by | 23 October 2020 9:27 am
Floor graphics serve many purposes. They are impactful tools for branding and advertising; can transform a bare floor into a fun, colourful space for sports, entertainment, or decorative purposes; and can be highly effective for educational and wayfinding applications. But at the start of 2020, no one could have predicted floor graphics would come to play such an important role in public health and safety.
COVID-19 has turned the world, as we know it, on its head. Key safety messages such as hand washing and physical distancing (2 m [6.5 ft] apart) are now as recognizable as corporate slogans. People see these messages on signage everywhere, initially in public spaces, health care centres, and essential businesses, like grocery stores, and now increasingly in the transport, non-essential retail, and hospitality sectors as restrictions are eased.
Floor decals tick several boxes for communicating these messages concurrently. They can convey a message clearly and simply. Thanks to their location, they are effective at attracting attention, so more people will see and respond to the messages. At the same time, they can act as physical distance markers. As a result, the demand for floor graphics media and services is at an all-time high, and manufacturers expect this to continue. While not as crucial as personal protective equipment (PPE), floor graphics promoting social distancing have now (and for the foreseeable future) become a requirement for public spaces. Further, as their effectiveness as a marketing medium is proven, they may well become even more popular for advertising, too.
If the intention of floor graphics is to protect people, the last thing anyone wants is to create an injury risk. When public safety is a priority, it is not enough to use any self-adhesive graphics media that sticks to the floor; only a product designed specifically for this application should be used. This, partly, is because it will have been tested and rated for its slip-resistance.
The test standards used to measure slip-resistance vary across different geographical regions and even within the same country, for this reason it is important customers check with their region’s relevant building requirements or health and safety executive for slip certification required. The application will need to be thoroughly evaluated prior to choosing a floor graphic, such as knowing the type of contaminate, oil will require a rougher surface than if it was just water. Floor gradient will also impact slip resistance and the steeper the slope the higher slip resistance is required. Finally the type and frequency of floor traffic is key to understand, the more wear sustained by the graphic then the shorter its lifespan and will need to be replaced.
Trips are another essential consideration for floor graphics. Trip hazards can be minimized by using specialist floor graphics media, as these products will have been developed to adhere securely to most typical floor surfaces without tearing or curling at the edges. They may have been engineered to withstand heavy foot traffic, high-heeled shoes, and machinery without being damaged. They should also be removed easily and cleanly without leaving a sticky residue, which itself could pose a tripping risk.
Fire ratings are also important. Ensure all products used in a public space have achieved a sufficient fire safety certification.
The manufacturer or supplier of the selected floor graphics product will be able to explain the slip and fire ratings and offer advice to ensure the right media is selected for the specific environment.
There is a wealth of floor graphics products available, each with different bonding qualities and durability under different conditions. Therefore, it is important to look at other aspects besides certifications to ensure safety. In addition, floor graphics that are used to convey a message—safety instructions or directions, for instance—must have resistance against colour fade, loss of ink adhesion, and abrasions and scratches.
There are two types of floor graphics media. One-part products are designed to be ‘print and go’—print and finish (on the same machine, if a combination printer/cutter is used) then install, in a quick, labour-saving process. However, unlaminated one-part graphics are not ideally suited to eco-solvent inks as the ink may rub off. They are also not designed for high-traffic areas.
Two-part solutions combine a print media product and a laminate film. Naturally, production times take longer compared to a one-part solution, including drying and degassing times for eco-solvent inks and cutting having to take place after printing and laminating. Suppliers will also need a laminator as well as a printer. However, two-part solutions offer better durability in high-traffic areas and improved scratch-and-abrasion resistance than one-part products, even enduring industrial cleaning and buffing machines.
Another benefit of the two-part approach is the ability to mix-and-match the print media and the laminate to create the perfect product. For instance, a film with a high coat-weight adhesive should be used with ultraviolet (UV) inks as it can cover its peaks and troughs to create a stronger bond between the printed surface and the laminate. There are also more options for the surface texture, to give varying levels of slip resistance.
In short, if the project requires graphics to be installed quickly and easily, for a short duration in a low-traffic area, a one-part product is an effective and affordable answer. For long-term floor graphics in high-traffic areas, perhaps with trickier ink types, and if the client accepts a slightly longer lead time, a two-part solution will be a better investment.
Once the correct floor graphics media has been purchased, printed, and finished—one that is compatible with the ink chemistry, conditions, and project duration, and one that ticks all the relevant boxes for slips, trips, and fire safety—it is now essential to install them correctly. Many floor graphics products are designed to be easy to apply, even by a non-professional, so choosing these will ease this process. There are how-to videos online to guide installers through the application process step-by-step, including advice on preparation. Standard procedure is to clean the floor surface, then dry it thoroughly before applying the decal.
How-to videos will also list any tools required. For print-and-go products, nothing more is needed than a squeegee to release air bubbles, but for two-part products, installers may find a heat gun beneficial for getting decals seriously secure. Heat softens adhesive and makes polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible to fit into crevasses in a floor’s surface, providing a better bond. Similarly, a heated laminator can make thicker laminate products more pliable. Some may want to use a sealant around the edges of a floor decal or on overlapping seams to secure graphics more thoroughly and protect from cleaning.
Keeping floor graphics clean and well-maintained is very important for safety, as dirt will obscure the message while spillages may pose a tripping or slipping hazard. However, using the correct cleaning products is necessary to avoid causing damage, so always check with the media manufacturer or supplier and the cleaning product label to ensure compatibility. As a general guideline, agents containing two to five per cent bleach, used to disinfect surfaces, are suitable for the PVC, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE) films used in the majority of graphics overlaminates. Some organic solvents and ammonia-based cleaners may damage certain films so they should be avoided unless advised otherwise.
Cleaning will also weaken the adhesive of a floor decal and, in turn, increase its trip hazard potential. Owing to their horizontal position, floor graphics will be exposed to cleaning agents for longer than a vertical display, so special care should be taken, and exposure should be limited, along with ensuring a safe cleanser is used. As mentioned earlier, two-part laminated decal products are better suited to environments that use industrial cleaning and buffing machines.
With so many factors to consider, it is important to remember floor graphics are being used in the real world to help keep people safe—often on a large scale. For example, in London, U.K., social distancing notices have been rolled out across the public transport network, a vast project that had to be completed not just accurately, but also quickly. Over the course of 10 days in May 2020, local business FD Signs printed, finished, and delivered approximately 100,000 social distancing floor graphics for installation by 30 different teams in London Underground, railway stations, and tram stops. To produce the bold blue and white circular decals, FD Signs used a Fujifilm Acuity LED 1600 UV printer and a Drytac two-part graphics solution using a specialized polymeric self-adhesive PVC film with a 4 mil (100μ) monomeric soft calendared laminate. This product is rated for fire safety in public spaces and is slip certified. These decals remained secure and legible despite heavy foot traffic as commuters began heading back to work. This highlights the importance of using the right floor graphics product for the job.
The market for floor graphics is set to expand, but businesses should not see them as just another display job. Suppliers must talk to their customers through every detail to ensure their needs are met—not just now, but in two, six, and 12 months—and people are kept safe.
With almost 10 years of experience with Drytac, David Morgan currently serves as technical assistant. With his excellent technical knowledge of chemistry and thorough understanding of the graphics market, Morgan offers sound advice on both products and applications. For more information, visit www.drytac.com.
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