By Melissa Donovan
Architectural window films are ideal décor options for commercial buildings no matter the industry. Graphics can be as subtle as a simple motif to as obvious as company branding. In addition to décor, the material most always serves a practical purpose—creating privacy between offices or conference rooms, blocking sun glare, and even capturing heat from the sun to efficiently warm a room.
“Design firms are pushing the needle utilizing adhesive-backed films with various translucency and transparency attributes in conjunction with digital printing to create unique, functional spaces that provide not only privacy and light reduction but style, direction, and purpose with wayfinding assistance,” explains Josh Culverhouse, graphic innovations market manager, ORAFOL Americas.
Many window film options are available to contractors, design firms, and architects looking to enhance architectural spaces in both function and design.
Above: ON, Canada-based Gow Hastings Architects created this design on glass using ORAFOL’s ORACAL 8300 Transparent Cal at Ryerson University. PHotography by Tom Arban Photography.
Better than the Alternative
Architectural window films are ideal for a number of reasons including ease of use and cost effectiveness.
Since their invention, Jim Black, director of window film sales, Madico, Inc., says window film products have significantly improved in terms of quality, longevity, and benefits offered. “Commercial buildings are now designed with daylighting in mind due to the fact that energy control window films can be applied, offering occupants the benefits of natural sunlight without the negative effects of heat and glare.”
Today, “architectural window films offer advantages including increasing comfort, reducing heat, lowering energy cost, reducing glare, increasing privacy, and securing property,” lists Michael Dobbins, marketing manager, Xpel, Inc.
Besides more obvious benefits like heat load reduction, UV protection, and glare reduction, Kathy Truver, VP, Johnson Window Films, Inc., says another advantage of using window films is they slow upholestry fading.
“After the application of window film the consumer will notice a slowing of fading on furnishings of up to 83 percent. Window film blocks a portion of the three major causes of fading—UV light, visible light, and solar energy. The furnishings will continue to fade, but at a slower rate than with untreated windows,” shares Truver.
Other advantages of window films, according to Randy Garcia, technical manager, window films, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, include updating the appearance of older buildings and easy graffiti removal.
“Films with powerful adhesives and scratch-resistant coatings offer an extra shield of protection against storms, earthquakes, explosions, forced entry, and vandalism,” adds Dan Birkenmeier, channel manager, Americas, Eastman Performance Films.
Looking at Options
When compared to alternatives like specially formulated glass or shades and curtains, window films offer a unique look combined with practicality. Installation, general maintenance, visual appearance, and removal are all advantageous compared to other options.
Installation is less challenging than alternative methods like sand blasting, etching, or sandwiching a frost or design between window panes. “These processes can be expensive and time consuming,” admits John Coyne, sales manager, Lintec of America, Inc.
“Architectural window films can be applied on site. There is no need to edge or manufacture glass in a certain way when you could add the final touch to it while it’s in the space it belongs,” explains Jim Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec.
According to Kendall Combs, GM, thin films, Solar Gard, film can be seen as a retrofit product that resolves many issues without the need for expensive glass replacement. A bonus, in many cases he believes the window film can provide a return on investment from energy savings over time—resulting in the product paying for itself.
The general maintenance of a window film is more user friendly compared to options like solar screens, says Dobbins. “Maintenance and cleaning are a nightmare having to remove the solar screens from the window and cleaning each screen individually.”
“Before window film was created, blinds and curtains were popular for controlling solar heat gain, excessive glare, damaging UV rays, or privacy concerns, however these products alter visibility, block natural light, and have to be physically managed throughout the day to be effective,” explains Combs.
Visually, window film also offers benefits. Jeffrey Stadelman, graphic products marketing manager, Mactac Distributor Products, says specially treated glass was once one of the only options available to business owners and designers. “This was an expensive solution to design and therefore window treatments were often overlooked. With the significantly less expensive options of quality window films, window decoration is unlimited.”
Solar screens are also less aesthetically appealing from the exterior and can impede your view when looking out compared to window films, shares Dobbins.
Consequently, removal is just as easy as installation, so much so it offers inhabitants the option of more frequent change outs when it comes to graphics. “They can also be removed and replaced without removing the glass for a completely different look at a fraction of the cost and time,” adds Coyne.
Film is a blanket term for any number of substrates. There are polyester, vinyl, acrylic, and polycarbonate, to name a few. Due to where a window film is placed and the types of challenges it might endure, specific material types are more ideal than others.
According Halloran, polyester-based films are the best fit for glass decoration, as they are more resistant to cracking in the cold and shrinking in the heat.
Window films are produced for any type of glass and there are also others designed with specific adhesive for application to clear polycarbonate or plastic windows. Truver warns that if planning a window film for a plastic surface, the correct substrate should be used.
“The choice of a product not made with an anti-blaster adhesive will cause the plastic to outgas, which results in the window film bubbling and blistering. Should that happen, it is almost impossible to remove and results in the need to completely replace the window,” she adds.
Culverhouse stresses the importance of correct material selection and understanding the differences between various architectural films. A designer needs to decide if light transmission or blocking capabilities are necessary. They should consider color options, textures, and dimensional finishes, he recommends.
“Various factors are involved in the compatibility of window films with glass,” agrees Birkenmeier. These include film type, glass type, glass color/casing, glass thickness, glazing type, pane size, external shading, backup materials, frame type, altitude, and solar energy intensity.
Most window films’ purpose is two- or three-fold. The material may offer privacy and light blocking all in one, or alternatively capture UV rays to heat a room. In addition to these practical means, the film can also look nice with a glass, matte, or frost finish. To achieve these properties certain processes must occur.
Coatings like metal help create a window film’s intended appearance and performance. “Films can have a high content of metal providing reflective properties ideal for reflecting heat gain and providing privacy while other coatings provide a neutral color, low reflection, and high performance,” explains Combs.
The process of metalizing the film is one option for achieving specific properties. Another method involves extruding the color when the film is created. “When resin is in the hopper we can add colorants, pigments, and UV inhibitors. The resin and additives are extruded to produce colored films or films with other desired effects,” shares Black. Colorants, pigments, and UV inhibitors can also be added within the layers of the multilayer end product film, he continues.
Product lines are available in a variety of shades and performance levels. For example, Dobbins notes that some options provide as much as 85 percent glare reduction to films that are virtually clear.
“Some films are translucent and could have a high gloss or low matte finish. Some finishes are frosted, imitating the acid-etched look, some films have a matte dusted finish imitating the sandblasted look, and other films are all of the above but offer a printable surface for a final, unique design,” explains Stadelman.
Coyne points out that through printing processes, these films can achieve varying levels of privacy and light blocking. Ink can also replicate styles like frosted, etched, and stained glass.
Many films are now digitally printable. Contractors, business owners, architects, and design firms create spaces for their clients in new ways.
“Certain window films have a print receptive coating applied; it opens up the ability to customize any space to the individual’s wants and desires. You can change the look and feel of the space anytime you want for limited cost and with minimal disruption,” shares Truver.
Part of the reason digitally printed graphics are growing in popularity is the rise of open concept office spaces, according to Halloran. “I believe the design of office interiors has changed in the last decade. The ability to add privacy to glass conference rooms and breakout rooms with architecturally printable window film has given designers and architects many more choices to create the space their clients are looking for.”
“For example, conference rooms used to be solid walls and a door for privacy. Today, the use of glass walls in conference rooms offer a more open and bright feeling. With the addition of translucent films, the conference room still has the privacy required with an added architectural design,” adds Stadelman.
Window films offer flexibility. “Printable media provides the ability to create custom designs relevant today with the option of change at minimal expense in the future,” explains Combs.
“With films that can be printed on, we now have the ability to assist designers, architects, and businesses in creating unique spaces using glass that can be updated over time without the need to replace it. In addition, the cost is generally much lower than custom painting, allowing for a wider range of ideas,” agrees Garcia.
According to Culverhouse, at the end of the day, there are very few limits in environmental design, “as creativity can be positively paired with the availability of so many unique functional architectural films.”
Architectural window films are game changing for architects, designers, and brand owners looking for solutions that offer energy efficiency, privacy, and a design aesthetic all in one. The right product can meet all of a building’s key requirements. As Garcia says, “quality window film is almost like sunglasses for your windows.”
Mar2019, Industrial Print Magazine