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Dale Salamacha Discusses Media1’s Wall-Graphic Techniques

Know your clients and your materials, he says

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If you produce vinyl graphics, you’ll eventually be asked to wrap walls. Because we wrap vehicles and apply vinyl to signs, we can also wrap walls – and countertops, floors, concrete blocks, furniture and many other substrates! And, as technology and material options expand, our offerings grow. In a previous ST article,  we featured an architectural wrap project in 3M Di-Noc wood-grain vinyl. In this article, let’s explore some different, printable materials that provide great image quality and durability – and, above all, terrific ROI.

With any project, the client’s needs influence our material choices. Is a sign intended for temporary or permanent installation? Does the wrap need to be removed without leaving residue? Is it an interior or exterior wall, and is it going into a high-traffic area? All these questions arise with architectural applications. They aren’t usually concerns with vehicle wraps. So, let’s review a few wall-graphic-related products we’ve recently used. Of course, we’re only speaking from our personal experience. We haven’t yet tried other, suitable products.

The skeleton crew
We’re currently printing and installing a 4,000-sq.-ft., interior wall wrap for a new Orlando museum being built, Skeletons, Animals Unveiled! (skeletonmuseum.com), on International Dr., near Disney World. The Orange County Convention Center, where the SGIA and ISA tradeshows are held every other year, is down the street. Skeletons, Animals Unveiled! will exhibit more than 400 animal skeletons in various habitats, and offer tourists a previously unseen glimpse into the animal kingdom.

The wall wraps serve as backdrops for each scene, which displays a different species. Each scene measures 200-600 sq. ft., and all of the walls have arches and curves that simulate natural environments. The client wants these wall wraps to provide years of problem-free performance. For this installation, we used the same material we would use for vehicle wraps: 3M™ Commercial Graphics’ Controltac™ IJ180C-10 with Comply v3 air-release material.

It provides beautiful, high-resolution, image quality and great durability. It can even be scrubbed. It’s difficult to remove the 3M product from drywall without damage. Fortunately, this particular installation involved smooth, MDF boards, from which vinyl may be easily removed. One difference from a typical vehicle wrap: we wanted a glare-free image, not the glossy finish we provide with most car wraps. So, we chose 3M Scotchcal™ 8519 luster-finish overlaminate instead of our typical 8518 glossy topcoat.

The job required 5-ft.-wide panels, which we printed vertically on our two, new HP 360 latex-ink printers. Each scene features multiple panels, which measure 10 ft. tall and are contour-cut around free-form, curved wall tops and taper to a flat surface when they reach the floor. Our installation began in early February, and we had 10 days to finish. For projects this size, we send six installers in three, two-man teams. Obviously, flat-wall wraps proceed quickly, but this job covers a lot of ground, so more guys onsite make the job easier. My next column will feature completed photos of the job.

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Stick and move
What if the client doesn’t want a permanent wrap? Temporary promotions for specific products or services may need to be removed in a year, six months, or even one month. In such scenarios, use a material that will be easy to install and remove. If typical, vehicle-wrap vinyl is used on painted drywall, you run a serious risk of ripping off both paint and the drywall underneath during removal. Such damage will require a skim coat of drywall mud in order to wrap the wall again. Otherwise, damaged areas will be prominent under a new wrap, and they’ll be very difficult, if not impossible, to wrap over.

During the past few years, we’ve had success with materials from Photo Tex. Photo Tex entered the U.S. market in 2004, and has since gained worldwide distribution. In contrast to our permanent, wall-wrap media, Photo Tex isn’t a vinyl product; it’s a patented, adhesive-polyester fabric. The strong fabric won’t tear, shrink or curl, even on exterior installations.

Non-shrinking materials don’t need to overlap when seamed. Instead, a butt seam is recommended. This allows greater design and installation freedom. The product’s best attribute is its removability from any wall surface without leaving any adhesive residue. That’s very useful when frequent removal and reapplication of graphics is required.

Photo Tex product printability ranges from latex, direct imaging, lithography and screenprinting to crayons and felt-tip markers. The printed image provides a matte finish, and an appearance and texture similar to fabric, although it’s very smooth. For exterior installs, we use a liquid laminate; these coatings can be machine-applied, sprayed or even rolled on! If you don’t laminate the print, cleaning or scrubbing the material may damage the image.

Photo Tex is available in transparent or opaque versions. We learned the difference the hard way. For our first Photo Tex application, we created several 5 x 22-ft. “brand walls” for Planet Smoothie locations nationwide (www.planetsmoothie.com).

The walls to which we applied the graphics were painted a bright magenta, and the printed graphics were mostly white. When we installed the first wall, we realized the magenta wall bled through, which altered the brand-wall color. After we contacted Photo Tex, we then changed all of our future orders to the opaque Photo Tex (Photo Tex OPA), and never had any bleed-through problems on our next 30 store graphics.

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If you’re going to try this product, remember to order the proper version. Photo Tex now offers an EX version as well, which features a 50% stronger adhesive that’s designed for installation on concrete block and other, textured walls that are more challenging.

We’ve used both 3M and Photo Tex materials successfully for years. Understand your clients’ needs; research materials available for their project; choose the correct material and wrap away!
 

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