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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: Exciting New Vinyl Substrates

When I think about substrates for large format printing, I don’t usually get excited. It’s not a sexy topic.

Granted, I understand how paper substrates for print books and brochures can make a huge difference. I know that the roughness or smoothness of the paper, and even its color, can dramatically affect both the look and the feel of a printed product. It can even reinforce or detract from the tone of the piece. For instance, a textured, uncoated paper just “feels” more environmentally sensitive.

This is valuable information for marketers.

But what about substrates for signage? You don’t touch a vehicle wrap or building wrap. So it has to make its visceral impression without the viewer’s sense of touch.

With this in mind, I was surprised at the implications of the new signage materials referenced in Brenda Hodgson’s article, “Special Effects Vinyls,” published on 3/25/18, on

Hodgson describes the following products that have been recently developed by 3M and other manufacturers. They are important because they are visually striking. They immediately grab viewer attention, and they have the durability to last, providing marketing benefits over a longer than usual period of time. Keep in mind that these are just the substrates. You can print on these using UV, latex, solvent, or eco-solvent inkjet equipment.

The New Vinyl Films

    1. Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film Color Flow Series with Easy Apply RS Technology is offered by trade vendor William Smith. It is 80 micron premium cast film. It has a 12-year life span, comes in 12 colors (with gloss or satin finish), and is ideal for vehicle wraps. This product has a high level of opacity, so it will block out high-contrast surfaces. The adhesive it employs is repositionable, slidable, and bubble free. It is especially conformable to both convex and concave three-dimensional surfaces (such as the contours, nooks, and crannies of vehicle exteriors).


    1. 3M offers a new product called Wrap Film Series 1080. This product takes advantage of color-flip technology that allows the color of the vehicle wrap to shift and change depending on the ambient lighting and the viewing angle. This can provide an especially striking result at night. And since it can be purchased in 1.52-meter-wide rolls, installers can apply the film to large sections of vehicles without visible seams. This product is durable and long-lasting. It has “excellent dimensional stability and repositionability” (“Special Effects Vinyls”), as well as good adhesive properties. The particular technology used for the “flip colors” provides one transmitted color (light goes through the film) and a completely different reflected color (light bounces off the film). This means that the film substrate can shimmer and change from cyan to gold, for instance.


    1. 3M offers Dichroic Glass Finishes. These also have both a transmitted and a reflective color, providing a shifting and shimmering effect based on the lighting and angle of view. What makes this particularly attractive to marketers (or interior designers) is how easy it is to use compared to actual dichroic glass. Wikipedia describes dichroic glass, noting that:

“One dichroic material is a modern composite non-translucent glass that is produced by stacking layers of glass and micro-layers of metals or oxides which give the glass shifting colors depending on the angle of view, causing an array of colors to be displayed as an example of thin-film optics.”

So from a manufacturing point of view, dichroic glass is complicated and expensive to make. Therefore, being able to simulate this effect with a printable film is a major breakthrough. Plus, it can be applied to both flat and slightly curved surfaces, it is durable, and it can be used to create a privacy barrier. In addition, you can use the film to cut out detailed designs or letterforms.



  • William Smith also provides a dichroic film (Vion Dichroic Film, Ambience), as well as other decorative films for glass, such as 3M Scothcal Series 5525-300 and Vion Crystal 5500 Series. These are 75-micron translucent film products. They can be used both indoors and outdoors, and their adhesive is not only clear, pressure-sensitive, and permanent, but it also releases the air bubbles when it is being applied. Due to its multi-colored nature, it is especially good for not only interior and exterior displays but also for internally-lit displays.




  • 3M offers the Di-Noc product range, which “mimics the effect of everything from wood grains and stone to leather and textile” (“Special Effects Vinyls”). There are more than 800 different designs, and these films can be used on interior and exterior walls. They will allow a company to much more easily and inexpensively change the look of its walls and floors (when compared to removing and replacing the actual building materials).




  • Alumi Graphics is an aluminum foil medium for floor and wall graphics. (It’s ideal for “pavements, concrete columns, tiled surfaces, brick walls, and tarmac.”) (“Special Effects Vinyls”) You can print directly on it using solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inks. It is durable enough to last for between six months and two years outdoors without overlamination (so it’s easier, faster, and less expensive to install). It’s also more environmentally-friendly and can be recycled with other aluminum products. In addition, it can be cut with digital cutters and plotters. From a design perspective, Alumi Graphics will adhere tightly to the brick or concrete surface, maintaining its rough base texture (the image will appear to have been painted on the surface).


Benefits These Films Offer

These are the main implications I see for these large format printing films:

    1. They are becoming easier to install. The fact that they will conform to the irregularities (recesses) of a vehicle exterior makes installation faster and less tedious, and therefore less expensive. The fact that bubbles can be easily removed during installation also makes the process easier.


    1. These products are more flexible. You can print on them with solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inksets using most large format printing equipment.


    1. They are durable, lasting between six months and two years. For the vehicle-wrap film, they can even last up to 12 years. This means that changing the graphics on an entire fleet of business vehicles will be less expensive over time since it will need to be done less often.


    1. They are good at simulating actual patterns and textures (wood, leather, stone). Therefore, the entire look of a building’s interior can be changed without ripping out walls, glass, and floors. You can just replace the surface coatings of the walls, glass, and floors.


  1. More importantly, they provide the “wow” factor. More attention has been given to providing a striking appearance, from the simulated grain of wood and texture of stone and leather to the multi-colored, shimmering effects of the dichroic films. Those who have created these special films clearly know how to grab the viewer’s attention.

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