Rough Surface Wraps

Film that sticks to the most demanding surfaces

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Rough surface wraps have only improved with age thanks to the development of new materials and adhesives. It is easier than ever to cover a brick or concrete structure with removable graphics that look like they were painted on.

3M devised its Envision Print film LX/SV480mC about five years ago. The film is not PVC-based like most car wraps so it conforms to rough surfaces and retains the shape of the surface really well, says Nate Place, senior application engineering technician at 3M.

“It also has a high tensile strength, which is beneficial to keeping the film intact during removal rather than tearing into bits and pieces,” he says.

Improvements to the adhesive package were made to allow for good adhesion and better release when it comes time to remove the film, he adds.

Most rough wall applications are large, so it is essential that the entire process from application to removal be fast and clean.

Rough surface wraps are great for architectural uses, both inside and outside, in any place that used to have to use hard signage or banners. Wayfinding applications are another great use for rough surface wraps, eliminating the need for fixtures to anchor traditional hard signage, he says. That makes it easier for buildings to change hands or design quickly.

Avery Dennison launched its first rough and textured wall film in April 2018. MPI 1405 Easy Apply RS is urethane-based, which makes it highly durable and highly conformable, says Joey Heiob, technical service representative at Avery Dennison.

“When you are trying to apply it to brick textures or stucco textures or bare contact, you want something that will conform to the peaks and valleys,” Heiob says. “A film must not only conform but stay in there.”

Avery Dennison pairs its rough wall film with a urethane clear laminate which helps it with conformability and durability to weather the elements.

“We are seeing an increase in façade graphics from an architectural standpoint. We are seeing more people utilize old building spaces with graphics of some sort, urban art or actually POP-type signage,” he says. “We are definitely seeing more people wanting to use the facades of their buildings to apply graphics to.”

Arenas and stadiums are big users of rough wall wraps.

With the demand has come a need for better adhesives. Heiob points out that the adhesive has to be a little more aggressive than a standard removable adhesive but it still needs to be removable. In Avery Dennison’s case, a heat source is used to soften the film again so it is easy to remove from the substrate, just like what is used in the vehicle wrap industry.

Most users of rough wall wraps are not expecting the graphics to be long-term. They want to be able to remove it quickly and with minimal adhesive residue left behind. Even though rough wraps adhere to rough surfaces, he says that the substrate, whether it is brick or stucco, must be in good condition before the wrap is applied otherwise it won’t last as long.

He likens it to a car wrap. You can’t expect to put vinyl on a rusty car and make it into a show car. The vinyl won’t adhere to the rust. The same goes for any substrate.

Rough wrap material is definitely a “niche product,” says Heiob. “It is not something people have in their everyday inventory. They order it in as they need it as application requests come up.”

Most vehicle wraps are PVC cast film. Rough films are PVC-free and urethane-based, he says. The film itself is white so that clients can digitally print their graphics onto the material using latex, solvent, eco-solvent and UV inks. Applying a laminate over the top protects the ink and increases the rigidity of the graphic so it is easier to install, he adds.

Jeff Stadelman, marketing manager, distribution products, for Mactac, says that his company has been making rough wrap for about a decade. Cleveland’s professional baseball field uses rough wrap decals behind its various concession stands. Schools use it as well to brand hallways, gymnasiums, locker rooms and stadiums with their messages or logos. Another customer of Mactac used rough wrap on light posts outside their building. Hospitals also use it to make patient areas more relaxed and people friendly.

“Interest is growing only because it seems like, to me, the market is not so much about vehicle wraps anymore. It is about decorating space. Whether it is indoor or outdoor space and how you use the different products to create a space,” he says.

That could mean decorating a smooth wall on one side of a space and a rough wall on the other and include floors and windows.

“With the move to architectural space design, interior design and exterior design space, we are seeing combinations of products including rough wrap stuff,” he adds.

Mactac also combines its rough wrap films with an overlaminate. Stadelman says he prefers a matte finished product rather than a glossy finish because it makes the decal look as if it were painted onto the brick or concrete.

Some people prefer the gloss or luster finishes because they want it to stick out like a decal. Other customers put rough wrap on gloss tiles and then add a gloss overlaminate to make it match the surface of the adjacent tiles.

3M’s Place says he prefers a luster overlaminate because sometimes when applying rough surface wrap, banding can occur. That happens when it is put on with light or uneven pressure or there are speed variations. It can make the gloss level of the material higher from one pass to the other. By switching to a luster overlaminate, “your gloss level is already being reduced slightly before you started application,” says Place. “So if some variation would cause gloss banding, it is not going to be quite as pronounced with the luster.”

3M has two versions of its 480mC film, one for solvent-based print applications and one for latex. Both work with UV printing.

To apply rough surface wraps, a shop will need a heat gun capable of achieving 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That may not be the actual temperature at the film surface during application, but the gun itself needs to reach 1000 degrees Fahrenheit as the recommended temperature for the application,” he says. 3M also offers a textured surface applicator that attaches to the heat gun. It is two handed which makes it more comfortable to use for the installer.

“It is a more ergonomic solution to applying rough application films,” Place says.

3Ms 480 film is “very dimensionally stable,” he adds. That means it has a tendency to retain its shape without elongation in a broader range of temperatures. 3M technical specialists train installers to lock down the graphic on three sides to prevent any vertical shrinkage and by locking down one vertical side, it can minimize or eliminate horizontal shrinkage that might occur as well, he says.

3M also has a retroreflective grade wrap film called Scotchlite 780mC-10R that was developed to handle contours and flat applications. Initially it was used for highway or roadway signage, including lane separators.

“Lately, there’s been an increase in the amount of reflective films used on vehicles for safety. Many surfaces, the irregular surfaces customers are trying to apply these non-conforming reflective films to, are exceeding the capabilities of the film which creates defects and blemishes from repositioning and handling it,” Place says. The 780mC can be installed over contours and it was developed for easier repositioning and removal.

“We want to take the vehicle safety aspect of reflective to a whole other level by allowing a vehicle to be wrapped entirely in reflective materials. Up until the 780mC, it was virtually impossible,” he says.

So even though the 780mC wasn’t developed specifically for rough wall applications, it is performing well in those applications so “what this does is it creates an opportunity for potential rough wall applications with the added benefit of visibility.”

One application for this technology would be parking garages where the owners are trying to get people moving in the right direction to exit the building or return a rental car. Lighting in many garages is poor. Having 780mC reflective material gives the building’s signage higher visibility.

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Paula Aven Gladych

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo. She can be reached at pgladych@gmail.com.

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