hexis incurve

Holographic Film Applications

Bill Schiffner is a freelance writer/editor based in Holbrook, N.Y. He has covered the imaging industry for 25 years and has reported on many evolving digital imaging technologies including wide-format printing and newer electronic digital signage. He was the editor for a number of imaging publications and websites. He can be reached at bschiffner@optonline.net.

Self-adhesive holographic films are not your run of the mill media products. They are highly specialized and are used more for taking a walk on the wilder side of the graphic film business. They are not the films that you’d use to wrap an entire job in, but they can be used to enhance a project by offering some stunning eye-catching effects for vehicle wraps, signage and packaging such as 3D, glitter and rainbow-shifting colors.

Over the last few years, modern manufacturing processes have resulted in longer outdoor durability, and better printing characteristics have made holographic films more versatile than ever.  There may be some of you who are new to this category so, in this article we look at what holographic films are, how they are made and how to use them to accentuate vehicle wraps, signs, packaging and other graphics.

“It’s kind of a misnomer that they call it ‘holographic’ film,” says Gene Silvestro, general manager at Griff Decorative Films, Lakewood, New Jersey. “It’s really more about diffraction gratings.”

Silvestro is perhaps one of the most experienced professionals on this topic in the industry—having worked closely with Joe Coburn, who pretty much single-handedly invented this segment more than 20 years ago.

“It’s an extremely visual product with the gratings that break down the light spectrum and that’s how you see all the different colors,” Silvestro says. “It’s basically a prism. This market started out with producing decals and has quickly evolved from there.”

How Holographic Films are Made

Silvestro says holographic vinyl is not like typical pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) film.  Depending on the type of brand you choose, it’s made from either metalized PVC or metalized PET (polyester) with an embossed foil layer providing the distinctive visual character. The manufacturing process includes iridescence, textures, and holographic diffraction effects that are embossed in the 2.5-3mil face film, then laminated with UV protectant, color and/or top-coat depending on the product.

“With these advances in manufacturing and materials, some of today’s holographic films are now rated for up to five years outdoors,” Silvestro says. “At Griff, we predominantly make rigid PVC for our products, then we extrude the PVC ourselves and make all the products from there. The benefit of this is the option of printability with no additional print treated surface needed on top of the film.”

New Opportunities for Shops

“Holographic shade-shifting and specialty films not only ensure an exciting new finish, but also a way to reinvent your ideas and reach customers on another level,” says Melissa Cox, sales manager at Hexis USA, Corona, California. “Using a film with a bubble-free adhesive allows for a dry, easy application with no trapped air as well as the ability to reposition the film on your substrate.  In addition, using a cast film allows high conformability, therefore giving the opportunity to cover many different substrates,” she explains.

“Holographic vinyl comes in a considerable variety of metalized adhesive backed films,” says Jerry Barrax, product manager for Sign Warehouse, Dennison, Texas. “Most of these offer stunning visual effects including iridescent rainbow finishes, surface textures, and of course, the holographic diffraction for which the category is named. In the Schein and Endura brands that SignWarehouse offers, there are over 25 varieties in up to ten colors,” he adds.

Barrax reports that not all brands and patterns are created equally, so do some research before you buy. “All Schein and Endura holographic vinyls are of the more advanced and durable varieties. The most popular variant is the ‘lens or multi-lens’, which features a repeating Fresnel lens pattern creating the illusion of a convex ball in the surface. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘ball vinyl’ or ‘Christmas tree’ vinyl because the lenses look like holiday ornaments. As great as the holographic and iridescent effects are, they do have a downside in reduced conformability and an aversion to water,” he explains.

Holographic Film Applications

Barrax says the list of possible applications for these products is endless. “These dazzling films have been used on everything from aquariums to Zippo lighters, on racecars and roller skates, store shelving, motorcycles, snowmobiles and more.  He discusses a number of options:

  • Motor Sports—Barrax reports that holographic vinyl has been utilized to create door numbers and graphics for stock cars for well over a decade. “Its eye-catching impact appeals to the NASCAR and Formula One crowds from all over the USA and Europe. The most popular patterns for racing are the aforementioned lens and ¼ inch mosaic, also known as diffracto lite. Fluorescent vinyl is often used as an outline accent around holographic elements.”
  • Custom Vehicle Accents—The popularity of holographic vinyl in motor sports also makes it a natural for custom vehicle graphic accents, adds Barrax, and for the same reason. “If you’re going to ‘pimp’ someone’s ride, these vinyls should be in your tool kit.”
  • General Signage—Advances in computer-controlled manufacturing have lead to more conformable and UV resistant holographics. “Schein and Endura films are now rated for up to five years outdoors. So any sign substrate that is suitable for calendared PVC vinyl is a possible application for holographic films. An iridescent silver, colored chrome or faux metallic finish might be just the thing to give your vinyl graphics a little more flash.” 
  • Retail Window Signage—When a retailer launches a promotion, effective P.O.P. signage is key. “One of the most effective uses of holographic vinyls I’ve seen was on the front door of an area convenience store in Dallas-Fort Worth. They had placed a fairly small window graphic on the front door advertising the beverage that was on sale. Since it was done in a silver holographic vinyl on a black background, this eye-catching retail sign was impossible to miss.”
  • Shelf Liners—Barrax adds that a related application can be found inside the store as well. “For example, a mall chain of costume jewelry stores has used silver holographic films to line store shelves. The brilliance of the metalized silver vinyl draws shoppers’ eyes to the high margin merchandise. Suggest this tactic to your retail customers. If you help them with more than just traditional signs and banners, you can become a valuable resource for all their marketing efforts.”
  • Digital Print Media—Barrax points out that silver holographic and iridescent vinyls can be used as digital print media. “For example, depending on your choice of print methods, you can use Schein or Endura vinyls to add distinctive visual elements to your graphics because the embossed textures and patterns remain visible under the printed images.”
  • Color Effects—Barrax says that Schein silver holographic vinyls can also be used to create unique effects with thermal resin and solvent/eco-solvent printers. “Endura holographic vinyl is not eco-solvent printable due to its acrylic top coat. Both Schein and Endura films can be printed with thermal resin printers such as the Summa DC3, or Roland ColorCamm. Printing on colors is not recommended as colored substrates throw off the CMYK values and cause unpredictable color shifts.”
  • Other Apps—“Because they are made from self-extinguishing, non-burning PVC resins, holographic vinyl can also be used as stage backdrops for concerts and other theatrical presentations. The larger lens patterns are ideal for these venues,” he adds.

An Array of Application Options

Cox agrees that these films have a lot of applications, and can be used as accents with vehicle rooftops or to break up a solid wrap by using a separate color for the door handles or bodylines or used for racing stripes, drop shadows, outlines or in logos. “Give your project the possibility to achieve ever-changing impressions of color.”

Hexis clients are using these films on vehicles (inside and out) boats, furniture, cell phones, laptops and coffee makers. “They are turning products into works of art with shade-shifter vario-chromes, metallics and textured films that convert something ordinary into something with vibrancy to an extended array of creative genres.  Every contour becomes a new experience of dimensional coverage.  Since these films are applied dry, you don’t have to worry about ruining your electronics,” she explains.

Hexis Specialty Wrap Films

Cox points out that Hexis Skintac HX30000 specialty wrap films are a multi-layered cast vinyl with solvent-based adhesive with the Hex’Press liner to eliminate air bubbles.  “This line was introduced in 2010 with eight colors and has since multiplied to a wide variety of colors.  Some shade-shifter vario-chrome colors include purple-green, pearl white-blue, green-blue, and red-gold.  These shade-shifters are made with color variable pigments that rely on light and reflection to create a flip-flop color changing effect,” explains Cox.

She adds that HX30000 Skintac was originally intended for the vehicle wrap market alone but has since grown to reach markets including interior decoration/design and electronics.  “Recently, I even had my high-heeled shoes wrapped,” she concludes.

Making Brands Stand Out

Silvestro says the biggest growth area he is seeing is in the packaging market. “Holographic film designs offer an infinite range of visual effects in packaging, for reinforcing brand identities and quickly capturing customer attention among crowded retail shelves.”

He adds that the customized holographic impressions and images are transferred on the paperboard, which can be widely used in various packaging applications. “Holographic board can also have various levels of optical security features and supports all kinds of printing.”

Griff’s Holographic Line Up

Griff’s Fantasy films feature traditional holographic effects that come in a variety of colors that include Sequins, Mosaic, Crystal, Holographic Glitter, and Rainbow patterns.

“We extrude our own films and make them right here in the USA,” Silvestro says.
“Griff manufactures an array of superior graphic films/specialty self adhesive vinyl films that add color, shine, and dimension to packaging, signage, and displays.”

He says that all Fantasy film patterns are produced using Griff Decorative Films’ “second surface” system, a process that ensures a smooth, even surface for printing. “Second surface makes these films ideal for signage, displays, packaging, labeling, decals, crafts and stickers,” he points out.