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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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.

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Large Format Printing: See-Through Window Graphics

How do they do that? Have you ever seen a large format print graphic covering an entire bus, including the windows? How do the passengers see out of the bus?

Large format, perforated window media is the answer. This inkjet printing substrate, made of vinyl with small holes across its entire surface, is imaged on one side with inkjet equipment and left blank on the other. When applied across the surface of a bus, including the metal walls of the vehicle and the windows, this provides an awe inspiring view of the graphic image while only lowering visibility a little. It is also a significantly larger image than was previously possible to manufacture or apply to a vehicle.

How Is It Done?

If you look closely, this window film is covered with a grid of small, regularly spaced holes. The surface reduces visibility to about the same extent as a tint applied to a window. The holes, which are spaced in a 60/40 distribution (60 percent printable, 40 percent open) or another percentage ratio, afford visibility through the unprinted side of the graphic, while the eye “connects the holes” and registers a complete image of whatever is on the other side. Seen from the side that has been imaged on inkjet equipment, the view is of a full-color, large format print. If you think about it, this is similar to the way the eye connects the halftone dots of a printed photo, turning them into a coherent image.

Printable window mesh film can be inkjet printed on a grand-format printer in sections and then applied to the surface of the windows with adhesive. The strips of the printed image can be laid over one another slightly at the edges to form a huge, continuous photo. (In some cases, the film has the adhesive on the imaged side, which allows users to apply the film to the inside of the windows, affording more protection. This film has a low tack adhesive on the printable side, which makes it repositionable. It also will leave little or no residue when removed.)

The printed window film should last for a number of years, depending on its use and exposure, and any portions of the graphic that are damaged can be replaced (in small sections rather than in its entirety). Commercial printing vendors who produce such large format graphics will laminate them after producing the graphics in order to improve their tolerance for rain and sunlight and so extend their life.

Indeed, finding a skilled professional to prepare the surface of the glass, apply the film to the windows of the vehicle, and then remove it at a later date is as important as the design and the quality of the inkjet custom printing.

Why Is It So Effective?

Anything this large grabs your attention. Think about the large screens in the iMax theater. Images that cover one’s entire field of vision have far more impact than smaller graphics. If you’re close up, you really can’t see anything but the image. You become immersed in the experience.

In addition, whatever is unexpected will immediately grab the viewer’s attention in a world full of competing images. When I was growing up, bus graphics were confined to the logos of the bus company on the metal sides of the bus and a large format poster frame on the back of the bus. Even the art printed on rock band tour buses covered the exterior metal of the bus but stopped at the windows. Seeing an image dramatically larger than expected makes such a large format print truly memorable.

Where Else Can It Be Used?

I recently saw this perforated window mesh used on the front of a local sporting goods store. Tightly cropped images of basketball players in action covered the glass doors. From outside the store, you could see the image, while the view of the street from the inside was no less clear than through a tinted window.

So installing such perforated window film on glass doors, cars, vans, buses, and even plate glass windows on buildings can provide a powerful opportunity to hook the attention of passersby.

How to Design for Window Mesh Film

When you create artwork for inkjet custom printing on such a substrate, you might want to consider the following:

  1. The images will be of a lower resolution than in a book or brochure. This is true for most grand-format graphics. They are designed to be seen from a distance.
  2. Therefore, design your graphic image with large, dramatically cropped photos. Include saturated colors and a sense of movement in the large format print.
  3. Working within these limitations will allow you to produce an arresting design that benefits from this newer large-format printing technology.

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