“Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling?”
—M. C. Escher
When we think of floor graphics, we tend to think of digitally printed adhesive vinyl with a tough laminate stuck to a floor. You are likely very familiar with these applications in various retail settings, and may even have even used some of the great vinyl products available that are specifically designed for this purpose. But there are many more aspects to floor graphics than traditional media and application surfaces.
Because they are generically called “floor graphics,” it’s easy to think of them only in that light. But the real advantage of these versatile graphics is their tough, durable nature. And tough things have many uses in this rough and tumble world.
Walls can be great places to put floor graphics. Many vertical surfaces are subject to lots of abrasion. Covering them with something tough and beautiful is an easy selling point. The same holds true for exhibits placed in areas of constant visitor interaction or in areas of limited supervision. Rather than regular mural material, floor graphics can be great companions for many exhibit needs.
On walls and exhibits, the details often need to be handled differently than with floors. For starters, most floor graphics are meant for easy removal. Exhibits and wall murals usually need more permanent adhesion. This means using a print media intended for wall murals. Then a floor laminate can be applied over top. The extra thickness of the laminate also means that overlapping seams will not be practical, so butt seams have to be used. Multiple vinyl companies have also released sidewalk graphic material. This print media is a lot like floor graphics, but features a thick, gooey adhesive that flows into cracks and holes in the concrete. Again, while it’s called “sidewalk graphics,” that’s not its only use. The vinyl works great on rough concrete of any sort—walls, ceilings, floors, etc. Think big, like full coverage underground parking garages!
Floor graphics of course have many uses on floors. One the most common applications is as point-of-purchase advertising that draws potential customers to specific products on store shelves. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Themed flooring is becoming very popular. Many retail outlets as well as themed attractions recognize the benefits of a complete themed environment, and that includes floors and walls. And covering an entire floor with graphics is a much bigger project than a couple of P.O.P. pieces.
There are also many ways to “theme” a floor (wall, ceiling or exhibit). The first and most common way is the adhesive backed print media with appropriate laminates. Floor graphics are relatively inexpensive to purchase and readily available. Printing and lamination processes are easy and the products are reliable. This is a tried and true, tested and re-tested solution for many purposes.
These are, however, generally designed for short or medium term promotional use and some might not be durable enough for all purposes. Edges can lift under extreme use and some adhesive and flooring combinations can be problematic. Other solutions are available when durability under tough long-term use is a priority.
It sounds very old-school and analogue, but there are some very durable epoxy paints on the market that can be used to create amazing images on the floor. Clear epoxies can also be used to seal digital floor graphics onto the floor and provide a more pick-proof edge. Some companies float an entire layer of clear epoxy over the whole floor with graphics.
Sometimes a floor wants carpet—soft, fluffy carpet—and graphics. Fortunately, there are a few ways to accomplish this. Simple graphic shapes can be inlayed into the carpet using different colors of carpet to create the effect. Heat seaming from the back makes it all look seamless. Another traditional method is screen printing onto carpet with dyes. A modern update on this is digital printing. Flatbeds have made almost anything possible, including direct to carpet printing with solvent, UV and dye sublimation processes. Some inks will work on almost anything, but most need specially treated carpet for best results.
Hard flooring can also be digitally printed using dye-sublimation inks. This is of course easier to do using tiles than giant rolls, but the effect is great. These hard, durable floor pieces can last a long time on an indoor floor surface.
But there’s another card up the floor graphic sleeve as well. It’s constantly updateable without using any new prints, it only has to be installed once and the images sing and dance. The miracle product is projection. Of course the initial cost is a lot higher and it works better in slightly dark areas, but you can’t have everything.
And finally, we can mix these all up and use them together in a floor graphic stew. Floors colored with epoxies make great surfaces for floor graphic pieces. Printed carpet tiles can sit happily beside digital prints, and dye-sub floor tiles make a wonderful projection surface to animate the graphics. The different styles can interact with each other to produce much more interesting and unique themed attractions.