Volume 7, Issue 3, May-June 2003

Alternative Art
    Decorative Films Make Their Mark 
in an Expanding Industry

by Kristine Tunney

Although it adorns the interiors of some of the world’s most famous museums, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Louvre, it often remains unseen. In fact, there is one inhabitant of many museums that proves its value based solely on what you do not see; something that wouldn’t bring in much in an art auction, yet proves invaluable to art collectors. What I’m referring to isn’t a famous masterpiece or work of art by Renoir, Picasso, Michelangelo or any of the other masters. It’s window film, and chances are it’s coming to a museum exhibit near you.

The days of using film solely for solar control or safety are long gone and the use of window films for added aesthetics are on the rise. Decorative film has come a long way since its inception and almost every manufacturer has its own line. Whether it’s called Decogard, SOLYX®, Fasara™, Illusions or any other of a number of names, decorative film is etching its place in the film market as a viable alternative for flat glass decoration.

Embraced by interior decorators, architects, window installers and contractors, the decorative films on the market today can simulate etched or sandblasted glass indistinguishably, making the look more affordable than ever. Combine its fashionable appearance with ultra-violet (UV) protection and heightened privacy options and it’s safe to assume that the uses of decorative film have only begun to shed light on the endless possibilities for residential and commercial applications.

Hailed for their ability to let in natural light without sacrificing privacy, modern film lines have found homes in bathrooms, doors, room dividers and in commercial applications, such as restaurant booths and hotel lobbies. Frosted films diffuse light without appreciably cutting down the ambient light. As a result, any existing window can be converted to privacy glass in a number of attractive patterns. With varying transparent-to-translucent varieties, the usage possibilities are endless. 

For many film companies, decorative film offerings are still a small part of the business, while for others, the increasing demand for privacy and decoration combined with UV protection has made some dealers focus solely on this still-budding business.

“While gaining in popularity, decorative films could certainly benefit from increased promotion and awareness,” said Jay Frolick of Glass Film Enterprises, a Madico distributor. Madico’s two lines of decorative film, Decolite and Lumisty, cater to separate ends of the film-using sector. The Decolite line was designed for use in commercial or residential projects and is comprised of a series of patterned and non-patterned designs and retrofits to existing glass that give the appearance of etched or sandblasted glass. The Lumisty line is the high-design, higher-priced cousin of the cost-effective Decolite line. Labeled by Frolick as quite expensive, the Lumisty line is used chiefly in commercial applications and “provides different degrees of translucency and transparency to glass, depending on the viewing angle.” 





A manufacturer of “view-control” films for the past five years, Madico sells the Decolite line through its network of distributors and dealers, while Lumisty is sold directly to the architectural/design community. But as Madico marketing manager Tom Niziolek explained, the films still make up a relatively small  part of the industry segment. 

“The decorative lines, albeit growing in many respects, do have a tendency to be viewed as secondary lines. However, the decorative films are part of a broad solution for the commercial segment: solar control; safety and security; and decorative,” Niziolek said.

According to Jeff Tucker, wholesale products manager at Gila Distributing in Canton, Ga., the decorative films are still considered secondary product lines. “Compared to the other sectors, they are still moved in relatively small quantities,” said Tucker. “For us, the more generic the pattern, the more it seems to sell. The rice paper and crystal glue chip designs are two of the best selling patterns we offer.”

Tucker also explained that the marketing of decorative films is different than many of the other film sectors, adding that there’s still a lot to be learned about the best way to reach potential customers that would benefit from the applications made possible through decorative film.

“It’s Like Wallpaper For Windows”
“People still don’t know what’s available,” said Caroline Bettis, owner and manager of Better Energy Ideas (BEI) in Upland, Calif. “There are so many great films out there these days. I’m blown away that many people are still not familiar with these products.”

A film installation shop, Better Energy Ideas, has taken the idea of decorative films to an entirely new level. In addition to applications that give the appearance of etched, beveled or sandblasted glass, Caroline Bettis and her team of installers constantly devise new ways to use window film in exciting ways. Her work is highlighted by a series of projects in which stained glass art film is combined with real brass, antique or black leading to produce results that give new meaning to the term decorative film.

“It looks just like an intricate stained glass piece, but is safer, provides security and UV protection,” said Bettis. “You have to get creative. We get our films from a number of manufacturers and suppliers and use that large variety of materials to really be innovative.”

The company was started seven years ago when Bettis saw a need for such applications in her area. She said that the company does a lot of third-story windows for people looking to protect homes from damaging heat and UV rays. In addition to reducing glare and sun damage, the possibilities for adding style and distinctiveness, while providing savings in energy consumption, proved virtually endless. BEI can recreate patterns from wallpaper and upholstery or use a client’s suggestions to develop a plan for a window’s film artwork.

“A lot of what we do is in commercial venues, dividers in between cubicles, patterns that provide privacy and eliminate distracting rubbernecking, but we also have the ability to cut different shapes and sizes for a truly custom look. It’s really pretty exciting.” 
The uses of decorative films are definitely on the rise, according to Hank Weiss of Glas-Tint, a window film dealer in Park Ridge, N.J. 

“Percentage-wise the decorative film portion of our business is fairly small, but growth-wise it’s expanding quickly. The films have come a long way since they were first introduced, a long way from the time when the look of frosted glass was all that could be achieved using these films. The decorative films offered today are much more design-oriented than they’ve been in the past, with their ability to mimic many different types of glass from frosted and etched to intricately designed stained glass.”

The Race Is On

Although the costs of decorative film are lower per square foot than many other decorative glass options, new products and methods for decorating glass are emerging constantly. The Deco-Therm™ process is just one example of a new glass decoration solution. The process utilizes digitally printed fire-able frit decals that provide a look similar to that of sandblasting but doesn’t weaken the glass, is easy to clean and can be used for decorating curved surfaces.

The combined effort of Inovatek Digital Imaging of Vancouver, B.C., and Amherst, N.Y.-based IIMAK, Deco-Therm allows the production of cover-coated decals that are applied to the glass with a special adhesive that then can be fired and tempered immediately.

Inovatek’s founder, Barry Briggs, developed the technology after realizing that there was a huge unmet demand for decorating architectural glass economically. During the firing process, the frit in the ink melts to become part of the glass with the image permanently embedded. The finished product imitates etched/sandblasted decorative glass, according to the company.

A Growing Piece of the Pie
Glas-Tint has been in the window film business for more than 18 years, during which the shop has adjusted and expanded to keep on the cutting edge of the evolving industry. Concentrating solely on residential and commercial installations, Weiss said that the company has only been doing decorative films for the past few years.

“Whether more film is installed in residential or commercial projects really depends on the dealer. In addition to those types of applications we’re going to begin selling the decorative films for do-it-yourselfers that want to try it themselves, usually on smaller surface areas and jobs in which it wouldn’t be worth it for us to go out there,” Weiss said. “If they are just planning on applying the film to a single door or half of a window, we’ll sell them the film they want along with a tool kit that gives them everything they need for the install.”

Weiss continued, “It’s hard for me to say what’s the most popular pattern or style for us, because they all fit such different needs. Some we install are black-outs or white-outs, some look like someone’s closed the mini-blinds, some let a lot of light shine through while letting you still see what’s going on on the other side of the glass, some are opaque enough that they retain privacy by eliminating the view. Choosing the best design is really a personal issue.”

Weiss explained that despite the growth in the popularity of the film, he hasn’t seen major marketing attention going to the promotion of the products, leaving individual dealers to promote many of the items themselves. 

“I don’t currently see a major corporate push from the manufacturers for these decorative films. It seems that any marketing efforts for the films are made by independent dealers or distributors,” said Weiss. Because of the lack of overall marketing efforts further up the chain, Weiss’ company has developed its own marketing plan for decorative film.

“Every time we do a presentation, we always mention decorative films and how they can be used in a number of projects. We have a brochure we give out on decorative film, just so customers can begin to understand the many ways that they can be used,” Weiss said. The lack of awareness reminds me of the early days when residential and commercial tinting started and people thought that the film that was applied to houses was identical to what you tint cars with. Once they know all the options available, they want to take advantage of them.”

Project Spotlight

You know you’ve made it to the big leagues when a “kissing cousin” in the industry utilizes your products. For decorative film, that adversarial compliment came when Chicago-based contract glazier MTH Industries called upon Alan & Associates to install the company’s logo to the MTH office’s main reception areas using decorative film. Read on for the vital stats on the project.

Site of application: MTH Industries, Chicago, Illinois
Film Used: Crystal film and 3M Scotchcal vinyl film in white and gray-blue.
Installer: Alan & Associates Inc.Chicago, Ill.
Time Needed for Installation: Four hours
Installer ‘s Thoughts: “Project costs ran approximately $1,000 for materials, labor and design cost. Installation was easy due to the use of the plotter. We were very pleased, as was the client, with the results.” —Alan Hardt

Eye-Opening Options
“We’ve seen a humongous increase in the interest in decorative films and the materials available for those types of applications,” said Matt Lillich, owner of Coastal Tinting in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “While we have pursued some larger jobs, a lot of what we’re selling is for do-it-yourself applications. That’s really been a blessing for us in the fact that it allows us to make money without the labor expense that’s typically involved with a different type of film installation. Because the amount of film used in a lot of residential applications is pretty small we talk to the customer for a few minutes, cut them some film off a roll, and our job is pretty much done. The profit margins for us are great.”

Lillich agreed that there isn’t the marketing push from some of the manufacturers for the decorative lines that there are for the solar control or automotive films, but that’s to be expected based on the volume of a typical decorative application versus the amount used for a solar control job.

“From a manufacturer’s perspective, I’d imagine that it all comes down to volume and when decorative films are involved, the amount used is relatively small. It’s not uncommon for a basic, small residential job to only use 20 square feet of film compared to the couple hundred feet of film that would be used if the resident had decided to add UV-protective film to its windows,” Lillich said.

An exhibitor at an area home show for the past seven years, Coastal Tinting decided this year to dedicate its booth almost entirely to its decorative film lines, allowing attendees to see the films on display hanging from rolls in the booth.

“There was a custom glass company, caddy-corner from us, who produced beautiful things, but they were all so expensive. After stopping by their booth, people would come around the corner and you could see their eyes light up when they came into our booth and realized that they could achieve a similar stained or etched glass look for approximately seven dollars a foot,” said Lillich. “The consumer interest is just phenomenal.”

Coastal uses a variety of films supplied by Gila, Llumar, SOLYX and Outwater Plastics, an assortment that Lillich believes gives him the widest variety of materials to offer customers. 

“In an industry that’s usually very competitive, decorative films give us an avenue that isn’t so cost-competitive, because we can’t lose,” he said. The products we offer to consumers are being compared to alternative materials (such as etched glass) that are entirely different when it comes to cost. That’s a great advantage.”

Whether you call them view control, glass enhancement, decorative or privacy films, the market for such films continues to grow and consumers have only begun to realize the application options available with such materials. And although we all learned young that looks aren’t everything, the restriction of UV light that comes along with today’s decorative films seems to be the icing on the cake when it comes to making decorative films more than just a pretty face. It’s this unique combination of function and fashion that asserts that films by any of these names will never go out of style.

Kristine Tunney is the assistant editor of Window Film magazine.


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