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Floor Graphics: Looking Down is Looking Up

Andy Stonehouse is a Denver-based freelance writer who has been covering the automotive industry for more than ten years.

When we think of advertising and promotional images, we usually consider a business’s walls, windows or display units as prime territory. But as retailers have sought to maximize on every square inch of advertising space, many have begun to consider the opportunities on their unused floors, both indoors and outdoors.

Thus the creation and continued growth of floor graphics, which you’ve probably already seen in action at your local convenience store or big-box retailer. Their relatively compact size can make them an easy output job for print shops, and with some creative flair and a little technical know-how, they can also be designed to attract customers with a very eye-catching 3D look. Some companies have even created laminates suitable for carpets.

Steve Tomas, head of product branding with FLEXcon, a printer and provider of printing films, says the marketing potential for floor graphics is quite compelling, with studies showing an increase of $2 per 1,000 shoppers in lift rate, as a result of those floor-mounted images. That’s good news for printers.

But considering the graphics are also literally victims of foot traffic all day long, proper installation is an especially important skill to learn in order to turn floor graphics into a lucrative sideline.

The good news is that adding floor graphics output to your repertoire probably won’t necessarily require new equipment, just a few new skills. David Timmerman, West Coast regional technical specialist with Avery Dennison, says the major differentiations with floor graphics mostly come in the wide choice of substrates, and says work is simple to begin, provided you are already set up to do wide-format printing.

“Latex, solvent and UV printer technology can all be used for floor graphics, and no special software is needed unless printers are wanting to create more of a 3D shift in their floor graphics,” he says. Given that these are images customers will not be expecting to see, creativity is key, he adds.

“You do want to make sure it fits the purpose of the project,” he says. “Are you advertising a product? Can you read the advertisement while walking over it? Or are you printing a wood grain or tile pattern just to change the look of the floor. A customer may not want to invest in the added artwork cost for creating a 3D graphic, so if you have the talent in your design team, always present both options – and both prices.”

Design is critical to these pieces, and learning to finesse the details for the specialized work required to create floor graphics can have a bit of a learning curve, according to Holly Coleman, marketing development manager with 3M’s Commercial Solutions Division.

“A factor some shops should consider is the process of scaling the graphics,” Coleman says. “It usually takes designers some practice creating floor graphics that appear as polished as they do on walls, and part of that is because floor graphics are (simply) much smaller than other applications.”

Tomas says floor graphics products fall into a few broad categories – clear, white and opaque white base films, plus overlaminates of varying glossiness (in his and other companies’ cases, all satisfying UL 410 standards for slip resistance for flooring material).

“Anyone interested in printing floor graphics should have the ability to print on existing UL-classified graphics base films and the ability to laminate the printed base with a matching overlaminate,” he says. “They may also want the ability to cut the final graphics to shape with a plotter cutter or flatbed cutter.”

Popular products include 3M’s Conroltac or Envision print wrap films (available in 60-inch-wide rolls), Avery Dennison’s MPI series printable films and FLEXcon’s base materials, plus FLEXcon’s proprietary Safari embossed clear-finish overlaminate.

As Tomas explains, slip resistance is a key issue in the floor graphics field. And since graphics require that extra durability, Tomas says that first-time printers should consider some of the warranty implications for the products they create – and shop around a bit before investing in substrate.

“New players to the floor graphics market would be wise to understand the variety of warranties and indemnifications available to them and their end customers,” he says. “Small companies must consider the value of risk mitigation with a warrantied and indemnified product versus their own liability for generic products used on the floor.”

Timmerman reiterates the necessity of getting customers to understand how floor graphics will last, and factoring that into your sales and pricing.

“Floor graphics are short-term applications and clients should be made aware of the warranty and the expectations, up front,” he says. “The standard warranty for a floor graphic is six months.”

Once the work is printed (or has come back from an outsource printer, for specialty jobs), the biggest challenge in making floor graphics perfect is the issue of installation. Unlike standard wall- or window-mounted images, floor graphics will be walked on or scuffed by shopping carts and dollies, so it’s important to do a perfect job on the install, the first time.

“If an installation is done incorrectly, it can hinder the overall appearance of the graphics as well as impede the walking plane,” 3M’s Coleman says. “We recommend that prior to any application, the surface should be stripped of wax, cleaned and degreased to promote adhesion. The last step should always be to re-squeegee the edges so they don’t curl up. Another tip for successful installation is to have the floor graphics waxed over when the entire floor is treated. This will meld the two together and make the appearance even more seamless.”

For bigger projects – such as aisle-wide print jobs – installation work can be a little trickier.

“Installation of large, paneled graphics also requires careful inspection for wrinkles, bubbles and properly adhered seams,” adds FLEXcon’s Tomas. “Seams on multi-panel floor graphics should be butted together rather than overlapped to minimize the profile of the graphic and eliminate unnecessary raised edges.”