Volume 8, Issue 4, July-August  2004

Film Couture
Decorative Film Growing in Popularity
by Brigid O'Leary

Here we are in the summer of 2004 and everywhere you look the hottest trends are popping up: at the mall, on the streets or at the classy restaurant in town. It’s not cargo pants or skooter skirts or bright colored floral patterns, it’s decorative window film, one of the fastest growing trends in architecture and the window film market.

Trend Spotting
“We find that the “rice papers,” an influence of Asian decoration, are very popular right now,” said Tom Niziolek, marketing and sales director of Madico Inc. Madico makes three lines of decorative window film: Decolite, Lumisty, and its MT series. The Lumisty line provides the solid rice paper look, with three different grades of translucence. 

The rice paper look is also a big seller for 3M. Its Fasara interior design films feature two shade styles that imitate rice paper and two styles to mimic etched or sandblasted glass. The Sagano and Yamato films are designed to evoke the feeling of the far East and were developed for the Asian market, according to 3M literature. 

While the sale of the “rice paper” look is booming for Madico and 3M, it’s not the only look on the market. Niziolek pointed out that flat white is a favored classic and, of late, the infusion look has also become a hot commodity. Layers and dimensions of white provide different visual appeal, he noted and different design elements, such as more geometric shapes are being incorporated in decorative film products, such as Madico’s Decolite line. 

CPFilms carries a variety of such products as well, including the company’s Llumar NRM FMD, which features small, frosted dots and Llumar NRM SD, with larger, frosted dots, two of the popular looks on the market right now. Virginia Kubler, marketing director of CPFilms, has seen companies utilize multiple styles of film, such as the textured, frosted patterns with a colored film background for an added effect.

Different manufacturers provide different options by way of decorative film, be it patterned or colored. Bekaert Specialty Films, for example, markets its decorative film under its Solar Gard brand, which includes colored films, a graphics/vinyl line for the etched glass look and a decogard series of patterned films for privacy and design.

With Benefits
Increasingly popular, several manufacturers say they have seen sales of decorative film nearly double in the past decade. There are many factors that have spurred consumer interest in decorative film, including expense and ease of use, particularly when compared to etched glass. The biggest selling point is price, hands down. 
One industry insider estimated the savings to be about 25 percent the cost of etched glass, depending on the design.

It costs considerably less to have film applied to glass than it does to etch it, but manufacturers are promoting the other selling points as well.

“Film is, of course, much cheaper and offers more flexibility,” said Kubler. “It takes longer to make etched glass. If a company orders etched glass and some of it breaks in transit, then the waiting process starts all over again.”
Etched glass is permanent, too. Once a design is etched into glass, it stays and any new occupant of a building with that glass would have to replace the glass completely to be rid of the design. Additionally, etched glass—the process of which creates small scratches in the surface of the glass—can be hard to clean. Knowing this, a selling point for many film manufacturers is the ease with which glass with decorative film can be cleaned. Most companies indicate that standard cleaning practices can be applied to the surfaces without harming the film.
While decorative film does not provide any substantial protection—it doesn’t hold the glass the way impact resistant film does—at least one manufacturer does tout the safety factor of decorative film, at least over etched glass. 3M sales material points out that the etching process can weaken the glass while decorative film does not compromise the glass in any way. 

Often the most important benefit of decorative glass, however, is that it gives an aesthetic value that allows glass being used as a significant design element to also provide privacy. Both Bekaert and CPFilms have films that give the look of Venetian blinds without actually installing any, just one option for an office door with glass in it, and the same look can be achieved with 3M films, as well.

Different Strokes
Frosted, colored and textured films provide merely the basis for decorative window film. If the old standards of frosted, patterned and colored films are the Lee jeans of the industry, then the industry is about to be hit by the punk invasion. Like the Mohawk hairstyle that rebels used in the mid-1980s to show their individuality, customized designs are set to crack the decorative window film industry wide open.

Customized specialty film is gaining ground rapidly, especially with the availability and ease with which it can now be made using computers, a change echoed by everyone interviewed.

A newer innovation for the window film industry, computer-cutting software became available to the industry early in the decade and has allowed for the diversification of many a business.

Robert Garlo, the ComputerCut program manager for Bekaert, has seen firsthand how dealers have done just that.

“As [dealers] gain knowledge about the system, they begin to see and use other databases and see how they can use that to grow their business more,” said Garlo.

He also outlined the benefits of using computer-cutting software: efficiency, accuracy and time.

By using a computer to design and cut decorative film, Garlo explained, a tinter is free to clean and prepare his window for application at the same time, which cuts down on the time it takes to do the job. It also guarantees accuracy by eliminating variances from one batch or cut to the next.

More importantly to those who are more concerned about the sales of decorative film, computer-cutting programs and software offer more options than just pre-designed patterns.

“You can use graphic cutting software on a plotter to cut patterns,” Kubler said, using the example of a spa in Hawaii that scanned in a leaf design from a fabric used throughout the establishment and had film custom cut to match the fabric.

Lyman MacNutt, owner of Solar-X of Sarasota in Sarasota, Fla., has done similar jobs and finds that they are as much a part of his business as any other aspect of decorative film.

“Some people like the pre-made images that we’ve got on the shelf and others when they hear that we can make whatever they want, that’s what they want,” said MacNutt. “I’d say it’s about 50-50.”

One of MacNutt’s more memorable decorative film jobs concerned the doors of a local Dairy Queen. 
“The owner wanted to use the Dairy Queen logo and tie it in with Florida by using palm trees,” he related. His company designed the look by cutting out the lines between the leaves on palm tree leaves and adding the corporate logo in the center.

The flexibility offered by computer-cutting software is a cross-spectrum bonus for those who work with decorative window film. Not only does it allow for intricate and unique designs for architectural application—considered by some as the only true application for decorative film—it has sparked a large and loyal following in the automotive industry as well.

“[The automotive market is a] growing part of the business,” said Garlo. “What’s become popular is adding flames, words, logos, [some] decorative art.”

Vehicle window tinting as a whole is under scrutiny in many states across the nation (and in many countries around the world), and decorative tinting of car windows isn’t exempt from suspicion or concern. With the options that the computer-cutting software offers, however, vehicle owners are finding ways to express themselves and decorate their cars at the same time.

“We have dealers that take the visor strips, type in the word and cut it right into the visor strip,” said Garlo.
The words that Garlo is aware of being made into visor strip tint range from the make or model of the car to the owner’s name, though it’s not unreasonable to think that just about anything can be cut. Garlo also pointed out that the computer-cutting software on the market today is diverse in and of itself, and that additional applications on the automotive end of things include film or vinyl decals that decorate vehicle chassis, not just windows. Consistently, representatives from every company that dabbles in decorative auto tinting or aftermarket vehicle decals indicated that flames are one of the biggest requests for decorative accessories for cars.

It should be noted, however, that with auto tinting being watched so scrupulously, applying decorative tint to cars should be done with caution. The visor strip is considered the top four inches of the windshield, and in many states is considered a safe tinting zone, but there are several states that ban windshield tinting completely, even in the visor area. Tinting the backlite or any sidelites, decorative or otherwise, are subject to the laws of the state, too. It is well advised that anyone tinting vehicles be aware of the laws of the state in which he works.

General Education
The need for greater education about decorative window film, particularly where designers and architects are concerned, was always important to those with whom we spoke. Like its counterparts in the impact-resistant, security and heat reducing segments of the industry, decorative window film needs architects and designers to know what it can do for a structure to increase the demand for it.

Product and sales literature will help educate consumers once the contact has been made. MacNutt allows that some of the customers who are most receptive to discuss decorative film are those who have bought from him before. MacNutt refers to this as trying to educate on the local level, as most of his sales and educating strategies must be done face to face. It will be up to the manufacturers to educate at the national level, such as the mention CPFilms’ Vista line got in an issue of the American Society of Interior Design’s magazine, Expert Insights.

It’s hard to say who buys the most decorative film right now. For MacNutt, the majority of his customers are interior designers, and CPFilms is courting that market as well. Whether it gets to the end user through a designer or not, Niziolek has noticed decorative film more in retail establishments, though night clubs and restaurants are quickly seeing the value of it, too.

Leaps and Bounds
Even with the growing popularity, there are some manufacturers who do not make decorative film—yet. V-Kool and Johnson Window Films are two who don’t, but that’s not to say they won’t join the ranks of decorative film market in the future.

“We don’t make decorative film at this time but we might down the road. It’s become very popular,” said Cody Forbes, marketing director for Johnson Window Film.

Many people in the industry expect it to continue growing at breakneck pace. Anticipated rates of growth—albeit informal predictions—reflect positive expectations for the product.

“I would call it double-digit growth,” said Niziolek. “More than 10-20 percent.”

Kubler anticipates the growth will be exponential.

MacNutt has only been in the business of decorative film for about eight months, but he, too, is of the opinion that the industry segment will take off, soon.

“I think it’s probably going to go way, way up,” he said. “It’s going to get much more popular. It’s going to snowball, because the more people see it the more they’re going to buy. It’s not like the traditional window film business that once it’s up, if it’s done well, it goes away. This is something people can see. It’s different—it’s tangible—people will say ‘That’s great, how did you get it? How do I contact them?’ It’s got a good future.”


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