By Cassandra Balentine
Floor graphics are a popular application, and one type of graphic experiencing a boost due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. They enable instructional and promotional messaging at the feet of consumers.
A previously largely untapped canvas, there are special considerations when it comes to floor graphics, including durability and safety. Lamination can help with both of these needs.
Meeting Increased Demand
Floor graphics are a stand-out graphic in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In particular, they are used by any and all businesses that interact with patrons to help promote safety through social distancing.
“With the reopening of many establishments during the pandemic we’ve seen a surge for the need of floor graphics,” says Carl Hoffman, director of sales and marketing, Royal Sovereign International Inc. He says this includes social distancing as well as arrows to better control aisle movement in grocery and big box stores.
“The demand skyrocketed during the summer of 2020 due to social distance and other directional signage,” explains Steve Yarbrough, product support specialist, Drytac. He expects floor graphic demand to continue to be high, not only for distance decals but for general advertising—especially once the world opens back up for business, including concert venues, sporting events, and trade shows.
Edwin Ramos, director of sales, GBC, a division of ACCO Brands, notes that floor graphics have been increasing in popularity for some time now. “With the need for social distancing and similar reminders, demand is even more on the rise. Floor graphics provide a clear, highly visible message exactly where you stand. Grocery stores, office buildings, schools, and hospitals use floor graphics for clear communications that are hard to miss. Used as a wayfinding system, floor graphics clearly communicate an easy-to-follow and organized message.”
The sudden onslaught of demand proved challenging for some and that resulted in hasty production. Floor graphics require thought and consideration as they must incorporate anti-slip capabilities, strong adhesives, and hold up against heavy foot traffic.
“Early on it was quite clear print providers weren’t adequately educated on the different requirements for the many floor graphic applications. A graphic would be installed and within days it would peel up or fade. Some print providers were unaware that a material may have a UL rating for slip resistance,” admits Tony Caruso, regional sales manager, Advanced Greig Laminators Inc. “I can’t imagine how many reprints had to be done at no cost to the customer because the floor graphics didn’t last or live up to expectations. Having a trusted supplier could’ve helped those print shops get the job done right the first time.”
There are a few methods for producing floor graphics. Some one-step floor graphic media options do not require a laminate. However, lamination provides advantages.
Simply put, Chase Pender, business development manager, Supply55, Inc., points out that laminating floor graphics increases durability and extends the useful life of the image reducing the end user’s operating cost.
Even if the media doesn’t require lamination, Caruso notes that pairing the correct floor laminate to a floor graphic media provides an extra layer of protection in addition to enhancing an image.
Inks of all types are subject to wear due to external elements, including foot traffic. Sam Crosby, dealer manager, Graphic Finishing Partners, LLC, comments that aside from the obvious additional abrasion resistance that a protective overlaminate offers, it also safeguards against chemicals, moisture, and UV rays.
Lamination provides more scuff resistance for inks, and inks look brighter due to UV inhibitors, shares Yarbrough. “The media can be matched to the location—indoor versus outdoor; duration; and surface type, which should be the primary focus of the vendor; then match the correct laminate for those same criteria,” he explains.
Lamination provides superior slip-resistance safety in addition to preserving the graphics aesthetic appeal whether it’s intended for short- or long-term presentation. “As a print provider, stocking one overlaminate useable on a variety of print medias means you can be flexible and cost-effective versus stocking a wide variety of media,” adds Ramos. “The same laminate can be used with dye pigment inks as solvent, eco-solvent, latex, and UV inks. Any finished product is only as good as the weakest link. In the example above a dye ink is the weak link. Dyes fade quickly when exposed to UV light. Use a UV inhibited floor guard and it will almost triple the viewable life expectancy,” he shares.
Floor graphic media that passes the government slip-and-fall requirements are well suited for short-term floor graphics, but may not have the ink wearability of laminated floor graphics. Because of this, Hoffman says it is always best to understand the length of time and how much foot traffic the floor graphic will sustain when choosing whether or not to laminate.
Overlaminates are generally certified with a UL slip resistance rating, which Ramos points out that a lot of adhesive media does not offer. “Using an overlaminate with an adhesive media creates a long-lasting floor graphic that withstands wear and tear. With unlaminated print-and-apply floor graphics the ink is exposed to environmental effects such as sunlight, scuffing, moisture, and does not protect the graphic’s appearance and appeal.”
Laminating Floor Graphics
Floor graphics will likely be printed on pressure-sensitive media. Choosing the right overlaminate for the job is essential for safety and performance.
“There is no ideal one-size-fits-all laminate for floor graphics,” shares Caruso. There are several factors to consider—the surface of the floor, the printing technology, and the finish of the laminate—to name just a few.
While anti-slip properties are essential, Yarbrough says it is important to be certain that the correct slip-rated material for the location is used. “You do not want lifting to cause a trip hazard,” he states.
Pender says a textured floor graphic and pressure-sensitive laminating film properly applied to pressure-sensitive vinyl extends the life of the printed image and provides a safe slip-resistant surface.
Something else to consider is “adhesive residue once the graphic has fulfilled its messaging purpose,” shares Crosby.
“A pressure-sensitive laminate can be removed given patience, time, and any variety of other environmental influences. A heat-activated adhesive stays securely bonded to a graphic surface because it hardens when cooled, not remaining in a semi-liquid state. That said, adhesive technology development has progressed to the point where a water-based adhesive—in the manufacturing process—is actually water repellant, clear, and has a strong bond that endures for a long time,” adds Ramos.
When choosing equipment, Hoffman recommends the use of a heat assist laminator to create the best bond between the floor graphic inkjet media and the lamination. He says this helps eliminate edge peel of the two components, which may occur with edge scuffing and cleaning with industrial floor cleaning processes.
It is important to understand and manage customer expectations about longevity, location, and when/if the customer will remove the floor graphic. “Because surfaces vary from concrete, linoleum, wood, and carpet, knowing the specifics is critical for long-term success and determines if the customer returns based on the print providers’ understanding of their client’s needs,” says Crosby.
Identifying where the floor graphic will be placed and for how long is key. “If the graphic will be where there is natural sunlight, using an overlaminate with UV protection is important. If the graphic needs to adhere for a long period of time, you will want to pair the overlaminate with a media that has an adhesive made to last that long,” shares Ramos.
Yarbrough agrees. “Putting a material down that is rated for six months and expect a year is not the way to go. It’s not rocket science, but it is adhesive science. If high slip-rated material is needed and lower rated material is used or a material is placed on a surface that it is not rated potential slip or trip hazards can occur.”
Anti-slip certification is essential for floor graphic laminates. It helps print providers protect themselves from any lawsuits in the event of a graphic failure.
In the U.S., Caruso points out that UL certification is the industry standard, but there are other standards set in Europe.
“Always use an overlaminate that is UL approved for slip resistance,” stresses Ramos. This ensures you did everything possible to ensure public safety when coming in contact with the floor graphic.
In addition to using a film tested as anti-slip, for example UL 410, consider placement within the room the floor graphics will be affixed. “Anti-slip does not mean trip proof. Water, oils, spills, and other chemicals may not provide the slip-proof results the customer might expect,” shares Crosby.
“Every floor graphic material must have a slip rating and making sure the slip rating is in specification for the location is critical. These ratings are there to help the vendor choose the correct material,” states Yarbrough. “Slip is one hazard and trip is another, the vendor needs to find material that features an anti-lift adhesive to prevent edges from lifting and causing a hazard. Another factor to think about is slope of surface.”
Tips and Tricks
After careful consideration about media and overlaminate selection, as well as about the location and life expectancy, several factors help ensure a successful installation.
First, prints should be completely dry before applying the laminate. “This will help the laminate bond with the best adhesion and the graphic to be clear and vivid. Ensure there is no dirt or debris on the rollers when applying the laminate. This is a good practice whenever laminating. Clean the floor where it is going to be applied, a bump in the surface will become a scuff/wear spot. Your aim is to make the graphic perfectly flat,” explains Ramos.
He adds that when printing on paper to create a graphic, leave an encapsulation edge to touch the floor to prevent moisture ingress and failure of the paper media.
For graphics printed with eco-solvent inks, it is essential that the inks outgas prior to lamination and/or cutting. This prevents curling, recommends Yarbrough.
When it comes to installation, make sure the intended surface is free of debris and dry as possible, suggests Crosby.
Yarbrough adds that some surfaces require heat to bond and conform to rougher surfaces and a roller helps with install.
“Adding heat assist to the overlaminate when applying to a media accelerates the curing process of the adhesive and minimize issues like silvering,” notes Caruso.
Floor graphics are increasingly popular. However, print providers must ensure they are covered in terms of safety and durability when offering this application. The right overlaminate can enhance anti-slip properties and improve durability.
Aug2021, DPS Magazine