by Melissa Donovan
When it comes to graphics for windows, clear partitions, and clear displays, media options range from perforated to unperforated and cling to adhesive back. In the realm of unperforated materials, films and vinyl are available with certain finishes designed to simulate the appearance of etched, dusted, frosted, or sandblasted glass.
Environments that benefit from this type of window media include corporate office settings, hospitality, medical locations, and even retail. They are used as central décor pieces or accents to graphics printed with messaging, but are perhaps favored for their practicality—acting as a barrier or privacy screen.
Finishes designed to simulate the appearance of etched, dusted, frosted, or sandblasted glass are utilized in a number of environments as customers from various backgrounds benefit from them. In those environments the film or vinyl is installed on surfaces like doors, walls, windows, and partitions.
“These films are commonly used in areas where a level of privacy or some type of custom design is desired. These are preferred over sandblasted glass as they are easier to clean and can be updated as corporate branding changes,” shares Randy Garcia, regional technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.
Besides privacy, Michael Butler, owner, Solar Graphics Inc., sees material of this nature used as artistic elements. “They can be plotter or hand cut, however one can imagine. Landscapes, foliage, animals, boarders, shapes, even abstract wild compilations. Some companies have done a full cover with etch then cut out their logo in the middle. Another client had us apply a palm tree with other various plants on their front door.”
“While the general intention for such films is often privacy, it’s also an element of design. They are used in pretty much any environment—offices, gyms, retail, hospitals, banks, and private households,” agrees Rene Bourgeois, VP sales North America, ASLAN Selbstklebefolien GmbH.
The finishes can be strictly decorative acting as an etched or stained glass simulation or used for an advertorial purpose, point out John Coyne, sales manager and Jim Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec of America. These type of films are commonly found in offices, restaurants, schools, construction sites, museums, police stations, storefronts, bathrooms, and even residential homes.
According to Austin Eck, product manager, FDC Graphic Films Inc., etched glass films allow for light transmission while obscuring views. “This is ideal for many applications in office settings including conference rooms, cubical dividers, or to prevent visitors from seeing a less aesthetically pleasing location like a loading dock, storage area, or waiting room.”
“With the unique ability to alter the translucency you can have a very slight obscuration enabling nearly full visibility but still censoring specific details such as writing or print. On the opposite end you can make visible only faint shadows or objects pressed up against the windows,” explains Butler.
Lawrence Delesio, sign and graphic media, business unit manager, DAF Products Inc., lists areas like entrance doors, outside facing windows, interior rooms, and meeting spaces as prime locations for applying this type of media. Main reasons for use include privacy, art effects, and business identification.
The commercial office environment, specifically facility and property management companies, large retail, and corporate headquarters buildings, is where Jake Oberle, product marketing manager, 3M Commercial Solutions, sees window material of this nature used. “Their soft aesthetic separates areas and gives an extra architectural dimension to glass.”
“Typically, translucent window films used in these spaces allow light to enter creating a comfortable, well-lit, open feeling,” adds Amanda Smith, graphic product manager, Mactac.
Customers with a privacy or decorative requirement request these films, suggests Garcia. For example, home owners desiring privacy through a bathroom window or business office managers with meeting rooms that require visual privacy.
“Customers vary from designers and specifiers to end users and PSPs. Basically, anyone looking for a way to add privacy, designs, or branding to glass or other flat surfaces are potential customers,” adds Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Continental Grafix USA, Inc.
A Standout Specialty
There is no shortage of choices when it comes to media designed for windows and glass surfaces in the digital print space. Between perforated and unperforated, cling or adhesive back, clear or white, the options can be endless. And of course, some are used more than others.
Products that are used infrequently are often referred to as specialty. “Etched glass films are a specialty product though they are likely the most common specialty product used for window applications. Requests for an etched glass application will be less frequent,” notes Eck.
Colbath argues that its is because media that simulates etched, dusted, frosted, or sandblasted glass is so variable that these type of films aren’t really considered specialty at all. “Choices include various finishes, removable or permanent adhesives, printability, and sizes. Applications are anywhere you want to provide some levels of privacy, aesthetics, branding, or design of glass or other surfaces.”
“Specialty is a subjective term that could be applied to almost any printed graphic,” note Coyne and Halloran.
Good to Know
Window media with special finishes are used in applications where they will be in place for either medium- or long-term spans of time. Their durability must match this. Other considerations include compatiblity with a specific ink set, whether a graphic or text needs to be included in the design, and how challenging installation might be.
“The durability, printability, and installation of these films is similar to many other window graphics media. These are offered in many types of plastic such as vinyl—cast or calendared, polyester, or acrylic. The type of face film and adhesive determine the products best fit,” share Coyne and Halloran.
Colbath points out that longevity is based on the construction of the film, and not so much the fact it offers a specialty finish like etched, dusted, frosted, or sandblasted glass. “From PP, PET, and PVC, you can get outdoor durability from six months to over five years.”
“The durability of many etched glass films makes them ideal for long-term applications. There are several constructions that are made from cast PVC where it is reasonable to expect five to seven years before needing to be replaced,” agrees Eck.
“The expectation is mostly for a permanent application as opposed to short-term promotional advertising. Generally these films offer medium- to long-term durability,” says Delesio.
When printing to the material, Delesio notes that films of this nature were traditionally considered cut only, but now many are compatible with the latest print platforms and ink sets.
“They are compatible with most ink sets,” agrees Lily Hunter, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation. Many eco-solvent and UV Roland printer owners print on etched and/or frosted media.
But it does depend on the specific film. Garcia notes that some substrates are not printable because the surface is too rough.
With many etched films now printable, a new world of design possibilities are open to explore, says Butler. Printing on clear films can create the same effect as etched films but with more options like building gradients, shapes, logos, or full coverage with PMS, Pantone, or CMYK colors.
Delesio believes professional installation is required. “This is because of the cost and labor to produce—print, cut, and mask. As such, precision is necessary to align and install graphics correctly on smooth glass be it first or second surface.”
Of course, each material has different requirements for installation. Some are wet applied, points out Gracia, and placed with little difficulty.
Others feature dry apply technology, which is designed to prevent bubbles from appearing during application. “This is important indoors where using liquids for application is difficult in terms of preventing stains on floors,” shares Bourgeois. Additionally, products like dry apply adhesive technology prevent stress whitening and allow the film to be repositioned during application.
It all depends on what you know. Eck admits application can be challenging if a PSP is only accustomed to applying static cling film to windows. “However, installers can improve the likelihood of a successful application by cleaning the glass well and considering applying the film with the aid of application fluid.”
COVID-19 has presented many print providers with the opportunity to offer customers—new and existing—social distancing signage and privacy/safety barriers as well as wayfinding graphics and instructional pieces on health and safety. Windows and other clear/glass surfaces are ideal hosts for media with this messaging.
“The current demand for window graphics has shifted towards applications focused on key COVID-19 messaging, safety guidelines, where to go, and hours of operation. Ease of installation and removability of these window graphics has been an essential customer requirement. The same media can be used for both of these applications; décor and informational,” shares Smith.
Media that simulates etched, dusted, frosted, or sandblasted glass can be used as a form of safety messaging, according to Bourgeois. “On glass partitions, doors, and such so that people will not run into the glass, causing pain and injuries. Also, the films can create a discrete social distancing message as a cut sign or a printed one.”
“The printable versions of these films are already used in branding, design, and information. Incorporating social distancing messaging into frosted films gives a unique way to present these types of graphics. The environments frosted films are currently used in all need and use social distancing graphics,” explains Colbath.
While Oberle believes these materials are used for more of a décor purpose, he admits there is potential for unique ways to present distancing and safety marks on glass with them.
Coyne and Halloran bring up the point, why not advertise your product/service or provide a beautiful interior décor design while protecting people from viruses? “These films are an ideal option for that style of signage. Glass, acrylic, and polycarbonate panels are the most commonly used social distance barrier options available. Adding decorative and/or printed window films to these panels is an excellent way to customize these barriers.”
Garcia suggests thinking of these types of films as an add on. “As an accent that could be applied to room dividers or upward-extended cubicle dividers for a professional finish. These films are more for décor and privacy uses, and while they can be used for signage, there are other graphically visible film options more appropriate for social distancing or health/safety signage.”
Window media with specialty or not-so specialty finishes continues to evolve. Creative uses for the material are thought up and executed all of the time. Historically, the media found is favored as a “less expensive, more versatile, and easier cleaning alternative to actual sandblasted glass,” says Garcia. Today it serves additional purposes thanks to digital printing.
The ability to print to window films, specifically with UV ink, elevates the material’s versatility. “The endless possibilities of creativity coupled with the longevity of window films is a designer’s dream. Relatively easy to install while being cost efficient with so many beneficial factors make these materials essential,” shares Butler.
There are no limitations when it comes to covering a window with an etched film. “One of the benefits to etched films over installing etched glass is the ability to print logos or to cut unique, geometric shapes and patterns into the film prior to installing. Etched films are a chance to exercise creativity and find new, interesting ways to add flare to a space,” says Eck.
“Specialty glass decoration films like dichroic films or etched glass with a writable whiteboard surface for dry application are highly interesting, especially when you want to differentiate from your competition. PVC-free solutions are becoming more important for retail chains and large companies,” notes Bourgeois.
For example, Lintec recently launched an optically clear printable window film made from 80 percent recycled content. “There is little debate that our planet is suffering from a severe plastic pollution problem. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains a floating plastic garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of TX. This recycled film offers the same optical clarity without the substantial up charge commonly associated with environmentally conscience films,” add Coyne and Halloran.
Office usage is changing and as such there is an opportunity for PSPs as spaces transfer from tenant to tenant. “Flexibility for office space users has been an ongoing trend in the commercial real estate space and COVID-19 has provided dynamic to this trend. Companies are shifting personnel to home offices. This results in companies downsizing, closing, and moving locations, which creates opportunities for printers serving this segment. The disruption will inevitably lead to the need for new graphics for these spaces. Using frosted films for conference rooms, partitions, and office windows allows the user to create interesting graphics,” explains Colbath.
Changes in design taste also influence usage. “Installation spaces are getting bigger too. Printers are using full walls of building windows, internally and externally,” says Smith.
Window media designed to simulate the appearance of etched, dusted, frosted, or sandblasted glass is used for more than just privacy partitions. The materials available today are optimized for digital print and so much more than cut vinyl.
This means the material can be found everywhere from home décor to office buildings and retail or hospitality. Incorporating messaging—whether branding, informational, or promotional—enhances specialty finishes even further for a standout product.
Mar2021, Industrial Print Magazine