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Wrapping Rough Surfaces

Following these best practices will help ensure a successful installation.

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Using digitally printable PSA vinyl for decorating interior and exterior walls has become more mainstream and trendy over the past several years. For the interior design industry, vinyl is now the preferred choice over wallpaper because of the ease of application. From the point of view of a novice, applying any vinyl over an existing wall may appear simple and straight forward, but there are many important steps that should not be overlooked because these can make or break a potential project. 

I’ve been asked to wrap walls with a variety of textures; from unpainted, smooth concrete walls which are often times the best surfaces for wall wraps, to highly three-dimensional stucco or brick walls with extremely deep and wide grout lines. The variables for any wall wrap are the wall texture and the client’s expectations. Some clients envision the texture of the wall to show through the graphic, simulating a painted mural. This paint-like finish can be achieved depending on the depth of the textured wall and if a conformable vinyl is being used for the project. Cast film is more conformable to concave or convex shapes than a Calendered film would be. There are certain levels of texture that vinyl will not be able to stay adhered to over time, so that will need to be communicated to the client from the start. 

The Importance of a Wall/Paint Compatibility Test

This may be a surprise to some, but there isn’t an all-encompassing vinyl that will stick to all different types of textured walls and paint systems. With that said, it is highly recommended to conduct a site survey for vinyl/surface compatibility prior to deciding if the wall can be wrapped. From the survey there are various issues that may arise, such as learning that the textured wall is too brittle to continue with the wrap.

Once it is determined that the integrity of the wall is solid, the next step is to identify the variables of the paint on the wall. Details to consider for this step are: Is the paint on the wall compatible with the vinyl that will be applied? How long has the paint been on the wall? How many layers of paint are there? During the application, will the vinyl peel off any paint if repositioning is needed? These are all important points to consider as most of the low or zero VOC paints or all-in-one paint and primers that are available at local home improvement stores are no longer compatible with most PSA films due to the additives that are added in the paint formulation. This is why it is important to conduct a wall/paint compatibility test prior to taking on the project so you can research what vinyl will be best for your project. For step-by-step instructions on how to test an exterior or interior wall for media compatibility visit www.wrapitiright.com.

Surface Preparation

Prior to conducting an exterior vinyl to wall compatibility test, ensure that the surface is free of loose dirt and particles; brush off all spider webs, remove aggregate or dirt from the grout lines and wall with a broom. For interior walls, clean off all the loose dirt with a wet low-lint towel and use Isopropyl alcohol to wipe the wall down. Taking this step will make for a clean slate to conduct a compatibility test.

Out Gassing the Printed Film Prior to Lamination

If the film is printed with solvent or eco-solvent based inks, it is recommended to allow the film to outgas for 24 hours prior to lamination and installation. Trapped solvent in the film will make the vinyl film soft thus making it more difficult to install. Trapped solvent will also impact the adhesive bond strength to the wall.

Installation Tools

Recommended installation tools for your next wall wrap include: a heat gun, extension cords, cutting blades, RollePros and an IR thermometer.

Removal Tips

For long-term permanent wall graphics, depending on how strong the paint is bonded to the wall, it is possible that during the removal of the graphic there will be paint that comes off. Warming up the graphic with a heat source such as a heat gun will soften the adhesive and make for an easier removal. Depending on the vinyl used, some adhesive may be left on the wall once the vinyl is removed. These scenarios should always be communicated to the client prior to signing off on the project approval process.

In summary, for vinyl to perform to its optimal level it requires maximum contact to the wall surface. The smoother the wall, the more surface the adhesive will have to bond to, which makes it an ideal surface for an interior or exterior wall wrap. The more texture and uneven the wall is, this can become a challenge for both the vinyl film and the installers to consistently put uniform pressure from the first panel to the last panel. No matter what the deadline is for a project, ensuring proper surface preparation, conducting a compatibility test for either an interior or exterior wall and outgassing the printed film prior to lamination are all best practice steps that should be taken for all wall projects. A successful project must have the proper media, wall type and ink system working synergistically together.

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Kelly Kwo

Kelly Kwo is the technical service manager for graphic films manufacturer Arlon Graphics LLC, based in Santa Ana, California.

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