By Cassandra Balentine
Display and point of purchase (POP) graphics are increasingly immersive. However, this added impact often comes with more exposure to elements. To keep graphics looking as good as when they first come off the printer, coatings and laminates are utilized.
However, when considering laminates and coatings, it’s important to think outside of the box. Today these solutions do more than protect a graphic; they add functionality to a finished image. Popular specialty options include anti-slip, anti-graffiti, and antimicrobial.
Dennis Leblanc, North American territory manager, Drytac, argues that the functionality of graphics is almost as important as the graphic itself. An array of laminate and coating solutions are available to meet those needs.
Many laminates and coatings provide general protection for a range of concerns. However, when trying to elicit a specific function it might be beneficial to look into specialty solutions.
Molly Waters, senior technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, notes that most of its standard overlaminates are sufficient. “A standard overlaminate will protect the ink from scratching and provide some UV protection. These laminates will also stand up to general wear including scuffing, scratching, and basic cleaning chemicals. On occasion there may be a need for a laminate that offers protection against graffiti. In those cases a laminate that can be cleaned if it is marked with graffiti can be used.”
Any time a printed piece is exposed to environmental factors—either natural or human caused—a laminate or protective layer should be used, says Sarah Stafford, sales and marketing, printing inks, Marabu North America. She points out that there are many steps a POP graphic must endure before it even reaches the store floor—shipping to the distribution center, human handling to build or pack out the display, or the cover being slid over for shipping to the store. “Once on floor, it could face UV exposure resulting in fading, product testing by customers, cleaning products, and people rubbing against them. A laminate applied post-print protects against external factors that interfere with the integrity of the printed pieces,” she continues.
Standard UV liquid coatings provide overall protection of a printed substrate for both rigid and flexible materials. “These offer excellent chemical and abrasion resistance as well as protection against the outdoor elements while enhancing the image appearance,” offers Bob Leidlein, VP, sales and marketing, Alliance Technology Corporation.
Overlaminate films also protect and extend the life of a graphic. “This includes vinyl (PVC), polyester (PET), and polypropylene (PP) and are available in a variety of thickness and finishes. These coatings/overlaminates help protect the graphic from UV exposure, scratches during installation, damage from interaction with cleaning solutions, damage from human interaction—whether intentional or not, and help to extend the life of the graphic and keep it looking sharp throughout the promotion,” comments Bekie Berg, product manager, FLEXcon Company, Inc.
Tony Caruso, VP of sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc., points out that a general purpose vinyl laminate could also be used for dry erase applications or for light-duty anti-graffiti applications. “However, a general purpose vinyl laminate would not provide the same level of performance as a film designed for a specific application. When offering a so called ‘all-in-one’ solution, the print service provider (PSP) should set clear expectations with their client.”
Sam Crosby, dealer manager, Graphic Finishing Partners, LLC, argues that in short, no solution does it all. “As convenient as a ‘one product fits all’ would be for print providers, too many variables exist to allow a single product to work for all applications. Sure, any laminate or protective coating can provide protection against the degradation of the ink, but factors such as budget, durability, thickness, finish, washability, and malleability should always be considered,” he stresses.
Jay Kroll, product manager cut and craft films and wall and transit films, General Formulations, agrees, noting that while there are laminates that meet a range of application requirements, the market is still lacking that silver bullet that would provide all of the durability, functionality, and flexibility needed for every type of job while still being cost effective for an everyday graphic. “Your dry erase laminate won’t have the conformability needed for vehicle or rough wall installations, a floor laminate won’t work on road signs, and your cast laminate is going to be overkill for short-term POP signage and yard signs,” he continues.
Beyond general protection, speciality and functional finishes are available, including anti-slip, anti-graffiti, and antimicrobial. Print providers should seek particular products or additives that offer these defined features.
“Customers of many display graphics companies expect to get maximum life expectancy of printed substrates. UV liquid coating provides the added protection, on top of the ink, from abrasion, graffiti, bacteria, and the elements needed for extended life of the printed substrate,” shares Leidlein.
In high traffic, outdoor applications an anti-graffiti film will protect graphics further than a general purpose laminate.
For longer term promotions in high-traffic areas, Berg sees a higher demand for general protection from wear and tear, but depending on the location of the graphic there could be a demand for anti-graffiti. “These overlaminates are costly and tend to be used in spaces where graphics have been damaged in the past.”
Kroll agrees, noting that POP graphics are often laminated to provide protection for the print or give body to the graphic for easier installation. “Rarely do these short-term graphics have a functional requirement unless they are being regularly touched by the customer. In these cases, a high-durability anti-graffiti laminate is optimal as it will withstand heavy handling as well as repeated sanitizing between uses,” he shares.
“As for graffiti, we recommend materials and overlaminates with documented chemical resistance. In a subway station, they print an image of brick wall. When someone puts graffiti on it, they remove the graphic and replace it with one that is fresh—no graffiti,” suggests Mike Richardson, business development manager, Jessup Manufacturing Co.
Anti-graffiti films should be used in “an environment where harsh chemicals are used to protect the graphic appearance, including cleaning chemicals, paint tags, and protection from diesel spill,” adds Brian Gibson, wide format sales specialist, GBC SEAL.
“Road signs, flat wall murals, or other long-term signage can benefit from the added chemical and UV resistance offered by anti-graffiti laminates,” suggests Kroll.
Caruso points out that there are many different products and it’s important to understand the characteristics of each. “An anti-graffiti film can be made of vinyl or it can be made of a hard coat polyester,” he stresses.
Leblanc suggests a hard coat laminate for dry erase properties or a polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE) film as a long-term anti-graffiti solution outdoors.
Floor graphics or displays exposed to heavy traffic would require additional defense against wear and tear. “Floor graphics have an additional level of security to protect against slip and falls, and only products that were tested for this application should be used,” warns Berg.
High matte textured films should be used where anti-slip qualities are desired. “Floor graphics require an anti-slip rating to protect patrons and employees walking on the graphic. A wet surface gloss laminate has a high slip point same as walking on ice when wet. A textured surface floor graphic has grip,” explains Gibson.
Waters recommends something that has the UL 410 rating for slip resistance when working with floor graphics.
The pandemic has fueled interest in antimicrobial properties. “Along with protection from microorganisms, the antimicrobial overlaminates provide scuff resistance as well,” shares Richardson.
“There has been an increase in demand for anti-bacterial films since the rise of COVID-19 but for short-term displays the additional cost cannot always be justified,” cautions Berg.
Price of Performance
Adding a laminate or coating will undoubtedly add to the cost to produce the graphic, as well as the purchase price. A well-educated customer should have no problem absorbing the costs.
Richardson believes that the discussion should be about added value, not added cost. “Think about organic products sold in grocery stores. They’re sold at a higher price—but promoted based on the health and environmental benefits they provide. If the benefits are real they outweigh the added cost.”
These costs are often factored into the project. “For example, if the project is an outdoor application, providing a protective film isn’t an option. It would already be factored in. A PSP could provide options toward the degree of protection and have an opportunity to upsell their client. UV protection, UV and anti-graffiti protection, outdoor durability of one, two, three, even five years or more are just a few examples,” adds Caruso.
“If a customer has specific requests on the look and feel of the final graphic and depending on the application and the length of the promotion, the costs will be acceptable to the customer. If a film or coating is not necessary and is over-engineered for the application, the customer may not be agreeable to the additional costs,” offers Berg.
Stafford admits that while a laminate addition is an upsell, it is well worth it to prevent damage and the need to replace graphics.
The decision to laminate or coat a graphic comes down to many factors, including where it is placed and for how long. While general protection may fit the bill for some applications, specialty, functional finishes can add value and life to printed displays and POP work.
Jul2022, DPS Magazine