Vinyl Manufacturers Offer Usage Tips

Five media purveyors provide insights
Feb 12 Vinyl 1.jpg

For this column, ST contacted various vinyl manufact-urers for input on the best tools and methods for vinyl use. In the March issue, we’ll feature users’ tips for effective installation.
3M
Marcio Oliveira, commercial-graphics tech-service engineer

What should you look for when buying a quality application tape?
This first thing to consider is what’s going on top of the graphic – film, ink, a clearcoat or an overlaminate? If the premask’s only function is to add stiffness to the film to make handling easier, a premasking tape is used. If the need is to hold cut graphics to register them for placement and weed excess film, then a prespacing media is needed. Application tape must have less hold to the film than the film to the substrate. If the tape’s adhesive is more powerful, you risk lifting the graphics as you remove the tape.
Do you prefer torches or heat guns when you have to warm the film?
It depends on the situation. If you’re installing film on a textured wall, you have to use a high-temperature heat gun; a torch doesn’t provide the temperature control needed for a porous surface. When installing a vehicle wrap, either is sufficient for film removal. However, we don’t recommend torches for textured-wrap films. Excessive heat may alter their appearance, and heat guns provide better heat control.
What have been some key tool improvements that have made the job easier?
Vinyl-roller products, such as 3M’s V-CAT vehicle-channel and TSA textured-wall applicators, have been well received in the market. Vehicle-channel applicators are designed to effectively work heated vinyl into deep channels, and textured-wall rollers that include heat-resistant rollers are designed especially for conforming films to textured surfaces with heat pressure.
Arlon
Ritchie Daize, digital sales manager

What film improvements make a vinyl-graphic fabricator’s job easier?
There have been many improve-ments, but the greater impact for vinyl-film applications has been the development of air-egress technology. This advance has made bubble-free applications possible, even for novices. Most manufacturers have also engineered better adhesives that allow the film to be repositioned more easily.
What tool improvements have made installation easier?
One key addition to my toolbox has been a set of magnets. Few things are more frustrating than trying to tape a single-panel wrap over protruding door handles. Magnets solve this problem by holding the media.
What’s the best way to clean the surface before vinyl application?
It depends on the surface. For vehicles, use water and a mild detergent to clean off caked-on dirt and grime. Then, a final wipedown of 70% isopropyl alcohol. For window graphics, 91% isopropyl alcohol is the best solution. For wallcoverings on aggregate-wall surfaces, use a broom to lightly brush away loose particles. For very porous surfaces, like drywall, a sealant may be required.
To remove residue from old vinyl installations, I recommend a tool called the Lil’ Gripper, a scraper with a durable, polycarbonate blade. Because the blades are plastic, they have low surface energy, which allows scraping away adhesives without scratching the vehicle.
Avery Dennison Graphics and Reflective Solutions
Molly Waters, technical specialist

What film improvements make a vinyl-graphic fabricator’s job easier?
In addition to air-release technology, the films have gradually become softer and stretchier, which allows application to more surfaces.
What tool improvements have made installation easier?
Most of the tools have remained pretty standard. One subtle change is the 60° angle of blades on cutting knives, which simulates the angle of an X-Acto® knife blade and allows precise cuts with the strength of a larger tool.
You don’t always need to wear gloves when handling vehicle wraps. Gloves can prevent your fingers from catching as they slide across the film, so you don’t have to lick them.
What are the most common mistakes you see vinyl installers making with their tools?
I see what installers don’t do with their tools. Too many installers don’t go back over areas where they’ve stretched the film and post-heat these areas. This is most often the cause of the vinyl lifting in deep, recessed areas. On that note, not enough installers use an infrared thermometer, which is important for testing post-heat temperatures to make sure the film isn’t improperly warmed for complex areas.
What should you look for when buying application tape?
Make sure the application tape is appropriate for your job. High-tack premasks are better for smaller letters. As the graphics get larger, switch to a medium- or low-tack premask, so it will be easier to get off the trailer. For wraps, I suggest a product such as (R Tape’s ultra-low-tack) Digi-Mask, which stretches a little and lets you see the under-neath surface, which aids alignment.
MACtac
Jason Yard, training specialist, graphic & merchant products

What are some of the most common mistakes you see vinyl installers making?
Overstretching and underheating are the most common mistakes I see. When stretching media over a large area, it’s important to heat gradually when stretching it around a shape. Blasting intense bursts of heat causes overstretched vinyl, which will inevitably shrink and contract. Make sure to post-heat the stretched areas to ensure adhesive contact that forms a vinyl bond.
Another simple, but common, mistake is using a dull knife. With snap-on blades, there really isn’t an excuse for jagged-edge cuts during installation.
What squeegee(s) do you prefer?
I prefer soft, felt squeegees because they’re comfortable, easy to use and durable, and they flow smoothly across the surface. But, depending on the particular film and surface, I also use nylon and PVC squeegees. There is no right or wrong squeegee. It’s simply a matter of your experience and your preference.
When do you use an edge sealer?
The only time an edge sealer is required is when you’re wrapping a boat. The tape or laminate
edge sealer works best, and will prevent water from penetrating vinyl seams. They can help a little when applying vinyl to a surface that will be frequently subjected to chemical abuse, but the vinyl will peel off anyway. Except for on boats, I think an edge sealer is overkill.
Oracal
Craig Campbell, territory manager

What have been the most important vinyl-media developments?
When I started in the industry 16 years ago, you had thick calendered film and thin, high-performance cast media – and nothing in between. I give users credit for pushing manufacturers to develop a broader repertoire of films and adhesives.
What are the most common mistakes you see installers making with their tools?
I’d say the biggest mistake is not replacing tools soon enough. Most installers hang on to a squeegee or rivet brush much too long, and it ultimately scars a graphic or causes improper application.
Another is using a tool to increase speed, while forgetting the basics of good installation. For instance, an installer uses a felt squeegee or a roller applicator that slides smoothly, but then doesn’t apply enough pressure to firmly bond the film to the surface. This creates big pockets of air or insecure edges, both of which will lead to premature failures.
What’s the best way to use a rivet brush?
Even with air-release media, rivet brushes are still an important tool. Even air-release media will trap air and create pockets around rivets. Always make sure the graphic is completely flat on the surface,
and don’t use too much pressure. Air causes wrinkles, especially if you’ve used heat. Soft vinyl wrinkles more. Once it’s flat, use a heat gun and enough pressure to seal it tight.
X-Acto or Olfa knives?
I used to use X-Actos, but I’m all Olfa now. I have more control and easily snap-off blades without stopping work and risking cutting my fingertips to get a new blade.
Any more advice?
Never forget measuring tape. Measure twice, lay once!