Volume 28, Issue 3 - May/June 2014

A Splash of Color
Why Decorative Film is the Wave of the Future
by Casey Neeley

People who are “colorful” often are described as being interesting, lively, imaginative and exciting. Making buildings “colorful” with the use of decorative films can evoke the same response.

Custom building graphics and films not only offer a variety of benefits, but stand up to the competition from decorative glazing.

Additionally, architects and specifiers are beginning to look to these films as low-cost alternatives to custom glass.

A Vibrant Advantage
“The benefits are abundant, but the bottom line is flexibility. There are so many options to choose from and the films are always removable should the customer expand to another location or want to change the design,” says Uriel Nathan, managing director for Sunshield Ltd., an international distributor and installer in Jerusalem.

“Decorative films and high-impact visual graphics in the work environment are a quick and easy way to completely change the feel and environment of an area, whether during refurbishment or in new design,” says Chris George, managing director of Bonwyke, an independent wholesaler and installer based in Hampshire, U.K. “The addition of color is a visual stimulant for the work force but themed ideas and corporate design can be built into the internal and external look of a building.”

“The versatility of film and the advanced technology mean that an increasing number of methods are available for supplying graphics and decoration,” adds Mike Parkin, marketing and communications manager for window film installation company and distributor, The Window Film Co. in Buckinghamshire, U.K. “Cut graphics remain a popular choice, and these can vary from simple frosted bands for delivering privacy, manifestation or geometric decoration, to complex bespoke patterns.

“The primary benefit of an overlay is that it transforms the appearance of a surface to any look desired like a chameleon lizard,” says Zoilo Centeno, president of VEGO Overlays, a custom film laminating company in Costa Mesa, Calif. “Additionally, the overlay can be printed and/or laminated to enhance texture, longevity, durability, etc. [Features can also be added] to protect against fading, heat gain, prying eyes and intrusion. Custom overlays add a dramatic effect to existing or common surfaces at a fraction of the cost of purchasing and installing new expensive surfaces. Overlays can be made to adhere to many surfaces (glass, plastic, stone, concrete and drywall), protecting and transforming the surface time and time again as future needs arise. Overlays allow property owners to reuse existing surfaces rather than replacing them.”

The effect the films have on people can offer one of the largest benefits.

“Three of the largest advantages are workplace satisfaction, ease of upgrade and color,” says Dave MacDonald, marketing and creative manager for Ontario, Calif.-based The AmGraph Group, a decorative film supplier. “Workplace satisfaction increases when a graphic environment is created. A scene on the wall which transfers to the roof or windows in a continuous image creates an open and inviting environment. Much like adding mirrors to a small room, a person is left with the impression of a larger space. Adding large format imagery imprints upon employees a dynamic, engaging and finished feeling. All three of these impressions are critical to an employee’s overall satisfaction and performance.

The Versatile Contender

The experts agree that, because of its lower price point and changeability, window film makes a strong complement to decorative glazing.

“Window film offers a flexible and cost-effective alternative to decorative glass,” states Parkin. “Installing window film is a relatively quick and straightforward process.”

“The main benefit is the cost-saving of a decorative film solution instead of traditional etched or decorative glass,” notes MacDonald. “With advancements in print and film technology HDClear has recently developed a product called HDFrost that can be custom printed to any pattern or design. HDFrost uses a unique combination of light grey and white inks to replicate the look of frosted/etched glass. Added to the overall cost saving by using a decorative film solution, it allows the design to be changed out or refreshed at a later date.”

Upkeep is another competitive point, according to window film experts.

“Window film is also easy to maintain,” says Parkin. “Window films can be cleaned with standard cleaning products allowing the surface to look better for longer.”

Window film may also be manipulated and disposed easily

.“While window film is designed to stay in place for as long as is required, it can be removed if necessary,” states Parkin. “Increasing numbers of jobs feature large numbers of windows and sizeable [lites] of glass,” he adds. “Printed and cut window film can be created with precision and accuracy using state-of-the-art plotting, printing and cutting equipment, making covering large surface areas not just possible, but straightforward.”

A Graphic Evolution
As decorative films and graphics gain in popularity, experts say printed graphics will be the top contender in the decorative market segment.

“One of the biggest growth areas has been in printed graphics,” notes Parkin. “With both ultraviolet and solvent-based print capabilities our company can reproduce large format graphics on films that are suitable for both internal and external applications. Printed graphics can be used to provide an eye-catching and unique way of delivering privacy, meeting manifestation needs, raising brand awareness, advertising or adding decorative elements to glass and other surfaces.

“Five years ago, the focus was primarily on cut graphics,” he adds. “The costs of printing were higher, with less access to equipment and suitable film, so print was an option few could afford. In 2014, cut graphics remain popular, but print has really taken off. Machinery is now more accessible and the process is less expensive, giving clients the option to go for complicated, full-color bespoke designs.”

“The growth of graphic installations to our business has been at a rate of doubling each year,” states George. “We started installing about six years ago and still see expansion at the same rate for the next three to four years at least. The visual impact alone is such a talking point to designers, architects, interiors companies, etc., that the interest just keeps expanding. We’ve gone on to develop some of our own printing methods, even placing patents on three of them to help get products specified. We now manufacture and install visual graphics to walls and floors as well as glass.”

Customers are becoming more aware of the marketing implications these films hold.

“Our customers focus mainly on advertisements. We have a few bank chains, health centers and gasoline chains that work with us on a regular basis,” says Nathan. “Our sales for commercial graphics probably increased by 35 percent in the last three years as customers know they can achieve a practical solution for privacy that incorporates the message they want to present.”

“Over the last five years companies were extremely conscious of spending practices and many were tasked with exploring least-cost options to improve or upgrade physical spaces. Since every visible surface is essentially a blank canvas, printed graphics are limited by the imagination alone,” adds MacDonald.

“The films are easily geared towards advertising on shop front glazing so will become a quick and efficient way for store chains to use their brand on their own stores,” George notes. “Bespoke wall graphics are taking off now and can be applied as wall paper is, so can be used in commercial or domestic arenas. This lends itself so well to anyone who is looking for sales on-line as well as through the more traditional routes. Imagine a website where Mr. Smith can upload a picture he took this morning of the family on holiday at the beach, have it printed to a wall paper and then have it installed a day later on his lounge wall at home. Fantastic.”

These films offer a much more cost-effective option to test out designs, Centeno says. “Many designs look great as plans until the reality of expense and product limitations arise. Decorative overlays are usually called upon for a value-engineered alternative.”

For architects and specifiers, this can mean less worry about delivering decorative options in a space.

“Architects are expected to deliver exciting projects that utilize the most innovative, effective and impressive products available, and window film provides them with a low-cost, high-impact solution to a range of challenges,” says Parkin. “For this reason we’re seeing window film-based products being incorporated in an increasing number of jobs and projects.

Architects are confident in suggesting printed graphics as they know that they are high quality. They also know that should their client require a change at any stage, window film is relatively inexpensive and simple to remove and replace.”

“Architects always are looking for new and innovative ways to individualize buildings and commercial environments,” says George. “By using the glass and walls from that environment they are able to integrate different ambiances and directional tones into the work area.”

“We have noticed a large increase in requests and projects from architects,” adds MacDonald. “Over the last five years architects and specifiers have become far more informed about decorative window films—much of this is due to budget requirements and the potential cost savings of decorative window film and also that the information is far more accessible online than it was in the past.”

“There is a greater understanding and awareness of what can be achieved with window film and the decorative options available, and armed with this information, clients feel confident in embarking on more exciting projects,” notes Parkin. “Genuinely eye-catching features can be delivered at an affordable rate, and as more people take advantage, the word is continuing to spread.”

Building a New Direction
As decorative films and graphics continue to grow, experts say custom, high-quality printed films with innovative uses will dominate the future of the industry.

“There will always be a place in the industry for cut graphics; they provide a fantastic finish and can look stunning. Having said this, the real growth area will continue to be in printed window film,” says Parkin. “Print and film technology continues to advance providing bigger and better opportunities for clients, and there will continue to be an appetite for eye-catching and impressive installations.

“Film manufacturers are developing increased ranges of pre-printed, off-the-roll graphics and these will undoubtedly prove popular, but it is hard to second guess individual taste and with bespoke designs often required, printed or cut film will continue to dominate,” he adds.

Again, the people factor will play a large role in the success of decorative films.

“I think decorative films are only at their starting point, as opposed to security and solar films which are great practical solutions and problem solvers. Decorative films touch people’s emotions, making it an emotional sale, which is usually where decisions are made more quickly and with less consideration to price,” states Nathan. “I also think that decorative films are the link to selling more solar and safety films that are easily introduced to your customers once you have already sold decorative films to them.”

The versatility of the custom designs will mean that certain projects will be more accessible.

“Glass, drywall, smooth stone and sheet metal are no longer bound by the single direction pattern, the solid color or the handheld paintbrush. Architects can make the surfaces of their structures as captivating as the structure itself. Monochromatic finishes have a certain elegance but over time become visually stagnate,” adds MacDonald. “Color imagery or design, replaceable and adjustable, increases the visual impact. Attractive projects win more approval. Attractive projects, which can be readily altered to meet a decision-maker’s preferences, often leave the drawing board and become real.”

For those designing the films, Centeno says, “Using wide-format printing onto transparent, translucent or opaque media is the next evolutionary step for the window film dealer. Plotting vinyl media adds flair and branding to glass surfaces but preparation and installation is difficult. Printing onto a single sheet of media makes overlay installations far easier for the technician while tripling profit margins.”

When it comes down to it, Centeno says, the use of decorative films will continue to grow.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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