By Cassandra Balentine
Reflective media is traditionally used for graphics on applications like emergency vehicles and municipal signage. However, it increasingly amplifies creative campaigns.
There are several types of reflective media, many of which are printable. They come in both commercial and engineering grades. Additionally, both prismatic and glass bead media is available. It is important to consider the final application and its intended viewing distance when weighing the options.
Above: 3M recently introduces its 3M Scotchlite Print Wrap Film 280mC-10R product, featuring wider angle reflectivity and comply adhesive with micro technology.
Popularity and Applications
The use of reflective media includes traditional applications like emergency vehicles and wayfinding signage, but is expanding into new markets. Brand owners and print service providers (PSPs) are starting to think outside of the box and gravitate toward reflective media to generate attention and stand out from the competition. Reflective media is also addressing the growing need for graphics to be seen during the day and at night.
Popular for years, interest in reflective media continues to grow. “It is becoming easier to apply and install and helps brand owners with additional ways to create greater branding visibility 24/7,” offers Paul Amos, marketing manager, 3M Commercial Solutions.
3M offers reflective films in solid colors for electronic cutting and printable films. Most recently, it introduced 3M Scotchlite Print Wrap Film 780mC-10R, featuring wider angle reflectivity and comply adhesive with micro technology, to help with ease of installation and provide a smooth finish and easy removal.
Cindy Richards, technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, says emergency vehicles use reflective media to make themselves visible to other vehicles they share the road with. However, this functionality can be taken a step further. “Fleets take a creative approach to highlight the business and brands they serve. For example, gas tankers use reflective film to brightly advertise gas stations or travelers’ centers. Reflective is also found in railroad applications, street signage, real estate signage, conspicuity tape, and for added value on commercial wraps.”
Avery Dennison offers a number of reflective media products. These include different options for tapes, sheeting, and beaded films such as VisiFlex V-8000, V-5720 Series and V-9700 Series Conspicuity Tape, and T-1500 Series.
“Reflective materials are seen everywhere—from a school zone crossing guard, traffic signage, and barricades; from monument signs in front of an office park to police cruisers, ambulances, and fire trucks. These are more traditional uses for reflective films, but we’re seeing more creativity and implementation of these eye-catching safety products,” comments Josh Culverhouse, graphic innovations market manager, ORAFOL Americas.
He says back in the day, one would typically see a boring, predictable red or black stripe down the side of an emergency vehicle. Now, graphics companies and designers are stepping out—expanding their creative pallets and producing elaborate, high-impact graphic packages. Not just on emergency vehicles but on state welcome signage, unique accents applied to a vehicle wrap, full vehicle wraps, and wall murals.
ORAFOL provides several printable reflective materials including ORALITE 5600 Fleet Engineer Grade, match with ORAGUARD 293 overlaminate; ORALITE 5650RA Fleet Engineer Grade, match with ORAGUARD 293 overlaminate; ORALITE 5400 Commercial Grade, match with ORAGUARD 215 overlaminate; ORALITE 5800 High Intensity Grade; ORALITE 5900 High Intensity Prismatic Grade; ORALITE 6700 Engineer Grade Prismatic; and ORALITE 7900 Wide Observation Angle Prismatic.
Brian Ayers, market development specialist, product identification business team and Steve Tomas, director, product branding business team, FLEXcon, add that reflective media is popular for applications where visibility is required. “In advertising applications, reflective media can eliminate the need for lighting—like an unlit stretch of a roadway or low-lit parking lot,” they offer. It can also add an element of safety to advertising on vehicles.
For use in advertising, Ayers and Tomas say printable, reflective media applications typically have a wide angle pattern for reflection and most retro-reflective media only reflects directly back towards the light source.
FLEXcon offers several different reflective products that are compatible with narrow web digital as well as large format digital printing.
Tammy Bui, product manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC, explains that when focused on graphical purposes, reflective products were always available, but never gained the same traction of cast or calendar vinyl film for a couple of reasons. First, they are generally more expensive than average media due to the technology cost of the film and secondly they require learning new installation techniques.
Arlon recently introduced a new reflective film wrap, IllumiNITE Wrap with FLITE Technology, which is designed to help bridge the gap between the end user and reflective wraps. “With this product, we want to show the worth of reflective media and break the stigma that reflective films have always had,” she offers.
The company also provides Series 2400 non-printable, cut graphic reflective film, which is available in eight colors as well as DPF 2400 digitally printable cut graphic reflective film.
Demand for Printable Use
The demand for printable reflective media is growing.
Amos believes this is happening as brand owners look for ways to gain greater visibility when shipping and transporting goods and in storefront or promotional applications. “It has the appearance of non-reflective media, but the graphics stand out 24 hours a day.”
Bui agrees, adding that printable reflective media is huge for end users wanting to obtain more graphic impressions of their business advertisements. “The main reason to have graphics on your vehicle or any substrate is to advertise your brand. Reflective films not only enable you to see the graphic in the day, but also reach out to a new audience during the night.”
Culverhouse sees interest from state department transportation agencies looking for high-quality, high-intensity prismatic printable reflective media. “There’s a demand from emergency services for longer lasting, more durable fleet engineering grade glass bead printable reflective materials. There is also a demand from general signage and graphics companies for more cost-effective, commercial-grade printable reflective material for general purpose applications like municipal wayfinding signage, park and recreation area signage, and stickers.”
Richards says the ability to customize designs on the film using graphic images with photographic quality is desirable for many brands. It allows the design to be more complex than shapes, text, and numbers, which are limited options offered by pigmented vinyl.
Based on different end uses, Tomas and Ayers point out that printable reflective media is well suited for monochrome applications like long-ranging barcodes for warehouse racks, all the way to vehicle wraps with reflective elements that grab consumer attention.
Wrap fabricators find reflective media designed for printing also ideal, especially because the graphics can be viewed in both day and night conditions. “Police and fire use it primarily for safety and the ability to print a traffic sign, without the need to weed or cut and transfer sheeting. It is very efficient and a cost savings compared to the past application methods,” admits Charlie Bond, director of sales, Nippon Carbide Industries (USA), Inc., Nikkalite reflective division.
Nippon Carbide Industries manufactures the Nikkalite brand of reflective films for fleet graphics and traffic sign applications. Its digitally printable reflective media is used in a variety of printers for graphic applications and wraps. The company offers the Nikkalite Brand 48000 Series Flexible Engineering Grade.
Tips and Challenges
While reflective media presents many benefits to a growing range of applications, there are several challenges that arise in design, production, and installation.
Reflective films can be difficult to profile. Culverhouse recommends downloading the correct ICC profiles from the material manufacturer’s website. “Most printable white reflective materials feature a silver appearance, so running a generic profile that was setup for a traditional white PVC print film throws colors off a bit. Utilizing the correct ICC profile ensures the ink levels, heat settings, and color settings are all tailored for the specific media produced.”
He also points out that the darker the print, the more muted the reflective properties become. “Designers should be cognoscente of the color pallets in their designs to ensure there are nice light and dark contrasts. If the graphic has a darker color pallet, the reflective properties become muted and will not create the impact the customer is most likely trying to achieve.”
Further, users should be aware that black reflective will create a silvery white appearance when illuminated in dark or dim conditions. “We’ve seen customers try to print black on white reflective thinking they’ll achieve the same appearance as stock black reflective film out of the box, I’m afraid this isn’t the case,” cautions Culverhouse.
When printing individual letters, numbers, and symbols, it’s a good idea to have a solid black or dark color outline implemented into the design. “This allows the message of the graphic to be more legible or identifiable when illuminated in dark or dim conditions. Otherwise, plain reflective text by itself will appear as a bright, unidentifiable blob when illuminated in dark or dim conditions,” advises Culverhouse.
Bui says the great thing about printable reflective media is that it is compatible with typical print platforms such as latex, solvent, and UV. However, choosing the right graphic is important. “The purpose of a reflective wrap is to have your film reflect light, and it cannot necessarily do so if the ink loading of the graphic is opaque enough to the point where light cannot shine through. As a result it is best to optimize the ink levels where possible, but of course, this will vary with the design if opacity is needed,” she shares.
In terms of print production, Bond points out that reflective media—specifically glass bead reflective graphic film—can be as thick as 20 mil, and require special printer systems in order to ensure outdoor durability with a laminate.
Ayers and Tomas explain that reflective—like other films—can have a top coat applied so it is more compatible with various printing technologies. However, they point out that challenges are presented when the media includes a matte top coat. Although it tends to be more universally printable, the matte blocks the reflectivity of the product.
In most cases, an overlaminate is suggested to help protect the printing film and prevent weathering. “Different inks require different approaches for off gassing prior to lamination and installation,” adds Amos.
Culverhouse suggests printable fleet engineer grade reflective materials should be laminated with one- or two-mil cast overlaminate to protect and extend the life of inks. Printable commercial grade reflective film should be overlaminated with either one- or two-mil cast overlaminate—or at a minimum—a high-performance calendared overlaminate to help protect and extend ink life.
Installation is another consideration. For reflective media, many media manufacturers suggest hiring a professional over a novice installer. For example, conformity is limited due to material thickness.
Richards says reflective media tends to be more difficult to install compared to traditional cast vinyl wrapping films. “This is due to a tackier—or more aggressive—adhesive.”
Tomas and Ayers admit it is harder to wrap with, as the reflective coating makes even conformable films more stiff and difficult.
Additionally, Richards cautions that bruising can occur with reflective media, which happens when the material is lifted to reposition and breaks the glass beads, causing a dark spot.
As printable reflective films become commonplace, the key is to have a product that utilizes common wrap material features like repositionable, air-egress adhesives. “It’s also nice to choose a product that can be removed easily with heat. When choosing a reflective material for vehicle graphics or wraps, make sure it carries a fleet engineer grade classification. These films are more flexible and have a more user-friendly adhesive than the traditional sign grade reflective films,” shares Culverhouse.
Bui says in the past, reflective films were designed for the more experienced installer because of the difficulty of application and cost associated with it. However, this is something Arlon trying to ease with IllumiNITE Wrap, which is designed for all installers—novice or experienced. “However, regardless of application, I would highly recommend learning about the nature of reflective films before application,” she cautions. Some reflective films embody glass bead technology, which is not 100 percent PVC.
“Reflective media, while more difficult to install, should be a value-added benefit to any shop. It can help set you apart from the competition, add more portfolio options to your clients, and really bring the wow factor,” offers Richards. “Taking time to learn how to print and install reflective vinyl is worth the time and effort.”
Reflecting on Reflective
While reflective media is a well-known solution for emergency fleets and municipal wayfinding signage, creative professionals and PSPs find new ways to integrate these solutions into more markets, with advertising as an example. Using reflective media allows graphics to be visible at all times—adding value and a differentiating factor.
Sep2018, Digital Output