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Gift Wrapped Profits

The research and development that goes into the latest sign-making materials is staggering. Brendan Perring delves into a select few, and how they could deliver for your business

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A vinyl technician at Fastsigns Bolton pays close attention to detail as he unveils a new livery for a customer’s fleet vehicle. Materials that just work, instead of work just, are now the expected norm from manufacturers and suppliers

Good materials make light work

Tease it, pull it, cut it, smooth it, tweak it, heat it, stretch it, and finally, pausing for a deep heartfelt sigh, pull it all off and start again. This was more often the case with PVC-based sign-making materials of yester year. No matter the application they were often hard work, and ‘worked just’ instead of ‘just worked’. That said, these materials heralded a revolution in sign-making, allowing for a new cornucopia of consumer choice and enabling the sign-maker to make an impressive margin without the hard graft and intense skills needed for sign-writing or bas relief carving.
Today the sight of a sign-maker struggling with vinyl application is rapidly becoming a rare sight, as manufacturers and suppliers compete in a heated arms race to produce the ‘next best thing’, whether that is air release adhesive, low tack application systems, or finishes that are so spectacular you almost need sunglasses just to look at them.
The reason for all this research and development is a straight forward one, and it comes down simply to profit margins. If a sign-maker can complete a fleet wrap in 10 percent less time with your brand of vinyl than a competitor brand, then he will keep using it as it means he can turn over more work for the same amount of labour. If the same sign-maker on the other hand can offer a top-end customer a special effect or colour that will personalise their vehicle and offer a highly-personalised finish, they will pay top dollar for it.

This is certainly the case for David Hiney of Fastsgins Bolton, who explains the opportunities that the latest generation of wrapping and sign-making materials are opening up—and the challenges he faces: “There is certainly no doubt that vinyl wrapping is a great way for a business to get their branding out there and be noticed. What prospective clients must realise though is the amount of time, effort, and skill this process requires both during the design and application process.

“We have undertaken a number of challenging projects from both a design and application perspective, including vehicle graphics for a local tattoo artist that involved significant design work to recreate detailed impressions of the tattooist’s works. This kind of design-led project requires a significant amount of time, and design skill, to digitally reproduce the customer’s ideas into high-quality graphics, equating to approximately ten hours.”

Hinley continues, emphasising how vital it is to use material that makes his wrappers lives as painless as possible while achieving a high-quality finish: “On the other end of the spectrum, with no design work needed, was a full vinyl wrap for an exhibition trailer, which needed to be completed within two days. Vinyl wrapping is a very precise, long and demanding process, so with such a limited amount of time to complete, there was zero margin for error and was only made possible by all of the design work being completed externally.”

With such a limited amount of time to complete, there was zero margin for error

That ‘zero margin for error’ comment is key to this feature as it is often only by using the right material for the job in hand that this can be achieved. Indeed, whether it is Spandex Image Perfect, Metamark’s MDX series, 3M Controltac, Avery Supreme, or Grafityp Grafiwrap, each and every manufacturer is hell bent on making their materials as forgiving and easy to apply as possible, without reducing their applied life-span or durability.

Sector growth

Indeed, Grafityp is one of the longest established pioneers in this sector, and manufacturers all its products in Belgium, with a major established headquarters in Grafityp UK. A regular exhibitor at Sign and Digital UK, where it runs live wrapping demonstrations and showcases its latest array of digital print, colour change, and special effect films, the company recently announced it would be exhibiting at new industry show Signlink Live and established co-located event The Print Show in October. For Signlink Live, Grafityp will be running The Swap Shop, where it will run ongoing live demonstrations of its colour change and special effects ranges, giving free business advice, consultancy, and training on how to improve your offering and output in this sector.

One if its latest developments to be launched is Grafi Guardian, an extremely strong paint protection film that it says “offers additional and unnoticeable protection against stone chips and scratches when applied to the most vulnerable parts of a vehicle by forming an invisible shield”. Another very interesting development on its books is its One Way Vision printable perforated window film, which is designed for use on commercial vehicles, bus shelters, telephone kiosks, petrol stations, forecourt displays, window advertising, public transport, and shop windows.

So, with such a focus on this sector and developments coming at pace, Fastsigns Bolton’s Hinley also highlights another key that is influencing the development of materials for standard applications: “In our experience, when it comes to vinyl wrapping, simplicity is key. Special effects have their place but many customers just want to convey a simple message, and excessive graphic work can result in the message being lost.

“Many of the local businesses we work with do prefer a slightly toned down approach, with simple text and some small graphic designs and logos. A good and simple design is often the best way to convey your message, and will result in reduced costs and a clearer brand message.”

As Hinley goes on to explain though, when it is so simple, the quality of the vinyl finish has to be absolutely perfect—without a single bubble, cut mark, or blemish. He also explains there is no tolerance today from customers for colours that fade or edges that lift.

Creative genius

So, with this in mind, step in APA Spa, a highly innovative manufacturer that has worked incredibly hard to provide solutions for the market that solve the issues discussed above, while also being real pioneers in the field of speciality finishes and effects. I caught up with Roberto Vallebona, APA’s sales manager to get the inside track on its latest innovations.

(Above & below) APA has made its name through producing highly innovative vinyl films for graphic arts applications that really embolden creativity

“As concerns digital printing, among APA’s latest innovations, three calendered films ensuring good covering power and impeccable application are especially worth mentioning: AP/909-FC, AP/910-FC and AP/510-FC which, combined with the respective gloss, matt or satin laminations, offer mechanical protection and preserve colour brightness and print definition over time,” explains Vallebona.

He continues: “In regards to cutting films, APA has extended the colour range of the Extreme Fast series, top-quality self-adhesive flexible cast films that can be modelled on curved and riveted surfaces, for easy dry application thanks to the channelled adhesive Air Free FTX System.

“As for wrapping films, APA has launched a cutting-edge film that can be printed with solvent, eco-solvent, UV and latex inks: AP/990-FX, an extremely prestigious gloss white cast film, formulated for long lasting digital prints, featuring the repositionable RepoTack Air Free System adhesive. APA’s Wrap Film range has also been enhanced with new colours and textures, such as the seductive Jaguar and the velvet-touch Ultra Matt Military Green.”

Vallebona says that APA’s new Interior Design film range though is the ‘jewel in the crown’. These cover four brand new series: Cover Wrap, Creative Wrap, Wall and Floor, and Window—which can all be perfectly adapted to furniture, appliances, walls, partitions, floors, glass, and windows.

Now, returning to the challenges facing sign-makers such as Fastsigns Bolton, I asked Vallebona specifically about what APA is bringing to the table to enhance efficiency, and reduce time and materials wastage.

“APA has been using the Air Free System technology for many years and we have also recently developed the innovative repositionable adhesive Repo Tack-Air Free System which, upon application, hugely facilitates positioning and favours air ejection through micro-channels,” he explains, adding: “This film was designed to have a very low initial adhesive level, which makes the film repositionable and even easier to apply: the films, even after years, are easy to remove without leaving any glue on the surface.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Vallebona outlines its offering: “We also have a wide range of ‘High Tack’ films, whose flagship products are digital printing films such as AP/HTS90 (gloss white) and AP/HTS80 (matt white), featuring a special adhesive which is extremely sticky and difficult to remove; therefore, these films are ideal for applications on uneven and porous surfaces such as walls, wood or painted panels, and suitable for applications on non-polar surfaces such as polyethylene and polypropylene.”

Another key area of enquiry in regards to where to apply your focus and efforts as a sign-maker is the digital print versus colour change debate. There are marked differences between these two sub-sectors, both for overhead costs and product pricing.

Vallebona continues: “First of all, it is worth pointing out that digital printing materials are used mainly for customising business vehicles, whereas wrapping is more targeted to customers who want to revamp or personalise their car. Wrapping was originally intended as a monochromatic coating for vehicles, but in recent years the request for custom wrapping with printable films has steadily increased.

“Today, APA offers a wide range of printable wrapping films to meet its customers’ needs, and has also developed state-of-the-art wrapping films with refined 3D textures that faithfully reproduce the most varied finishes, such as brushed, velvety and carbon effects, to name a few.”

Vallebona also emphasises that the market has really worked to encourage the growth of new applications and materials, which have invested in research and development to open up new opportunities and find new solutions.

He concludes: “There is no question that the most rapidly-evolving sectors are advertising design, automotive—to which APA offers a wide range of cutting-edge wrapping films—and interior design, for which APA has launched this year a new product line created specifically for interior decoration. For this field in particular, there is a need for high-quality self-adhesive materials, as an alternative to the traditional resources used up to now for indoor and outdoor decoration.

“We are a company of people who are passionately committed to their work, professionals dedicated to the production and promotion of high-quality products. For the past forty years, we have been working every day to provide increasingly innovative materials featuring the most advanced technologies with a minimal environmental impact. Eco-friendliness and technological innovation are our present and future objectives to ensure a better world for all.”

Technical know-how

Now, when wrapping is the subject under discussion thoughts turn, naturally enough, to vehicles. But, thanks to a new development from an equally new division of Metamark, Metamark Technical Films, wrapping’s vocabulary now includes panel clad buildings.

According to Metamark’s sales manager Mark Smith, its Renolit Reface product addresses an unmet need for applied finishes that “both beautify existing structures and which deliver a range of functional benefits too”.

He concludes: “Reface, once installed, protects the fabric of the buildings to which it’s applied and significantly lowers establishment costs for management and required maintenance. Being filmic in nature, the product requires handling skills which, when fully trained and developed, deliver many benefits beyond sprayed finishes. Installation disruption is minimal and premises being worked on can remain in use. There’s no odour, no noise and application is more tolerant of weather conditions than paint or other traditional finishes.”

Renolit Reface is Metamark Technical Films’ first product and is described by Metamark as a novel Engineered Filmic Material or EFM. EFMs are homogenous products comprising multiple layers. Each of the included layers imparts a component of functionality that is demanded of the particular application that the product is designed for.

In the case of Reface, the first layer is PVDF, which is inert, clear, and slightly textured. Being inert, this layer makes it highly resistant to airborne pollution and dust, and as Smith quips, it “gives wind and weather the cold-shoulder too”.

Neways Electronics used Renolit Reface from Metamark Technical Films to protect the whole of its new office building, while also enhancing its appearance and reducing cleaning bills

He adds: “The consequence is, buildings with panels clad in Reface, can be cleaned with the same equipment and ease that’s associated with windows.”

Behind the layer of PVDF is an acrylic, which gives a very high degree of resistance to fading and photo-degradation. “Buildings don’t just look great, they look great for much longer than those clad in panels with traditional paint finishes,” adds Smith.

Buildings don’t just look great, they look great for much longer

Next in the construction detail is a layer of ‘dyed-in-the-mass’ PVC, which imparts the product’s colour and substance. Lots of standard colours are available, and, if needed, practically anything in the Pantone swatch can be matched too.

On the reverse of the PVC layer is a specifically engineered pressure sensitive adhesive with an air evacuation feature. This adhesive builds to the reliable bond needed to support the film. This means Reface installations are self-supporting and need no fixings. The final layer is not part of the applied film, it is a liner that will be familiar in terms of handling to most sign-makers.

Smith continues: “Applying Reface involves a survey process and specialist application techniques that Metamark Technical Films teaches suitably qualified companies. Access to the product and to the opportunity that refurbishing buildings and offering customised construction presents will be conditional on a number of factors and full training will be required in handling Reface.”

Metamark Technical Films also has other products in development to address the opportunity for facade decoration, refurbishment, and construction.

That’s a wrap

Now, returning to the vehicle wrapping and branding sector, it will not be a surprise that key sector manufacturer 3M has been pushing hard when it comes to research and development. Represented in the UK through William Smith and Spandex, it recently introduced a new generation of vinyl dubbed Wrap Film Series 1380, which it says “provide vehicle wrappers with outstanding conformability that enables application to deeply recessed areas without requiring cutting or inlays”.

Who got da keys to my Lambo? The latest generation of 3M colour change and special effect films are of such quality that even hypercar owners will specify them to personalise their rides

The new Wrap Film Series 1380 from 3M is available in 14 colours and has been constructed with an additional white layer, increasing the opacity to improve the colour brilliance and prevent the substrate colour from showing through. A durable transparent top coat also gives added protection and resistance against the weather and scratches whilst enhancing the overall appearance.

The aforementioned Controltac Technology also enables the film to be repositioned on the substrate until the exact position is achieved, and once firm pressure is applied, an instant bond is formed. The film also incorporates Comply Adhesive Technology from 3M which comprises of a network of microstructure air channels that allow air to be dispersed from underneath the film, for a quick and easy application and a bubble-free, smooth finish.

3M is also not to be outdone when it comes to new colours and special effects, introducing no less than nine new additions to the 3M Wrap Film Series 1080, including three innovative, colour flip options: Gloss Flip Electric Wave, Satin Flip Caribbean Shimmer, and Satin Flip Glacial Frost. Alongside the three colour flip options, 3M has also expanded the range to include new, on-trend satin, sparkle, and glossy colours.

All three colour flip shades exhibit lively polychromatic effects that create “unique, multi-colour dimensions, which shift and vary under different viewing angles and lighting” according to 3M.

“At 3M we understand that there is nothing more important to graphic installers than wrap films and vinyl products that help bring their visions to life, which is why we’ve added these innovative colours to the range,” says Christian Stöhr, portfolio manager West Europe at 3M Commercial Solutions Division.

The new ‘Colour Flip’ of 1380 Wrap Film Series from 3M is helping set new standards in vehicle personalisation

So, whether you need to reduce the time it takes to wrap your next fleet vehicle job, make your top hypercar customer’s latest dream a reality, or say ‘yes’ to your commercial building sector client that wants to wrap an entire building, the solution is out there. And considering the amazing breadth and depth of innovation that is currently ongoing in this sector, that deep sigh of frustration should definitely be replaced with a big smile of satisfaction.

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