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At the ‘Floor-Front’

Floor graphics are continuing to evolve.

Many moons ago, the average floor was nothing more than packed earth (still true in some parts of the world). Then, stones gradually began to be used for floors, followed by tiles, wood, carpets, and floor cloths. And, not surprisingly, many of these floors integrated designs and graphics. Rubber, linoleum, and vinyl floors would soon come along as well – and, again, most would feature a design or a graphic of some sort.

Floors for markets, shops, eateries, and other public venues likely followed the same course. Slowly but surely, the floor became not just a surface for customers to walk upon but also served as one more way to make a place of business more enticing, to make the clientele more likely to buy its wares. Decorative graphics pleasing to the eye reinforced the “buy from us” message, and simple messages like “welcome” and the store name or slogan adorned a store’s entryway.

Then, enter printed floor graphics – and the ability to deliver branding and marketing from underfoot changed drastically. A powerful tool for taking a marketing message to the masses, floor graphics allowed a retailer, restaurant, or just about any store, company, or institution to customize its sales pitch, make it as graphically appealing as desired, and to change it out as needed.

But floor graphics aren’t done evolving. In recent years, new materials and applications have emerged, making floor graphics a popular option, not only for marketers, but also for emerging niches like interior design and even home decor.

To find out what's going on in the market, we spoke to several companies whose product rosters include floor-graphics media and materials, including Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, Flexcon, LexJet, Mactac, Ultraflex Systems, and xpedx.

Gaining traction
One of the main general trends with floor graphics is just how pervasive they’re becoming. Where once they may have been seen as primarily geared toward in-store promotion efforts, this is certainly no longer the case.

“Marketing and branding experts are trying to gain attention in every space possible,” says Paul Roba, technical support manager for Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions. “As a result, we’re seeing promotional floor graphics being used everywhere indoors and out – from grocery and liquor stores, to wayfinding on sidewalks for conferences or major sporting events, and in museums for exhibits.”

“Floor graphics are everywhere,” concurs Jaimie Mask, product manager for LexJet Corporation. “One of the hippest ways to market these days is on floors, and with good reason since our eye has a tendency to look down while walking. Studies have shown that products move better when marketing is placed in the walkway of possible users, so why not? The top applications we’re asked about are retail and sidewalk graphics.”

In addition to continued growth on the retail side, floor graphics are seeing a big push across all categories.

“We’re seeing them more and more in convenience stores,” says Jason Yard, marketing manager, distributor products with Mactac, “but anywhere you can advertise and get to a customer – whether it’s a movie theater or in a shopping mall. One of the slowly emerging trends we’ve noted is wayfinding for hospitals, airports, train stations, that sort of thing. More and more people are looking down at their cell phones and walking, rather than looking up to where they’re going, so they tend to see these floor graphics more and more lately.”

And floor graphics are moving out of the traditional marketplace. “We are now leaving the comfort zone of what vinyl floor graphics used to be,” says Steve Bunio, wide-format specialist for xpedx. “We are evolving, we are changing. More and more people are getting out there, walking around, looking around, and graphics are just so in front of you. If I’m going to Penn Station, and just walking up stairs, I’ll see floor graphics on the stairs. You can't miss it. It’s right there in front of you, and that’s pretty exciting.”

Just what you see when you encounter a floor graphic is changing, too, because the very definition of what a floor graphic comprises is changing. “What we’re seeing more of is full-coverage floor graphics for an entire area, something that might wrap around an area – basically branding an entire section of the store, as opposed to just traditional wayfinders or stock graphics,” says Dennis Brunnett, product manager of product branding at Flexcon.

Into the man caves
Let’s take a look at just a few of the specific applications and uses for floor graphics that are becoming more and more looked for across the marketplace.

Short-term opportunities: Because floor graphics can be used virtually anywhere imaginable, more and more unique opportunities are emerging for applications that are here today and, well, gone tomorrow.

“Special events, like festivals, are an excellent short-term application,” says LexJet’s Mask. Numerous opportunities exist at the community level, but also for regional and national events that call for graphics directly at the event – and in numerous other locations where promotion is needed, such as short-term pop-up stores.

“Being in the New York area, I was involved with a lot of projects that had to do with Super Bowl XLVIII,” says xpedx’s Bunio. “A lot of the floor graphics were done in the most visible areas – one of the biggest being at Penn Station. There was a huge, huge campaign that incorporated almost the entire floor of Penn Station by Amtrak. That’s where we see a lot of trending toward the shorter-term graphics, up to maybe a month. Transit stations and bus stations are places where you can really see utilization of a lot of those types of graphics.”

Interior décor: There has been a growing trend in both residential and commercial spaces to merge the digital print and interior-design worlds, reports Ultraflex’s Matt Loede: “Flooring (commercial-grade printable vinyl floor and carpet), the advancement of tile-printing technology, commercial wallcoverings, digitally printable stretch ceiling fabrics, and many more innovative offerings are making the viability of custom digital print more realistic than it’s ever been. This segment is not only fast growing, but offers an opportunity to make a much healthier profit – especially for print shops that have seen downward pricing pressure due to increased competition and commoditization in some segments of the market.”

And although floor graphics would at first blush seem to be more directly applicable in commercial settings versus residential, Ultraflex’s Loede has seen an increase in volume from companies that have figured out how to market and sell to certain residential niches. These include car mats and garage floors for car collectors, as well as custom flooring for in-home use in areas where customers are willing to spend money. One of the more popular areas where this is happening, he says: the decoration of basements and so-called “man caves.”

Greener alternatives: Some print providers and their customers are seeking greener alternatives to vinyl when it comes to floor graphics, including olefin products, says Dennis Brunnett, product manager for Flexcon’s Product Branding Business team. “Although the trend isn’t sweeping the nation by any stretch of the imagination, the conversation pops up enough. There are some customers that are particularly looking for green solutions. Canada seems to be much more into greener products at this point – they're a little bit ahead of the curve on the green aspect.”

Carpets and flooring: Advancements also are taking place with respect to carpet and flooring. LexJet has experienced growing demand for products such as its Simple CarpetAd, which LexJet’s Mask says end users can use to “theme an area or transform the floor into a basketball court, a soccer field, or anything else they can dream up.”

Flexcon also has seen the push toward graphics on carpet and has moved to take advantage of it – developing Flexmark floor art OV6604, a very heavy-gauge 23-mil. overlaminate for carpet use. “Carpets are more ‘squishy,’ so people sink in more,” Brunnett with Flexcon explains. “Someone with heels will walk on it, so we made a more robust overlaminate that has an embossed pattern on it that handles foot traffic better.”

Installation of flooring projects, by the way, is something every print shop should evaluate – particularly when dealing with newer materials and surfaces. “There’s definitely a learning curve for graphics shops looking to get into flooring installations,” says Loede with Ultraflex. “However, we’ve seen a lot of success with print providers locating traditional flooring installers to install their flooring projects. For example, traditional vinyl-flooring installers tend to be very successful graphic-flooring installers, especially with commercial-grade vinyl flooring like the G-Floor line of flooring products. These look, feel, perform, and install just like commercial vinyl flooring, making it easy to install with the same tools and products used to install traditional commercial vinyl flooring.”

The great outdoors
Of course, floor graphics aren’t limited to indoor applications. But taking floor graphics into the great outdoors comes with certain challenges, including wet weather and degradation by natural light. Nevertheless, print shops and their clients are finding significant opportunities outside.

“Outdoor marketing has become more prominent in our market, especially on sidewalks or concrete,” says LexJet’s Mask. “One product we have seen great success with is Continental Grafix’s panoRama Walk & Wall product, as sidewalks are an approved surface, along with carpet and other interior floor surfaces. This product is a one-step solution, with no need for lamination.”

There is now a wide array of digitally printable products that, in addition to being completely customizable, are also durable enough to hold up to the elements, says Ultraflex’s Loede. “This opens the door for print service providers to enter markets with applications that were traditionally untapped, such as stadium and event flooring and parking-deck graphics.”

“I would say that outdoor marketing is ever, ever growing,” says Mactac’s Yard, who notes that the company has experienced increased sales for its own outdoor product, Mactac StreetRap. The 3.4-mil matte film is engineered with an aggressive solvent acrylic adhesive that provides adhesion to unsealed pedestrian concrete or asphalt surfaces, and to select smooth or slightly rough wall surfaces.

One emerging option for floor graphics: submergible graphics – comprising materials that can be printed and then submerged in pools, ponds, fountains, fish tanks, and other water features and aquascapes. The recently introduced AquaFlex product from Ultraflex is one example. Made from recyclable pool liners, it’s compatible with solvent, latex, and UV inks (UV liquid lamination recommended) and once printed, can be positioned easily either by hand or with a pool brush; the product is engineered to lay flat and stay in position without the use of tape or adhesive.

“It’s something that holds people’s attention,” says Bunio with xpedx. “Traditionally, if you wanted a printed pool liner with your college logo, you had to have the pool liner printed. Or, you had to put in a pressure-sensitive waterproof vinyl, and you had to drain the pool and dry it to make sure the seal is perfect. With this, it’s a no-brainer. It’s denser than water, it floats to the bottom.”

A messaging wonderland
With all of the modern materials that are available, floor graphics can now be installed in an array of environments and conditions, and for short- and long-term durations. A print service provider no longer has to limit itself – or its clients – when it comes to marketing from below. The right combination of materials, tools, workmanship, and imagination can turn any floor into a messaging wonderland.

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