by Cassandra Balentine
Traditionally considered a wide format application, the increased interest in floor graphics for social distancing instructions and messaging has print providers with expertise in other areas—think flexography (flexo) and dry and liquid toner—asking how they can get involved. Media manufacturers and converters have answered the call.
Above: Mactac floor graphic products are developed for a variety of indoor surfaces, such as standard tile, vinyl linoleum, terrazzo, ceramic tile, smooth sealed concrete, and hardwood floors. They are designed to provide exceptional performance and slip resistance functionality.
Breaking from Tradition
Floor graphics are commonly produced with wide format digital printing technologies. Popular floor graphic media options are compatible with UV, solvent, and latex ink sets. However, demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have lead to increased interest in these applications from other areas of the print industry.
“Until recently, the majority of floor graphics were produced with digital wide format printing, however when the pandemic hit there was an immediate need for mass quantities of floor graphics to quickly be assimilated into stores and medical facilities,” shares Micah Causey, VP, FloorSignage, LLC. “This situation created the opportunity for flexo, offset, and inkjet printing, which can output large quantity projects in a short amount of time. Since the need for social distancing graphics is not going away anytime soon—some predict it will stay in place through 2022—there is the need to maintain and replace original graphics plus provide new messaging as schools, businesses, transportation, and sports venues re-introduce people back into their environments,” he explains.
In response to the steep floor graphic interest, media manufacturers look to expand existing floor graphic media portfolios to print on devices outside of wide format. “We have seen requests for films that can be printed via screen, litho, UV offset, thermal, and flexo. If the trend of higher usage of floor graphics continues, new products that print on these types of devices will continue to be explored and offered to the industry,” admits Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA.
Bekie Berg, product manager, FLEXcon Company, Inc., comments that while floor graphics are traditionally produced on devices greater than 24 inches wide and printed on wide format equipment, many new directional and physical distancing graphics are less than 18 inches wide. “This is an opportunity for essential label manufacturers with flexo capabilities to expand their business in a market that they traditionally would not participate in. The speed in which flexo runs can produce high volumes in a short amount of time. In addition, they have the capabilities to laminate inline,” she asserts.
For the print provider’s point of view, adding floor graphics shouldn’t be too much of a stretch as they are produced the same as any other roll label pressure-sensitive media, just using different liners, facestocks, and adhesives selected for the end-use application. “There are opportunities for flexo printing, but the converter and customer need to work with the ink supplier to ensure the system will print on a non-top coated vinyl,” explains Sara Damante, senior marketing manager, Mactac. A primer, corona treatment, or both may be needed to enhance printability and ink anchorage. It would also be the same with digital printing, in that the converter and customer would need to confirm the product will print in their digital press as there are many various makes and models.
E. Tyler Reich, director of product development, Que Media, points out that while the majority of its floor graphics are produced for eco-solvent, UV, or digital narrow format printers, the company also makes products that work on flexo as well as HP Indigo presses. Volumes on these products can run into the millions.
Brenda Chaisson, account manager and OEM support, and Kara Lapierre, creative director, Relyco, believe keeping it simple is key and therefore Relyco produces floor decals compatible with as many printers as possible. “Our floor decals are specifically designed for print-on-demand and are compatible with most laser printers, UV inkjet, and offset printers,” they note.
Many factors go into floor graphic media selection. The amount of time the graphic is planned to be in place, whether it is for indoor or outdoor use, as well as anti-slip properties and ratings are top considerations. Additional considerations include surface types, installation, and removability.
Clients look to their print provider to supply them with quality and safe signage. Therefore, the print provider needs to be well versed in all the different products offered for floor graphics.
Print providers should know what type of floor will they be applying the graphic to, suggests Joey Heiob, East regional technical service representative, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions. Specifically, is the floor smooth concrete, wood, textured concrete, or tile?
“Other things to consider are the time of year or season as it relates to temperature and moisture,” shares Damante.
Heiob also suggests considering whether it is an internal or external application and determining what type of traffic will be hitting the floor graphic, such as pedestrian, vehicle, or forklifts.
Chaisson and Lapierre say a few general questions help narrow down media options for floor graphics. How easy is it to print onto? Can the average business owner install the floor decals themselves? Does the customer want a permanent adhesive product or a removable adhesive product?
Rough surfaces can be tricky. To address this, Que Media recently added a product to its line to fill the demand for a rough surface adhesive floor media solution. “We are seeing more demand for a cost-effective solution for outdoor concrete and carpet graphics, so we developed a product with an extra thick adhesive to accommodate this demand,” shares Reich.
It is important to determine if the finish of the product has a non-slip certification from an industry designated testing organization. “Different organizations and standards have been used in our industry. For the U.S., ANSI A137.1/A326.3 R10 is the latest, most up-to-date testing certification.
This certification tests the non-skid characteristics of the surface in wet and dry conditions. This certification is also part of the International Building Code,” comments Colbath. He adds that even if the material has an outdoor non-slip rating, the entire graphic must be specified to the end-use conditions.
Causey points out that an important and often avoided part of this discussion is the customer’s budget. “Some print providers assume the customer wants the cheapest option available, however we’ve learned through discussions with end users that they are willing to pay more for materials that are easy for their employees to apply in order to avoid the additional cost of installers and/or that are more durable, requiring less maintenance.”
Overall, to achieve the best product performance, Berg says understanding the requirements of the floor graphic are important to ensure that the right products with the appropriate features are used. Factors include surface, opacity, removability, a one- or two-part system, duration, amount of foot traffic, and the look that the client is trying to achieve.
One Step or Two?
There are one- and two-step media products for floor graphics. The one-step process options involve direct printing to a slip-resistant surface that does not require a laminate, and the two-step process requires printing on the film and then laminating with a slip-resistant overlaminate. The type of printer producing the graphics is a critical factor in determining which option is available.
“Look at the type of printing device you plan to use, whether you can laminate a two-part floor graphic—print on an self-adhesive vinyl, then laminate a non-slip overlaminate; or plan to use a one-part system—print directly to the textured film that has an adhesive on the back. Some materials are self installable, while others require a professional installer.
All of these factors must be considered and distilled down to make the correct choice for a floor graphic media,” explains Colbath.
Each floor graphic job comes with a unique set of requirements. “Many people ask about the longevity of our one-step floor graphic offering. It is very hard to gauge this not knowing what the foot traffic will look like in the end application. One-step floor graphic materials are still our largest volume products, but as aforementioned, longevity will always be an issue. If we have a customer set on longevity guarantees, we usually push them toward a two-step option. Otherwise, one-step options seem good enough for short-term installation,” offers Reich.
When selecting material, it is important to remember that lamination takes additional production time, labor cost, and the risk of mistakes requiring reprinting; if the end user plans to have their employees install the graphics, choose one that is not easily susceptible to bubbles and wrinkles or requiring special techniques and expensive tools; and to avoid possible liability issues, select materials that don’t just pass slip-resistant standards but that achieve a high test score when the material has moisture on the surface. “Most all floor graphics are the same when dry but the importance is how it performs when it gets wet,” says Causey.
When overlaminating offline with heavier gauge overlaminates, Berg suggests keeping an eye on the tension. “The tension controls the flow out of the adhesive over the printed graphic. In addition, too much tension can result in up curl of the graphic. Graphics should be shipped flat—this will aid in installation. We recommend following the manufacturer’s application instruction guidelines. It is the end user’s responsibility to make sure that the graphic stays intact. If the graphic starts to flag or lift, remove to prevent a tripping hazard.”
Before committing to a media selection, it is a good practice to meet with suppliers or call on manufacturers to review the list of material options and availability that addresses these factors and are compatible with the print provider’s equipment, notes Causey.
Window (Media) Shopping
Floor graphics gained popularity among print providers amidst COVID-19, as businesses in every industry had to find ways to communicate new rules and regulations for social distancing, hygiene, and sanitation.
“The increase in demand is due to COVID-19 social distancing in public places. Wide format was the one and only way to provide these types of applications,” says Damante. “But we’re finding that narrow web can actually be faster for converting, printing, and die cutting when producing the final and complete product. It’s allowing roll label converters to pivot into a new revenue stream,” she stresses.
When social distancing went into effect, businesses needed a way to communicate guidelines to their customers. Floor decals have proven to be an effective means of communication. “Working with our OEM partners, the customer demand seems to be driving this trend as well,” note Chaisson and Lapierre.
Causey adds that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the immediate need was for large quantities of graphics that could be produced quickly and at the lowest price point possible. “Non-wide format printing offers the ability to quickly and inexpensively produce mass quantities of graphics for national retailers and chains,” he says.
“We have been pushing products in the narrow format sector for over 20 years now, so it was a very organic option for Que Media to develop a floor graphic material that could be printed in a digital press,” says Reich. “The fact that we can pre-cut blank sheets with shapes for easy printing makes this a highly desired option for smaller print shops,” he adds.
Colbath says while this demand was initially driven by COVID-19 as floor graphics started showing up everywhere for social distancing compliance graphics, now retailers, restaurants, industrial, and other businesses see floor graphics as not just for social distancing graphics but to brand their business and adding directional signage where needed.
There are differences when working with floor graphics and similar media options in flexo or digital production.
One primary difference is the adhesive back and textured film in one-part systems, explains Colbath. Floor graphic medias are typically thicker than the average media run on a flexo or thermal. “The printer must not only be able to print on the media, but also handle the media throughout the printers on feed and exit apparatus. This includes core size, infeed and outfeed rollers, and material thickness as it passes through the system. If the material is in sheet form, special consideration must be given to how it will enter and exit the printer. If it is something new, it is a great idea to test these materials prior to going live,” he adds.
Damante says die cutting, facestocks, overlaminates, and liners are thick and usually cut using a plotter in wide format environments. For those used on label presses, die manufacturers should be consulted—as they would for a roll label product. “The thickness and the substrates may cause slower speeds of converting or specially designed dies.”
Berg agrees, adding that when printing flexo, dies may need to be purchased if the material is a different thickness than materials currently run on press.
Chaisson and Lapierre point out that Relyco floor decals are designed to be easy to print on OEM production devices. They print similarly to standard label sheets. “Under the 300 gsm threshold, our floor decals are also easy to print on multifunction printers and desktop devices,” they add.
Offering floor graphics can be easy with the correct product, says Reich. “We have eased the liability of floor graphics by providing an anti-slip rating to all our floor graphic products. This shows that due diligence was checked and that the product you are working with has some sort of standard with regards to slip. The liability of someone slipping on a floor graphic material is probably one of the largest risks and we have mitigated that risk with testing and reports,” he continues.
Outside of the wide format market, floor graphic media options are available. The list is growing as media manufacturers meet new demands for toner, laser, thermal, and flexo environments.
Though its floor graphic medias are typically designed to be printed on traditional large format digital equipment, Continental Grafix’s iTac is being tested for certification on alternate printing devices like thermal and toner.
FLEXcon offers FLEXmark floor art 6610TF top coated 3.4-mil white opaque base film coated with a removable acrylic adhesive and backed with a 78 lb. Mando liner optimized for flexo printing. For inline laminating, the company recommends FLEXmark OV6602 4-mil gloss overlaminate. This system meets or exceeds industry standard UL 410 for non-slip resistance.
Other overlaminate options available for offline laminating include FLEXmark OV6601—6.5-mil clear velvet and OV6603BN—6-mil frosty clear safari. This system removes cleanly within 180 days of installation.
FloorSignage offers VersaGraphics 360, a versatile/multipurpose one-step material. It is ideal for print providers who want one material for graphics applied to interior floors and walls or for short-term use on outdoor floor and wall surfaces. The product is available in 54-inch wide rolls and custom sheeted selections. The product is direct printable, meaning that it does not require an overlaminate. It is compatible with high-speed inkjet, UV offset, and screen print, as well as solvent, eco-solvent, latex, and UV digital wide format printing. It features an ASTM Class A fire rating and is ANSI slip-resistant certified. The media is designed to be conformable, re-positionable, easy to install, and cleanly removable. It is scratch resistant, durable for three months on indoor floors, three years for indoor walls, up to three months on outdoor walkways, and six months for outdoor walls.
According to Damante, Mactac’s roll label floor graphic offering is the best of both worlds. The product is straight from the company’s trusted graphic product division but has the ability to be printed on roll label presses. The floor graphics were developed for a variety of indoor surfaces, such as standard tile, vinyl linoleum, terrazzo, ceramic tile, smooth sealed concrete, and hardwood floors. They are designed to provide exceptional performance and slip resistance functionality.
Reich says Que Media prides itself on being a leader in innovation for both wide and narrow format products. “We can develop products very quickly, which is a great position to be in during a major industry change caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic,” he shares.
The company’s floor graphic products include QM TASQUE – UL 410 Anti-Slip floor graphic material for smooth surfaces, designed for eco-solvent, latex, and UV wide format ink sets; TASQUEFORCE – ANSI Anti-Slip floor graphic material for rough surfaces including outdoor concrete, designed for eco-solvent, latex, and UV wide format ink sets; LAM8TAS – UL 410 Anti-Slip PSA Laminate for two-step application and added longevity; and ECLIPSTAC – ANSI Anti-Slip blockout product for narrow format digital presses. GTM is similar to the ECLIPSTAC product but without the blockout layer because some digital presses cannot accept the blockout layer in the ECLIPSTAC product. The GTM product was developed to provide a solution for the lower performance digital presses in the market. Note that as a manufacturer, Que Media only sells to distribution channels as private label and OEM.
Relyco offers three shapes and sizes of floor graphic media on 11×17-inch sheets. Its floor decals come with a non-slip (OSHA compliant, UL 410 certification) overlaminate. With its stay-put technology, the floor graphics adhere to various smooth surfaces, such as vinyl, wood, synthetic wood, carpet, ceramic tile, or concrete.
COVID-19 caused a shift in demand for many industries. For print providers, floor graphics shine as an excellent application that offers support for businesses trying to keep employees, visitors, and customers safe during a pandemic. While wide format print providers are well adept at offering these solutions, label converters and commercial print providers are able to leverage existing technologies to cash in on a growing demand. dps
Nov2020, DPS Magazine