By Melissa Donovan
Wall graphics are popular, but when we think of walls, it’s worth noting that sometimes surfaces are made up of glass, which means a different material may need to be used to ensure people can see in or out of the space.
Above: Ogden Blue, powered by Vision Graphics of Ogden, UT created this window mural using media from Lintec.
Media specifically optimized for windows, whether perforated, clear/white, or optically clear, are utilized in what is referred to as window murals or window scapes, where big sheets of window material create an immersive effect.
Mural-like window applications are found indoors and outdoors and seen in environments from retail storefronts to restaurants and medical buildings. They are used as marketing tactics as well as aesthetic purposes.
In general, “windows offer great exposure to both street and pedestrian traffic as well as glass being an excellent substrate for both installation and removal,” notes Dennis Leblanc, senior business development manager, Drytac.
“Recently, window murals and graphics experienced a surge in popularity, mainly in commercial and corporate settings. Many retail stores and businesses have windows spanning their storefronts, creating the perfect space to promote their brand, offer specials, store information, and wayfinding directions,” explains Shaun Jaycox, product specialist, S-One Holdings Corp.
Jim Koshak, Western regional technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, provides another example—conference rooms and interior office spaces, where the inhabitants look for a replacement to blinds.
“Using window film media offers the look and feel of an open space while providing slight privacy in specific areas,” notes Heather Hammond, associate product manager – window films, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions. “Office buildings typically display abstract designs to add flare to the space, while educational facilities may add more learning material to the room such as a world map.”
For marketing, “they are an effective and fun way to display your services, promote your products, and communicate to your audience,” says Edwin Ramos, sales director, SEAL/GBC an ACCO Brands Company.
Michelle Kempf, VP, sales and marketing, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., credits “the move to online shopping, accelerated and exacerbated by the pandemic, as attracting foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores where shoppers are expecting a true experience. As society has emerged from pandemic restrictions, it’s more vital than ever for events to promote and attract in a big way. Windows are valuable real estate in which to do that.”
Window applications are not new—but they generate attention. “Larger wall murals are typically exterior applications and can be placed for short to long term. Longevity really depends on the type of advertisement/message of the mural,” admits Brian Ebenger, VP of business development, XCEL.
Jodi Sawyer, strategic business unit manager, FLEXcon Company, Inc., provides short-term examples. “Mid-term elections fueled by special events and campaign locations where use of large-scale window installations enhance awareness. Increased consumer mobility translates to growth of short-term, large-scale window installations such as building wraps where large panels of adhesive-backed vinyl create impactful graphics on the outside of buildings in locations near sporting venues, airports, or highways.”
The lifespan of window graphics usually depend on the application. “Window graphic installations larger in nature tend to be longer term. We have seen a steady flow of jobs throughout our time in this market segment of customers that do this type of work,” explains James Halloran, VP of sales and marketing, Lintec of America, Inc.
There is demand for long-term window murals, “as corporate office buildings, museums, and hotels transform interior and exterior spaces in response to a changing workforce landscape with flexible schedules and temporary work locations. Functional window films in large-scale installations such as office buildings provide performance for light and heat management. Large-scale window installations can provide unique functional technologies such as minimizing bird strikes, for example,” notes Sawyer.
“Most are for long term but others are changed on a regular basis, especially in the movie industry, which often wraps the windows of a building to promote a movie or show and removes it once they are done promoting the film,” explains Koshak.
Similarly, shorter term graphics are seen in retail. “Customers like the ability to change graphics when needed to align with their goals and vision to prospective clients,” says Ramos.
“With excessively large window murals, like those covering the whole facade of arenas, casinos, and hotels, we step into an elite field with specialized equipment and incredible installation skills. These tend to be short-term, event, or activity-based postings and are essentially entire building billboards that maintain the benefits of incoming light and outgoing visibility. The use of adhesive vinyl materials keeps the cost relatively low and allows them to be put up and taken down without any structural changes needing to be made to the physical building,” comments Jason Maricle, Midwest sales manager and product manager for perforated window films, General Formulations.
What’s the Use?
There are a number of places that benefit from window murals. Taking into account the physical components of the media, what is the best adhesive and substrate for the job?
Jaycox says it depends on the application and the overall objective. “Adhesive-backed vinyl and adhesive-backed polypropylene are good bets when looking for a lower cost. Perforated vinyl is a good product if you still want to see through the window.”
“The adhesive should match the application. You don’t want a permanent adhesive used for a graphic that is going to be up short term. Removable adhesive will develop a stronger bond over time so some applications can benefit from the silicon-based adhesives,” recommends Steve Yarbrough, customer experience manager, Neschen Inc.
“Solvent-based adhesive products are best suited for applications such as building wraps that may be installed in challenging environments and where the cost to fix or replace graphics would be high. Water-based adhesive products would be adequate for indoor applications,” says Sawyer.
Amanda Smith, marketing communications manager – graphics signage and solutions, Mactac, suggests choosing an adhesive first. “With the range of adhesives, an end user has options from temporary with low tack for short term all the way to a permanent adhesive for long term. Choosing the adhesive comes first and then what the facestock looks like comes next. Whether the media is perforated or optically clear is determined by the imagery being used and if you need light to pass through the image.”
“The best product for a job depends on the intended function of the space. In most cases, the window will still need to be fully functional and optically clear. It is also critical to ensure that the product chosen is compatible with the printing technology that is available to the shop and installer,” shares Hammond.
Perforated media is alluring, according to Larry Delesio, business manager, DAF Products, because it allows inhabitants to see outside during the daytime.
Maricle believes that the majority of the window applications falling under the large-scale murals category require natural light to come in and visibility to see out—and this can only be accomplished using perforated window film.
“When not laminated, perforated material offers natural air egress for trouble-free installations, is available in a range of durability ratings from one to five years, and offers great one-way vision from the inside looking out. Depending on the space, a drawback may be that perforated film artificially darkens an interior space. Additionally, messaging may be muted,” cautions Kempf.
Perforated window film is the most common, admits Ebenger. “It is best used for long-term images or applications where there is a need to have visibility inside looking out. However, due to the construction of window perforation the image will be the poorest quality of all available products. Clear—or white—adhesive-backed vinyl is great for large short-term applications or murals that require a crisper image or do not need to have visibility from both sides. Optically clear products provide the highest print quality and clarity but are typically overly engineered for wall murals that are viewed from long distances.”
“I tend to lean more towards polyester-based media for longer term applications due to its dimensional stability as well as optical clarity and towards vinyl solutions for applications up to one year for their ease of application and removal,” admits Leblanc.
“Optically clear products can provide the appearance of an almost ‘painted-on look’ where the images look like they have been painted onto the glass and can also be printed with gradation to create the look of a privacy film. These require wet method installation for optimal results. Thicker gauged products like 6 to 8 mils resist tearing and wind shear and are easier to handle and install for large scale installation. Thinner gauged, economy products have a higher risk of tearing during installation and may not be able to withstand exposure to wind, rain and other elements,” adds Sawyer.
Koshak believes a clear, distortion-free, scratch-resistant coated PET is ideal because it leads to a higher resolution print.
Tacking on to that, Hammond comments that since clear, distortion-free, scratch-resistant coated PET performs better with high-resolution printers, it makes them more cost effective in regards to ink usage.
“Where the graphic is installed determines the type of film construction to choose. However, since we are talking about larger mural-type applications clients that choose our films typically always choose the scratch-resistant printable surface. They do this because it is easier to install allowing the installer to use a lot of squeegee pressure to get the water out and leaving the surface free of abrasions,” notes Halloran.
Image in Mind
Window media used in larger jobs usually depicts fantastic imagery—a testament to the creatives in the graphic arts and their customers.
Bold is trending. “With more printers able to print white ink, this easily transforms colors to their brightest state and even with opaque effects. Some of my other favorite designs are taking a frosted or dusted window film and plotter cutting out designs, so the glass is a part of the entire image,” shares Smith.
Jaycox also notices corporations using graphics and decals with a frosted look. “This is because they blend into the existing décor and create a subtle effect. They also incorporate slogans and taglines with the graphics to help brand a mural.”
“You can have everything from different levels of opacity to full-color images and graphics both opaque and translucent. We’re seeing a level of creativity that includes all these options, especially on larger windows because of the available space of the surface area,” admits Koshak.
In addition to the hues and range of opacities and translucencies, the actual imagery is almost always excellent—“highlighting products like at national food chains, activities in hospitality/airports, products/services in malls and shopping centers, or inside corporate buildings showcasing history of the organization and products,” notes Ramos.
“It all depends on the client It can vary from large sporting events; championships depicting team members, trophies on sides of buildings; branded images; advertising campaigns for teams, universities, and museums; conference rooms; trade shows; or artistic beautification in urban areas. Window graphics are more mainstream as they get easier to install, so any window becomes an art space where décor and branding applications are explored,” says Yarbrough.
“For larger mural-style window graphics, we tend to see quite a bit of branding imagery used here, however there is also a huge presence for ‘what’s coming’ type imagery. Window hoarding or museum installation for exhibits showcasing artist work. The possibilities are endless here,” admits Leblanc.
For a job taking up a larger surface area, installation may present some challenges.
“The larger the job the more important it is to use a professional installation team. There almost always will be situations where the graphic needs to be tiled. Knowing how to make a good seam to overlap and trim is critical in this situation,” advises Halloran.
Delesio recommends installing using a two-sided permanent/removable tape system—strip at the top and bottom—to mount window graphics, which allows for a dry install and cuts the application time by 90 percent.
“It’s a bigger job, literally. You’ll have special considerations for things like lifts and scaffolding, permits and safety, and the overall placement of the mural with optimized visibility from roads, air, etc., all while balancing the best use of space on the building,” says Maricle.
Hire a professional installer with the licensing and certifications for large architectural jobs. “Expect that the installation cost is going to meet or exceed the cost of the materials and think ahead for the best layout and efficient process for installation,” he adds.
Larger surface areas require skilled professionals for installation, agrees Yarbrough. “Matching seams and keeping graphics square is essential as well as knowing what method works best for graphic. Working left to right, right to left, or center out for larger displays. Center out helps alleviate the graphic from being out of square or tilted. Potentially a job may require certain equipment like lifts, scaffolding, harnesses which some require certification to use.”
“For large murals, installation is critical to the success of the image/advertisement. First, measure before print. During the printing process ensure there is image overlap so you can properly line up all images. Every installer will have a little different approach, but all panels should be properly marked and in a manageable size for ease of installation,” shares Ebenger.
On especially large windows or glass walls, window graphics are printed with expansive scenes or images to create an effect similar to a mural. Adhesives and face stock choice is important to ensure the graphic remains in place for the required amount of time.
Watch a webinar on large-scale window graphics by visiting here.
Feb2023, Digital Output