Diving Into Decorative

August 9th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

What You Should Know Before Getting Started

By Emmariah Holcomb

Are you a window film business owner thinking about taking on decorative projects? Do you currently sell solar film installations and are looking for a new challenge? Have you been monitoring the rise in this part of the market? If yes, then stay right here. Let’s clarify a few things you need to know before adding decorative film installations to your offerings. WINDOW FILM magazine’s assistant editor, Emmariah Holcomb, spoke to James Beale, NGS Films and Graphics managing partner, to find out some of his thoughts on this part of the industry.

WF: What should shops focus on before they get into decorative?

Beale: They need to have either a capability internally to print on polyester or they need to have a good print partner who knows how to print on polyester.

The hottest thing going now is white on clear—that’s a four-color plus white—not a lot of print shops know how to, have the equipment to, capability, or have the experience of printing white on clear. Frankly there’s only a few major print houses in the country that do it really well, because most of your print houses are more used to printing on solid mediums. So they print four-color on white, whereas we’re printing four-color plus white on clear. That’s a big difference, because if you don’t have the right machine and you don’t have it dialed in, that white can be very dotty. So you have to really understand how to do that, have the equipment to do that, or have a partner who can. That’s probably the single biggest thing that can hang somebody up. You also need to print on polyester: don’t waste your time printing on vinyl.

WF: No printing on vinyl … why?

Beale: Clear vinyl is a pain because, it’s meant to be for small graphics. It’s very unforgiving.

We participate in interior décor programs, I’m talking [about] floor-to-ceiling glass murals. They require a very big piece of material and, if you try to hang that, especially by yourself, with vinyl it’s almost impossible. The vinyl will stretch and it will create problems whereas polyester is dimensionally stable, it’s much easier to install, and clearer optically.

So find the right production partner that can print the white on clear and make sure you’re using the right substrates that also have scratch-resistant coating. A lot of people make the mistake of printing on polyester, which has no SR [silicone conformal] coating. It’s garbage because when you’re installing it, even running a squeegee across it will scratch it.

WF: What are common misconceptions you’ve heard about getting into decorative film?

Beale: Well the biggest misconception is that it’s easy—and it’s not. There a lot of solar control window film installers that think they can install graphics and they can’t. A lot of it has to do with not being able to install the mask graphics because there’s an art to that as well. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to plot and mask polyester film when they should be plotting and masking vinyl. The difference is the adhesive.

WF: Can you go into the adhesive differences?

Beale: Vinyl has a very aggressive adhesive while polyester films have a very light tack adhesive and it takes a couple of days to cure. The problem with mask graphics is you have to pull that masking off right away … well if it hasn’t cured you’ll wreck the graphic.

There’s a lot more “measure twice cut once” with graphics than there is with the solar film and a lot of it is with the planning of picking the right substrates, masking materials, and making sure you’re using the right sized plotters. There are very few plotters out there that will accommodate 72 inches. A lot of the plotters out there in the signage community only go up to 59 inches. So you can’t plot a large graphic.

There’s a knowledge base you have to have there’s an equipment base you have to have, there’s a combination of materials, and things to be aware of to make sure that you’re not sabotaging your project.

WF: You mentioned having a knowledge base. Is it fair to say there’s one for equipment and training too?

Beale: Well if you have an equipment partner then no, but if you’re going out and buying the equipment, then yes. There are plenty of trainings and workshops you can do. I highly recommend commercial graphics training because there are so many things that can go wrong.

There’s a fair amount of training you can get from the equipment manufacturer and the substrate suppliers I highly recommend you get into before you start trying to sell thinking you know everything based on your experience in solar or architectural glass films.

WF: That’s because they’re two different animals, right?

Beale: You’re right, at our firm we have an entire graphics department. We also have an entirely separate retail window film department and all they do is retail window film solar security. Then we have a signage department that just focuses on that because there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience you have to gain to execute sophisticated graphics programs.

WF: Would you say you need a lot of capital to start out in decorative?

Beale: Well having capital or credit … one of the two you’re going to need because once you establish terms you can move projects along at a relatively smooth pace.

WF: What are some of the tenants you or your team practice(s) that help attribute to your company’s success that can help others?

Beale: We’re constantly training and educating ourselves on available products and applications in the industry, that’s first and foremost. Then we hire people who are competent in the relative backgrounds we want to put them in. We actually hire recruiters and they go out and find experienced graphic project managers and graphics people to work our programs.

Emmariah Holcomb is the assistant editor of WINDOW FILM magazine. You can reach her at eholcomb@glass.com

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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