companies are forced to create some form of deterrent and will turn to digital print media. This will solve the problem while possibly gaining advertising or appealing design to an area,” suggests Butler.
In addition to finding any and all locations that benefit from printed architectural window media installations, it is always important to stay on top of the latest trends and demands.
Features like white, frost, and etched designs are popular, according to Wood. He points out that few devices can print white, etch, and frost.
Further, Halloran illustrates options like scratch resistance have helped Lintec customers use the film that they buy for longer than they would normally expect.
Providers are working with clients to create unique designs, patterns, or looks that personalize glass, says Garcia. He adds that clear, printable films are replacing solid printed materials for retail shops and other locations since after printing an image you can still see through the window.
Butler sees more designers looking for gradients, where the bottom of the windows are 100 percent translucent and fading to clear at the top for visibility. “The translucent part is a great privacy tool for hiding desks, storage areas, and even employees.”
Another feature driving trends is the environment. Open space environments can generate LEED points for the building, giving the company a better eco-friendly rating. “Even the clear window film actually stops 99 percent of UV rays and approximately 20 percent of the energy passing through the glass,” explains Butler.
Halloran also sees demand for products with environmental advantages. “We recently launched a product that is 80 percent recycled content. This material is optically clear and has all the appearance of virgin film. Using recycled materials in a job can also help to get LEED points.”
The last two years have been particularly impactful on many offices. As employees return to the workplace, either full time or as part of a hybrid situation, companies look to optimize environments. Digitally printed window films aid in this.
“Due to the pandemic, many companies will look for potential improvements to existing office layout and designs,” says Burnham. “More division within open spaces will most likely be incorporated and the use of windows and natural light provides a great opportunity to include graphics into the new room design.”
Garcia agrees, confirming that one of the trends with the slow return to the workplace is clear space dividers replacing open concepts. “This clear partition, usually glass, is being personalized to offer a semblance of privacy.”
“Some companies want to dress up their spaces and showcase their organization’s identity to further enhance their company culture,” adds Wood.
Simply put, “with the office empty and beginning to return to full it is a great time to renovate,” says Halloran.
Add it In
For those that have not yet incorporated digital print as an option for architectural window films, it is worth considering.
Wood says manufacturers could promote the service to non-printing installers and reveal a new profit center.
“If you currently do not offer any printable window film service, the first thing to do is carefully look at every quote you are called out on and call every project you successfully installed and ask the client if they are considering privacy or decorative solutions to interior glass partitions for offices or conference rooms,” suggests Garcia. “This will assist in gauging the need with your existing clients. If your research leads you to adding this service, look into printers and ink types that would best work with the printable films you select, and obtain the necessary training.”
Butler sees a huge amount of possibilities with the addition of digital printing. “We already offer over 90 unique colors of window films, well, now we can print any design on any color,” he concludes.
Dress it Up
The past two years were challenging for many companies. For some essential organizations, business remained in person and steady, however the addition of protective barriers and social distancing practices required an interior update. For those just starting to welcome back customers and employees, an office refresh that optimizes glass for messaging, privacy, and safety is a consideration.
Dec2021, Digital Output