Eye-catching advertising, promotional and directional floor graphics are becoming more and more prevalent in exhibition and retail outlets, in train stations and airports, in restaurants, cinemas and petrol stations across the country.
As ever more companies seek to build brand recognition, support product launches, engage in seasonal promotion, or direct consumers using floor-based advertising and signs, the printer must ensure that each graphic is produced successfully in order to create the maximum possible impact. By understanding how and where such images are used, and the particular demands that are placed upon them, this becomes a clearer and more straightforward process.
The first, and most fundamental, stage is matching the printing process to the likely volume of output. Many floor graphic runs are low-volume, and consequently a digital process, such as UV curing ink jet technology, is the most cost effective way of producing them. Of course a number of other issues are at stake, ranging from ensuring the quality of the image through to protecting this high-quality image from wear-and-tear. Essentially, a successful floor graphic combines aesthetic and promotional appeal with the practical demands of durability, image-protection, and ease of application. Whether these aims are achieved is necessarily dependent upon the quality of the floor graphic’s component parts: the image itself, its protective coating and the adhesive layer that affixes it to the flooring surface.
It is of paramount importance that a floor graphic provides a safe walking surface whilst also adhering solidly to the floor - an image would lose impact if it went walkabout on a shop floor or in an exhibition hall. Any floor graphic system should therefore offer good adhesive qualities across a wide range of surfaces, including vinyl and tiled flooring, marble and varnished wood, as well as meeting British Standard "slip grip" testing to ensure that it provides a safe walking surface. It is not only interior surfaces that are appropriate for floor graphics, as they are often used in front of or adjacent to doors and entrances. As such, the graphics need to be able to cope with occasional damp conditions, although they are generally not suitable for areas that are liable to water contamination.
Likewise, the surface to which the graphic is applied should be clean, free from chemical coatings or contaminants, flat and stable before the graphic is stuck down. In combination with a suitable adhesive, this should ensure that the graphic will not move on the surface after application. For safety reasons, the corners of the laminated image and backing should also be carefully trimmed before application to avoid someone tripping on a protruding edge. This also prevents cleaning equipment such as buffing machines causing damage by catching and lifting the image.
Sticking to the subject matter
Placing a graphic on the floor demands an adhesive that firstly allows the graphic to be repositioned while it is initially being placed but then forms a secure, immovable bond to the floor surface while the graphic is insitu. Finally it must be easy to remove when the graphic is no longer required. As a general rule, the adhesive should remain removable throughout a life of up to six months. After this time, the overall appearance of the graphic is liable to suffer substantial degradation, which could have the opposite effect in a promotional campaign to the eye-catching effect that was originally desired. In fact, research has shown that a floor graphic has optimum impact during the first month of being put into place, making it ideally suited for short-term advertising or in situations where the graphic is regularly updated and replaced. Above the adhesive lies the image itself. The image is either laminated to a protective surface coating (as in conventional floor graphics) or is printed on the reverse of the laminate itself. This coating should give the image a high-level of durability and protection from scratching and abrasion owing to high footfall and repeated trolley runover, in addition to resisting cleaning fluids and other contaminants. However, if the protective surface is overly reflective, or contains fillers that can cause colour shifting, it can make the graphic difficult to appreciate, so anti-glare properties and good colour transmission will retain the integrity of the design’s impact.
Laminate with care
For the client - whether they are making use of the floor graphic for advertising, exhibiting or signage - the resolution of the image, and accuracy and quality of colour reproduction are often the most important concerns. The lamination process can unfortunately sometimes reduce the impact of the visual image. The quality of the over-laminating film obviously plays a major role, but, perhaps more significantly, if the image is laminated directly to the protective surface, the adhesive layer in between can lead to a lack of colour brilliance and poor transparency. SIGMAGraF can overcome this lack of definition by reverse printing the image layer on the back of the protective surface, meaning that there is no intermediate adhesive to potentially lower picture quality. This system also offers speed-of-production benefits over standard floor graphic lamination processes: once the top sheet is imaged, and laminated to the adhesive layer, the graphic is ready to apply to the floor.
In all cases, care should be taken to allow ink to dry before laminating an image to any other surface. If the ink has not dried thoroughly, retained solvents can collect over time in between the media and laminate surfaces, leading eventually to delamination. Ink can be an issue beyond drying-time, as correct ink selection can also have an effect on achieving the optimum print quality: colour reproduction, ink adhesion, print definition and fade resistance may all depend on the ink-type selected. Taking the time to discuss the most appropriate ink-types for quality output with the supplier of the floor graphic materials is therefore an eminently sensible step to take before launching oneself into floor graphic production.
Quality images require imagination
Digital technologies enable a wide range of impressive visual effects to be achieved. High-quality resolution and rich colour reproduction have even allowed designers to create impressive optical illusion floor graphics that give the impression of being in three dimensions. If the quality issues discussed above are fully taken into account, then the only limitation remaining to the success of a floor graphic is imagination.