Oprah Winfrey got my attention some years ago when I happened upon a show in which she was being interviewed and asked how she came about her phenomenal success. Was it her hard work, her tenacity, her insight to the female persona (her primary audience), her creativity? Or maybe it was her staff and the people she surrounded herself with?
I was intrigued and surprised by her answer. First and foremost, she wanted to recognize and give credit to that bespectacled, white-haired man, Phil Donohue and the other great talk show hosts who came before her and paved the way for her success. She realized more than anything that she was grateful someone paved the road before her; otherwise, she would not have been able to travel it.
ACKNOWLEDGING A PIONEER
There are a lot of similarities in our business. I see wonderful digital printing companies among us. Many of them have grown to be large and successful, even surpassing those who came before them. But let’s not be so presumptuous as to think it was done in a vacuum. Whatever your market or niche is, be sure to acknowledge those who helped to pave the road you are now able to travel. A bespectacled, white-haired man I would like to acknowledge is Greg Wallace of ALD Decal in Canton, Ohio. Let me tell you why.
In the early ’90s our company AdGraphics helped pioneer the vehicle graphics wrap market. Digital graphics on vehicles were just coming onto the scene. Perforated window film was the missing link. If there were windows, we were relegated to partial wraps. We wanted to produce full wraps. Later, when we introduced perforated vinyl window film, vehicle graphics vaulted to the next level.
If you have white hair and are bespectacled, you might remember what perforated film was like back in the ’70s. Images of wild animals, mountain landscapes or western themes created for people to install in their back windows. When we reintroduced it again as digital vinyl in 1992 to compliment vehicle wraps, it helped to catapult the industry to new heights. We called it AdVision. It was the missing link. It was all the rage. Now it is taken for granted.
WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?
But when things are going well, they inevitably change. Back in the late ’90s, Spencer Johnson wrote a great motivational business book addressing this idea, called Who Moved My Cheese? It was an allegorical tale of mice whose easy source of cheese was suddenly moved and how the various characters addressed the problem.
My cheese was moved when I saw digitally printed graphics on retro-reflective vinyl. We had our “approved” list of materials that we could process — you know, the list that equipment manufacturers give you with the dire warning that if you use something else it might “ruin” your machine, or so they like to say.
Lighter colors result in better reflectivity — when combined with good design, the results is an increased “wow” factor.
Enter Greg Wallace. He doesn’t much respect manufacturers’ suggestions. Though you might not know his name or the name of his company, he has printed more miles of digital graphics than just about anyone I know. When he first showed digital printing on reflective vinyl, I knew it was destined to be a hit. Of course it needed perforated reflective window film to complete the equation.
A NICE OPPORTUNITY
If you are not up-selling your customers to reflective vinyl, you could be missing a nice opportunity to help your bottom line and differentiate yourself from the “same old, same old.” The reason your customers are using graphics on their vehicles/signage is for exposure. Reflective vinyl increases that exposure by allowing them to be seen, not only in daylight hours but potentially 24 hours a day. One of my favorite customers is also quick to point out that reflective graphics look a lot better during the daytime. This may be due to the natural sparkling effect inherent to reflective material.
THE TRICKY BITS
I should point out that you should give adequate time and attention to color profiling on reflective material. You are not starting with a white material. It tends to be more of a silver/gray color. And, because of its reflective nature, your colors are more prone not only to standard metamerism, but also to geometric metameric failure. That’s just a fancy way to say that when viewed under fluorescent lights the propensity for colors to shift when viewed in sunlight conditions is greater, and reflective material compounds this effect even more by adding the variable of viewing angle, which will also give different effects to the color.
Depending upon the manufacturer, reflective vinyl is about eight mils thick. It is made up from a number of layers of metalized particles like aluminum, with some glass beads or synthetic prismatic slurry thrown in. Remember, it doesn’t actually glow in the dark like a luminous film. It is retro-reflective. Simply put, when light hits, it reflects the light back toward the source.
It’s also important to note that not all reflective vinyl is created equal. A couple of important features to ask about are candlepower and angularity. Candlepower is how the reflectivity is measured. More candlepower equals greater retro-reflectivity. Angularity is how much of an angle it will reflect back at you. I have found some reflective films only work from straight on. That’s okay for stationary signs but not so good for a moving vehicle.
When printing onto reflective vinyl, the more translucent the inks the better reflectivity you get. Darker color inks result in lower candlepower because the light has to penetrate a more opaque/dense ink. Lighter colors have a greater candlepower, therefore, are more reflective.
We have used electrostatic, solvent, eco-solvent, UV-cured and water-based inks on reflective material. The UV-curable inks tend to have greater density/opacity resulting in a less reflective graphic. They would not be my first choice for printing. The electrostatic toners are by far the most translucent and give the best pop when the lights hit it, making them our top choice for printing onto reflective vinyl.
Solvent inks are also not our first choice, but they work pretty well. The main reason we tend to stray from them with this application is because you have to make certain they are good and dry before you laminate. You know that drying thing you are supposed to do — the one you skip because you are in such a hurry you can’t afford the necessary time and you think you don’t have that luxury? Honestly, a thorough drying can take days.
If you have used solvent inks on vinyl, you already know that they can cause vinyl to be extra stretchy or rubbery. An experienced installer can manage some stretchiness in non-reflective vinyl just fine, but the added challenge of reflective can be too much for even some of the most experienced installers.
Because retro-reflective vinyl is constructed with aluminum, glass beads, and coating/primer layers that keep it all together, when stressed the layers can become damaged and scar. Scarring is the biggest obstacle when installing reflective vinyl over complex contours. Remember, the reflective construction of metal and glass? Think about it, these materials don’t stretch very well. When you fracture or separate the various layers, you can end up voiding the reflective optical effect in those areas. Scarring is the result of broken or over-stressed layers of reflective vinyl. It creates dark marks that never go away.
You definitely want to play with the material before you attempt a customer install. You’ll come to a new appreciation of why air egress and repositionability are your best friends. Some manufacturer’s materials are much more sensitive to scarring than others.
One last thing I want to point out is that graphics printed on reflective vinyl do seem to fade faster. My guess is the reason for this is that the light not only hits the ink on the way in but also on the way out in the form of reflected light. We have found this especially problematic with eco-solvent, but some solvent inks may not be robust enough to handle the extra duty. Electrostatic toners perform the best against fading.
So, thank you again, Greg Wallace, for helping to pave the road for digital reflective graphics. You also pioneered good backlit digital graphics (versus the washed out backlits that are all-too common in our industry) — but that is an entirely different story.