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Windows of Opportunity, Part Two

Jim discusses good design and material choices for window graphics.

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Last month, Jim addressed how window graphics reinforce a company’s products or image, and suggested approaches to take, as well as questions to ask potential clients before undertaking such jobs. In this issue, Jim discusses layout techniques, material selection and installation techniques.

Window-graphics packages should enhance a company’s image and complement its atmosphere and decor. To achieve a retailer’s marketing objectives, programs should incorporate or reinforce such existing design elements as corporate colors, logos, slogans and pictorials. Select durable, quality materials.

Design considerations

Technology has dramatically changed the sign industry’s equipment and materials. However, basic design principles for effective store graphics have remained relatively constant. When decorating windows of a small, retail chain, you’ll need to develop designs that accommodate multiple window sizes and configurations at various locations.

A workable design is often divided into several smaller sections, or modules. Manufacturing, installation and aesthetic considerations commonly dictate the proportions of different sections. Typical modules might include various striping sections, the company logo, company name, product or service offerings and slogans, store hours and a pictorial. Often, the designer’s layout of these sections fits within the narrowest window. Narrow designs, however, aren’t always necessary.

Large pictorials, for example, might cover huge expanses of glass that comprise several windowpanes. Metal mullions — vertical bars that divide glass panes — aren’t usually decorated and are unlikely to detract from the graphic’s overall visual impact.

If designs include copy, keep messages short and simple, with big, bold lettering. Copy should be easily read from a typical viewing distance. Remember that, when using a block-style letter, the maximum viewing distance for 1-in.-tall characters is 25 ft. Small copy and fine detail are generally ineffective, especially if they’re printed on perforated window sheeting.

True colors

With window applications, light colors are more visible than dark hues. Don’t apply large expanses of dark colors to windows, unless they’re bordered by white. As an alternative to a white border, an artist can break up a large, dark mass with lighter colors.

Dark colors can absorb the sun’s heat, causing vinyl-covered glass to rapidly expand while cooler areas stay rigid. With part of the window expanding and other areas contracting, glass breakage is possible. Large areas of dark color next to regions of very light, reflective tones can also cause heat gain and glass expansion. Films with extreme gray-scale differences can result in glass fatigue and early failures. I recommend breaking up a design with different hues rather than using severe contrasts of light and dark.

Reflective sheeting applied to glass also poses a breakage hazard. The rigidity of stiff, reflective material may not allow the applied area to expand at the same rate as uncovered areas.

Design formats

Window-graphic layouts commonly use four basic design formats. One format creates a valance comprising stripes and graphics panels along the top of the windows. Popular for strip-mall stores because of its high visibility, this format focuses on the top of the window as the prime design area — the lower part of the window is generally blocked by parked cars.

Another benefit is that striping in the upper portion of windows generally exceeds the reach of miscreants that might deface window treatments. Although retailers’ fears of vandalism are usually groundless, and window-graphics vandalism is extremely rare, many retailers insist that graphics be applied inside store windows.

Another popular design format, called the "fourth selling wall," positions graphics along the bottom of windows to conceal racks or gondolas. These graphics create an additional selling wall while covering up an eyesore.

Third, business owners can feature showcase window graphics. Years ago, and less commonly now, graphic artists designed store windows as enclosed showcases to display a retailer’s merchandise. In window graphics, "showcase" refers to striping or graphics around the window’s perimeter. As with showcases of yore, the vinyl showcase focuses on a product or group of products.

The final option — the pictorial format — memorably conveys the retailer’s message. Compared to the words "computer store," a pictorial of a person using a computer better conveys the message that the store sells computers.

Inside or out?

Although many sign professionals disagree, window graphics are most effective outside. While interior applications offer protection from vandals, exterior placement offers more advantages than risks. Reflective glare or tinting diminishes the graphic impact of an interior installation. Applied outside, graphics simply look better. Look at gas-station window graphics, where installations are almost always on the exterior.

Interior-window graphics also require moving sales racks and merchandise prior to application, which slows installation and disrupts store traffic. Exterior applications, however, pose no inconvenience to business operation, and installers may apply them after hours.

Keep it simple

When presenting features, benefits and advantages of a graphic program, don’t, in most cases, explain manufacturing details — unless the prospect asks a specific question. Store owners don’t need to know that the graphics are made with pressure-sensitive, cast vinyl, and cut on a computer-controlled plotter.

When viewing the design, retailers focus on how the graphics will enhance their stores. They’ll imagine customers crowding the aisles and clerks busily ringing up sales. They likely will not be thinking about vinyl and paint, unless you divert their focus with details of product specifications, manufacturing techniques and other technical data.

Present yourself as a corporate-identity specialist. Sell an image rather than simply offering stick-on letters and stripes that store owners can apply themselves. Window graphics are not a do-it-yourself hobby. The program should be positioned as a turnkey construction project no amateur should attempt. A professional graphics program deserves a professional installation.

Finally, when discussing pricing, never break out individual component costs. This makes it easy for prospects to shop and compare. Remember, you’re selling a retail-identity program that complements existing marketing themes and dramatically remodels the business’s appearance. Selling a corporate image should be more rewarding than peddling easily duplicated computer-cut vinyl.

Material selection

The variety, quality and performance characteristics of pressure-sensitive films available to sign- makers and screenprinters have dramatically changed over time. Today’s window-graphic films can be decorated in various ways: screenprinting, digital imaging or airbrushing. Some films feature special adhesive systems that allow installers to reposition the graphics without application fluid.

Films with removable adhesive systems are also available for short-term promotion. Static-cling vinyl and low-cost, ultra-removable polypropylene films provide other promotional alternatives and allow fast and easy removal.

Perforated window films

Perforated, window-marking films are becoming more widely used, not only to decorate storefront windows, but also for bus and building wraps, POP displays and exhibit graphics. Made with small holes, these films allow store patrons to see outside, while passers-by view the printed graphic.

A perfect choice for large-format graphics, perforated window films can be decorated using myriad printers, from grand-format inkjets to smaller, thermal-transfer printers, such as the Gerber Scientific Products EDGE

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