Printing and Design Tips: February 2011, Issue #115

Static Clings

One of the benefits of installing "standees" in movie theaters is the exposure to diverse printing methods and materials. I recently had the opportunity to install 20 static clings and an 8-foot beach ball, and I learned a lot about printing from both experiences.

First of all, static clings are images printed on clear, or white very heavy plastic stock that can be attached to a smooth surface--like a window--with no adhesive. Static electricity makes the plastic stick to the glass. They can be one-sided or two-sided.

This is great for advertising, because you can affix the static cling to a window and then peel it off when your event is over. Then, if you want, you can put it right back on the window at a later date. There's no adhesive to apply or remove, and when you peel off the static cling, it releases easily and doesn't tear.

As I applied 20 of these static clings in about 30 minutes (most of the time was spent going up and down the ladder), I wondered how they had been printed, so I did some research.

There seem to be two options for printing static clings: silkscreen and inkjet equipment. Based on what I know about silkscreen, the ink coverage is thick and the colors are vibrant. This is great for promotional work, since the image will have more punch from a distance. That said, I know that silkscreen is expensive, since it requires making a separate mesh screen for each color, and that the screen resolution for images (dots per inch) will be coarser than for other printing methods. Also, not everyone provides this service (I'd start by Googling "sign shops").

Ink-jet—based on my experience—would be cheap, accessible, maybe even something you could print yourself on clear plastic static cling blanks, if you only needed a limited number of static clings.

A few other static clings that I had installed at an earlier date--much smaller ones—had been printed on thinner plastic, were a smaller format, and were not as brilliant (saturated) in their ink coverage. In addition, their ink film had seemed thinner. My guess was that these static cling images had been printed on inkjet equipment.

For those of you who have not installed static clings at movie theaters, you have probably still seen one close to home. The little plastic label your mechanic puts on your windshield noting the vehicle mileage for your next oil change is also a static cling.

Why should you care about all of this? Because this is a relatively inexpensive marketing tool, giving you an easily installed option for promoting your business, or your client's business (particularly if you opt for inkjet). Given the recent advances in inkjet inks (permanence, tolerance for UV light and moisture, etc.), my expectation is that inkjet printing will eventually replace silkscreen for the majority of static clings.

A few things to remember when designing, purchasing, and installing static clings is that heat, steam, and moisture will make them fall off the glass, as will rapid changes in temperature.

Also, when you design the static clings, remember that they can be single-sided or double-sided. This is relevant because a clear static cling--when seen from the rear—will have "wrong-reading" type. The double sided static clings I installed seemed to have more of a milky white barrier between the two images facing opposite directions (and "right-reading" in either direction). That said, the images were almost the same size and design (a mirror image), except for the type.

The 8-Foot Beach Ball

The beach ball mentioned above was also a standee. As such, it had an image advertising the movie displayed prominently on one side. Being a student of printing, I asked myself how it had been produced. (Actually, I had a lot of time to ponder this, since the ball was huge, and the electric pump was very slow.)

Again, I did some research. The preferred method seems to be silk screen on vinyl. But I wasn't so sure I believed this was true for this particular beach ball.

Why? For two reasons. I had looked closely at the screens that made up the four-color image on the ball. The screen was very fine, and although it comprised a pattern of dots, it was more of a random pattern than a series of rosettes. (Rosette patterns indicate offset printing, while a random dot pattern suggests inkjet printing. Also, the fine screen of the printed image seemed incompatible with the coarser screens I knew were available for silkscreen work.)

In addition, I had seen banners produced on large-format inkjet printers on flat vinyl, so I thought the vinyl for this ball would be a perfectly acceptable substrate. Furthermore, I assumed the ball hadn't been printed on an offset press (again, because the rosette pattern of C, M, Y, and K dots was absent, and because I didn't think the vinyl would have held its dimensional stability (i.e., shape) on an offset press. (The pressure of the ink and impression rollers would have shifted the vinyl as it had gone through the press.)

Upon further review of photos taken during the installation of the 8-foot beach ball, I noticed something that seemed important. The graphic image for the movie had been printed on only one of the colored panels (segments) of the beach ball. From this I surmised that the image promoting the movie had been printed on a single color of flat vinyl, which had then been cut into the proper shaped strip and attached to all the other solid colored segments of the completed beach ball.

I looked at numerous promotional beach balls on the Internet and noticed references to silk screen printing. These balls had far simpler graphics than the 8-foot ball at the movie theater (just line art and no halftones). Therefore, based on all evidence provided, my educated guess was that inkjet equipment had been used to print the movie image on the 8-foot beach ball.

Again, why should you care? Maybe you'll create a promotional beach ball one day to advertise your business or your client's business. It could sit on the floor or hang from the ceiling. If you do, check the Internet (look for promotional items), and explore both silkscreen options and inkjet options. And pay attention to the new advances in inkjet technology, inks (solvent, eco-solvent, latex, etc.), and substrates.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]