Applying Floor Graphics: Beyond Pick ‘Em and Stick ‘Em

Applying floor graphics can be easy ­ but it can also give you a headache. Get some tips that will help you avoid the Tylenol bottle. Different types of floors often demand different approaches to applying the floor graphic ­ if you want it to stick. Get the inside scoop.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Applying floor graphics may seem easy. Some even go as far as to say all you gotta do is ‘pick ‘em and stick ‘em.’ That may be true the majority of the time, but what about those times when installing floor graphics requires a bit more experience?

While no one is suggesting that applying floor graphics demands the same skill level as wrapping vehicles, it does require some knowledge of vinyl installations. Different types of floors often demand different approaches to applying the floor graphic ­ if you want it to stick.

“With floor graphics, you have to use the right vinyl. You need a vinyl married to an adhesive that is fairly soft and cohesive at the same time,” says Jeff Stadelman, technical marketing manager for vinyl manufacturer MACTac Graphic Products.

“Typically, concrete and asphalt are not too flat or too smooth. You need a vinyl with enough adhesive to wet that kind of surface,” he continues. “You can’t take an off-the-shelf item that’s typical for most graphic applications and stick it on asphalt or concrete.”

Your Step-by-Step Installation 
Assuming you’ve cleaned and prepared the surface thoroughly, you are ready to begin installing the floor graphic. Here’s how to begin. First, locate the exact position on the floor where the graphic will be located. Second, make sure the edges of the graphic are not along a tile edge, grout, or floor joint.

Now, after you’ve aligned the graphic, turn the graphic face down. At this point, the liner should still be on. Once you are satisfied with positioning, partially remove the liner or cut backslits into the liner. This makes it easy to get the precise positioning and application.

Next, position the graphic on the floor. But do not smooth the graphic out with your hands because you’ll trap air underneath the graphic and cause the adhesion to ultimately fail.

Now, grab your hard plastic squeegee. Make one firm stroke down the middle of the graphic, but not too hard because you don’t want to scratch your pretty picture and have to reprint the graphic.

Avery Graphics, recommends using firm strokes from the middle line to the edge. The strokes should be deliberate and overlapping, always working towards the outer edge of the graphic to avoid air entrapment. It may take you some additional time to proceed with caution now, but you’ll be happy when you avoid all those nasty bubbles and wrinkles that defile your creation.

Working with Large Graphics
Of course, if the graphic is large, Avery says it may be necessary to carefully lift one of the ends of the graphic while squeegeeing from the center line to the edges. If you are working with a large graphic, be sure to use this procedure on both ends of the graphic.

Make sure that adhesive contact is minimized, Avery recommends. If contact with the adhesive becomes absolute, you should only touch it with clean hands or gloves, preferably gloves to avoid the natural oils from your hands hindering the adhesive from doing its job.

After the graphic is applied, firmly go over the edges and corners again with the squeegee. Avery notes that rounded corners on the graphic will help prevent premature lifting of the graphic due to tampering and scuffing. That’s a great tip that you should implement every time, if possible. It’s also good to know that if your square corners start to lift, they can be removed to prevent further damage to the image.

So what if you make a mistake? Don’t sweat it too much. If you make a mistake during the graphic installation you can often fix it right up. Just pull up a small section of the graphic ­ very gently ­ and reapply the graphic with the above steps. The key is to avoid those bubbles and wrinkles. If you pull up large sections of the graphic, or if you don’t properly reinstall the small sections, your adhesion could fail much sooner than it should.

A Few Considerations to Keep in Mind
OK, so all this sounds pretty easy, right? It’s not always that way. MACtac’s Stadelman reminds that moisture, temperature changes and condensation can throw a ringer into your floor graphic installation works.

“Throughout the day and night the temperature could swing 20, 30 or even 40 degrees, depending on the time of year,” he says. “That could affect your adhesion.”

There are also cracks in the floor to consider. If you’ve applied your graphic over a crack and condensation sets in, that could also cause the graphic to come undone before its intended lifespan.

“Let’s say you are applying vinyl floor graphics to a sidewalk. A sidewalk has relief channels built into it for the expansion and contraction through the winter and summer so that the whole sidewalk doesn’t crack up,” Stadleman says.

“But if you put a big graphic down that has to bridge those relief channels, then your product is going to have to be able to resist more moisture that’s going to build up underneath.”

Sealing the Deal
Be sure to use a matte overlaminate to protect the graphic from wear and tear. In addition to the products developed by the major vinyl manufacturers, you can also choose a product from Seal designed specifically for floor graphics. Seal now offers the SEAL Print Shield Floor Guard. The film promises excellent durability, slip and scuff resistance, and its textured vinyl surface easily masks fingerprints and surface dirt.

Print Shield Floor Guard is recommended for floor graphics and other high-traffic applications requiring an extra durable overlaminate. In addition, it features a very aggressive acrylic adhesive that makes it ideal for media such as polyester based white films that are sometimes difficult to bond with.

After You Apply the Graphic
After applying the graphic, Avery recommends you don’t let anyone walk on that image for at least eight hours. That gives the adhesive time to anchor to the floor and reduces the changes that your corners will lift prematurely.

If you are applying your floor graphic to a waxed or treated surface, Avery recommends not treating the graphic within 24 hours after the application. Of course, when you are dealing with commercial wood flooring that is either polyurethane coated or acrylic impregnated, it is not necessary to treat the floor graphic. Avery’s recommendation is primarily for vinyl composition tile or vinyl inlay tile that is treated with “no-wax” floor polish.

“If it’s got a smooth surface we can wrap it and nowadays. Even if it has a rough surface we can wrap it, because of the materials that are out there,” says Troy Downey owner APE Wraps, a digital graphics and wraps company in San Diego, California. “The materials have really matured over the past few years. It’s really not that hard anymore. The key is in the preparation.”

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