By Melissa Donovan
Like so many other aspects of our lives, there is variety in flooring. Whether that means a concrete surface in a sporting arena, tile in a cafeteria, or hardwood in a museum. Floors are not exempt from graphics as we have seen them placed on any and all surfaces for social distancing thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and of course being used as promotional messaging.
Print service providers (PSPs) offering floor graphic applications often turn to an all-encompassing product that will work across multiple surfaces. However, there are benefits to using a specific material 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 April issue of Digital Output focuses on stippled/textured hard surfaces. Common types of surfaces that fall under this category include concrete, asphalt, brick, and stucco.
The second article in this series on floor graphics looks at smooth, hard surfaces, which includes tile, laminate, vinyl, wood, smooth concrete, linoleum, ceramic floors, and even polished stone like granite and marble.
Above: DreamScape floor graphic products are a three-ply construction with top and bottom layers of high-end, polymeric vinyl with a thin layer of fabric in between.
A Material Match
There are a number of options when it comes to floor graphic materials used on smooth, hard surfaces. Admittedly, any substrate works well. “The key is to match the product to the application. For short-term indoor applications, vinyl, fabric, or films work fine. For more robust outdoor applications, heavy-duty vinyl or foil-based products with aggressive solvent-based adhesives perform quite well. In any case, it is important to have a non-slip rated surface,” recommends Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc.
“The best floor graphic material is the one that has the function needed, represents the customer’s marketing objectives and branding requirements, and meets the quality and price point conditions of the job. This can be done with a range of materials including aluminum, vinyl, film, or fabric,” adds Matt Edwards, product manager for digital print media, General Formulations.
Vinyl and film are strong contenders. “Even slight bumps on smooth surfaces can be leveled out using vinyl to avoid protruding edges that might cause tripping,” explains René Bourgeois, VP sales North America, ASLAN Selbstklebefolien GmbH.
“Removable, self-adhesive vinyls with a water-based acrylic adhesive bond closely to the floor and present an insignificant scuff point at the edge of the graphic or print media and laminate package,” adds Brian Gibson, wide format technical specialist, GBC SEAL.
Similar to vinyl, but offering an eco-friendly spin on things are materials like PET made out of recycled water bottles or cellulose-based products. “These offer the same durability, non-skid, and removability of vinyl plus the added benefit of being sustainable with post-consumer waste in the make up,” comments Jason C. Leonard, technical sales manager – digital print, Neenah Paper and Packaging.
Thicker material is preferred, something like a three-ply construction with top and bottom layers of high-end, polymeric vinyl with a thin layer of fabric in between. “This thickness aides in making the product more durable and long lasting, which is what customers want. The thickness also makes the product easier to remove as it can be pulled off in one complete sheet without tearing or ripping like so many thin vinyls,” shares Bob O’Neill, national sales manager, Competitive EDGE Representatives, Canada/U.S. representative for DreamScape.
There is also favor towards all-fabric based materials. “Fabric composition material has secured its place as the best type of floor graphic media for smooth hard surfaces due to the material’s durability,” says Micah Causey, VP of business development, FloorSignage, LLC.
Confidence in Removability
With adhesion options varied— water-, solvent-, acrylic-based; as well as permanent or temporary and whether repositionability is preferred, it’s always important to have a bit more detail on the application at hand.
“The adhesives depend on the application, timeline for the graphic, and surface. With that being said, typically removable adhesive is ideal for temporary applications and permanent adhesive for applications lasting longer than six months,” recommends Amanda Smith, product manager, Mactac, for adhesives used for smoother surfaces.
It’s about removability—no matter which adhesive is used—in regards to smooth, hard surfaces. “The use of a low tack, low peel solvent- or water-based acrylic adhesive is ideal for smooth surface application by novice installers because it provides the necessary adhesion to the floor while also being easy to remove when the campaign is over without leaving any residue on the floor surface,” explains Jodi Sawyer, strategic business unit manager, retail and advertising, FLEXcon Company, Inc.
“It needs to be aggressive to stick and stay, but removable in the sense that it does not damage the flooring when removed. For some very temporary floor graphics you could get away with a less aggressive adhesive,” recommends Angel Georgiou, senior marketing specialist, Imaging Supplies, Canon Solutions America.
A low-tack adhesive is what Russell Nicoletti, president, Infinity Media Company, exclusive importer of FloorAppeal, says is on the “weaker” side, and is ideal for smooth surfaces because it allows for removal without leaving any residue.
More specifically, Gareth Newman, Drytac Academy manager, Drytac, is a proponent for water-based adhesives. They are considered a gentle option.
“Water-based adhesives don’t harm the ground. You will need a special adhesive formulation when applying to stones such as granite or marble to make sure the adhesive doesn’t ingress into the stone,” shares Bourgeois.
Avoiding the adhesive entering into a smooth surface like concrete or polished stone and marble is one reason to consider water-based adhesives. Another is if residue is left behind after the graphic is removed. “A graphic placed for an extended period of time may leave a little adhesive residue on the floor where the graphic was placed. The residue is easily cleaned with isopropyl alcohol or a water-based cleaner,” says Gibson.
Causey points out high surface energy surfaces such as polished concrete floors can also be a problem with aggressive and permanent adhesives. In addition, many interior floor surfaces have coatings and finishes that can be potentially damaged with aggressive, high sheer adhesives, which is why he suggests removable, solvent-based adhesive as option.
“Acrylic removable adhesive is what I would recommend. This will stick well and flat to these surfaces. When applied correctly the edges will resist water that could cause lifting of the graphic,” notes Michael Aldrich, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
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 considered advantageous for smooth hard surfaces. It really depends on the location and the foot traffic, notes Newman.
Mike Richardson, business development manager, Jessup Manufacturing Co., says the company “always recommends a one-step solution as it enables the PSP to avoid the additional labor, material, and time costs of a two-step lamination process.”
“Single-step products have proven themselves through the COVID-19 signage surge. The low profile and durability when printed with a UV printer has proven to outlast the average needs of the common retailer. The costs saved from eliminating labor and added lamination material allows quick speed to market and maintains profitability while being competitive,” admits Leonard.
On the other side of the equation, Aldrich says one-step products work for smooth, hard surfaces, but there is a risk of the graphic being scratched when cleaned with abrasive floor cleaning chemicals or even washed off when the floor is cleaned with a machine. “On these surfaces, I would recommend a two-step product. A vinyl and laminate made specifically for smooth hard surfaces.”
“Two-step floor graphic products allow for the best durability and performance with a functional laminate over an optimized print film. This combination provides the best looking solution that will maintain both its appearance and non-slip rating throughout the duration of the promotion,” agrees Edwards.
The benefit of lamination is two-fold, according to Gibson, as it protects the inks from scuffing and degrading in addition to adding body to the graphic. “This makes it easier to apply and increase long-term durability.”
Another advantage to lamination, according to Laura Slovensky, marketing manager, Nekoosa, is that “overlaminates suitable for floor graphic applications often come in different finishes so a customer’s desired aesthetic can be easily created.”
Shaun Jaycox, product manager, S-One Holdings Corporation, cautions that print providers should be aware that while a two-step system will offer longer life with laminate protection, it may also raise the cost of the graphic.
Similar to any install—whether it’s a floor, wall, or car door—the surface needs to be dry and cleared of debris and oil or grease to ensure proper adhesion.
Any small pebbles or physical debris need to be removed because “they become a high scruff point after the graphic is installed,” explains Gibson.
“The install surface must be clean, smooth, dry, and undamaged as well as free of mold, mildew, grease, or stains. Use a warm damp cloth to wipe off any dirt or dust and allow the surface to completely dry prior to installation. Do not use any chemicals to clean the intended surface,” recommends O’Neill.
A mix of soap and water is one of the best cleaning solutions. “I would not suggest any other chemicals to clean the surface because some of those floor cleaning products can cause the graphic to lift over time,” comments Aldrich.
Edwards says a putty knife helps remove any build up and suggests cleaning the floor with diluted TSP, rinse, and then rinse again with 50/50 isopropyl and water.
Another option is a bleach-based cleaner to help remove debris, suggests Leonard. On painted floors, he says a mix of alcohol and water is useful.
“Make sure to clean several inches of the floor around the graphic so you have room to make final adjustments to the placement if necessary,” adds Slovensky.
When the right material and adhesive combination is used, the level of difficulty in installing a floor graphic on a smooth surface is relatively low.
This is especially true when using a low-tack overlaminate material. “The two-part structure will give the graphic a body/handle that makes it easier to install as compared to a one-part graphic that is thin or flimsy. The low-tack adhesive will allow for the graphic to be initially repositioned, if necessary, as compared to a more aggressive product with permanent adhesive that will be less forgiving,” says Sawyer.
“With an advanced adhesive that employs microsphere technology, the media can be applied and reapplied many times over without any sacrifice in sticking power. This allows anyone to stick it where you want it without the need for professional installers,” adds O’Neill.
To start the process, Richardson recommends slowly removing the release liner. Removing it all at once makes it difficult to align the graphic and remove air bubbles, continues Colbath.
You can install using either a squeegee or a roller. “To install graphics using a squeegee, work from the center of the graphic out with firm, even pressure. Remove the remaining liner a few inches at a time using the squeegee to apply the remainder of the graphic to the floor. Use short, overlapping strokes from the center out,” explains Smith.
Alternatively, Causey believes a hard rubber roller yields a more successful application “It is better at evenly compressing the material to the texture of the surface and sealing the edges without friction, plus it is faster and more user friendly than a squeegee.”
To ensure a successful application for the intended duration of the floor graphic, it’s important to have proper care and keeping methods in place.
Smith says related to smooth, hard surfaces, it’s strongly recommended the floor graphic be waxed. This should be done about eight to 12 hours after installation when the adhesive has had enough time to set. The floor graphic should be waxed “especially if the graphic has overlapping seams or if a mechanical buffer or industrial strength floor cleaner is used for cleaning. Waxing seals and protects the graphic from industrial cleaning chemicals and power floor scrubbers.”
“While manual floor cleaning is recommended, materials designed for the application are typically compatible with mechanical floor scrubbers—you should just make sure to minimize the amount of water used,” suggests Edwards.
If a power washer is utilized for cleaning, Nicoletti recommends keeping it at least 3.5 feet from the surface and using a 25 degree nozzle.
Be aware of dirt halos, which are common issues associated with vinyl laminated graphics. “This is caused by a thick profile of a vinyl film and a floor laminate and enhanced by the fact that the graphic will shrink over time leaving a halo ring of dirt that is difficult to remove,” explains Leonard.
In all scenarios, follow manufacturer instructions, advises Colbath. He lists generally accepted best practices like not flooding the graphic with cleaner/water when mopping, not running a buffer or other type of automated cleaning equipment on the graphic, and to clean the graphic, spray a non-solvent cleaner on top and wipe clean with a damp cloth.
Nekoosa recommends an edge sealer to extend the life of the floor graphic. “If edges lift at all from the floor, replace the graphic to avoid a tripping hazard,” notes Slovensky.
Focus on Flat
Smooth, hard surfaces like tile, laminate, vinyl, wood, smooth concrete, linoleum, ceramic floors, and even polished stone like granite and marble are compatible with a number of floor graphic materials as well as adhesive combinations. Depending on length of install as well as location there is an applicable solution that can lead to visible and functional success.
If you are a PSP more interested in floor graphics used on carpets, be sure to keep an eye out for our June issue. And for a conversation on all-things floor graphics, visit digitaloutput.net/webinars for archived broadcasts with panels of vendors from this article.
May2022, Digital Output