By Jay Kroll
We have all done it. It’s the 11th hour on a deadline, materials you were counting on have not arrived and that resourceful, desperate, creative scrambling takes hold. You grab whatever you have available, to get you just close enough to the spec, even though you know you will just have to redo it when the material finally shows up. It is desperation-fueled ingenuity, and it has saved my bacon more than once.
What about when you have plenty of time, but choose to settle for the materials you have on your shop floor? Have you ever tried to force functionality from films you knew weren’t a good fit? Or applied an adhesive, with fingers crossed, hoping it sticks and doesn’t destroy the surface? When we use cast vinyl for bumper stickers or short-term signage, or use an economy vinyl for a car wrap, we’re doing our customers a disservice and likely leaving money on the table.
A lot of this can be blamed on what Charles E. Hummel refers to as the “tyranny of the urgent,” struggling to keep up with the complexities, let alone taking the necessary time, for education on all of the options and moving parts.
As a product manager at General Formulations, it is my job to understand the building blocks of adhesive-backed graphic films and what they can do, both as components and sets. My hope is this quick overview of some of those pieces and parts will help you to make better decisions when you choose material for your next job.
A quick disclaimer: while I prefer working with GF films, the following information is universal for vinyl in the graphics industry. With very few exceptions, adhesive-backed graphic films will incorporate three key components: film, adhesive, and liner. Within those three building blocks, a whole world of chemistries and combinations exist. Let’s dive in with the first building block—film.
For the sake of this article, we are talking about vinyl films. There are two main categories—calendered and cast—and there are different forms of calendered vinyl. All vinyl is essentially the same base ingredients derived from chlorine (salt) and ethylene (oil) with different additives and manufacturing processes.
Calendered vinyl is like pizza dough, heated as a blob of resin and squeezed and stretched to a thin film and rolled up for future processing. It has memory, which is why it tends to shrink over time or when heated. Calendered vinyl gets its texture from the calendaring process, where embossed or ultra-smooth rollers will create the matte or gloss finish, as well as impress details like a canvas or stucco texture.
Monomeric vinyl, otherwise known as economy or promotional vinyl, utilizes a single type of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin. This one is typically good for limited applications and is often called “cheap and shiny.” Monomeric films can be great gloss films, but the single resin does not have enough surface area to hold all the additives such as UV stabilizers and plasticizers needed to give flexibility and longevity.
These films are good for short-term or interior applications, but not for projects like vehicle graphics or long-term outdoor signage. These films turn brown and chalky within one to two years outdoors as they do not have the structure to last under extended sun exposure.