Factors Impacting Vinyl Removal, Part I
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Supply 55 BannerPRO, EcoPRO continuous ink supply system, guardian laminators, quickmount


Factors Impacting Vinyl Removal, Part I

Learning what vinyl film is, the impact that the environment and the surface finish has on vinyl are all factors that will help you deal with the ultimate need to remove vinyl graphics.

By Dennis Lasik

Know the what it is and why it does it is equation side of how to tackle the unique problem of removing vinyl graphics. Below we break down several of the important aspects.

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  • Let's begin with what vinyl is. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is a chemical species used to produce flexible vinyl film which in turn is used to produce a wide variety of protective and decorative film products. One such class of products, referred to as "graphic film", possesses unique features that make them well suited to decorate mobile and stationary surfaces exposed to the public eye.

    The unique features of vinyl "graphic film" are achieved through the use of an opaque vinyl film whose surface receives colorful, ink-based, printed messages and images; and whose underside is typically coated with a non-permanent pressure-sensitive adhesive carried on a release liner. Before the "graphics" leave the printer or sign shop its printed surface frequently receives a clear protective finish which can be either a liquid or a layer of clear vinyl. Polyester over lams should seldom be used for outdoor applications. Protective lamination may be applied to the top surface for additional stability during storage and the installation process. Care must be taken by all concerned to maintain product integrity during every step of processing, transport and storage.

    Vinyl in a word
    Vinyl used as a word applies to a broad spectrum of products engineered and designed for different purposes. In our industry, and for this article, we use this part of a word to describe a film that is usually less than four thousandths of one inch in thickness and almost as complicated as a living organism. And, in fact, like a living thing we can make this film grow, shrink, swell, take on new shapes and at the same time increase it's strength or make it weak enough to fail. Actually, that is a loose definition of chemistry and that is exactly what we are dealing with. Thinking of the vinyl you are working with as a living thing you can begin to appreciate how every little thing that happened during its life has the potential to influence the way it reacts right now.

    Factors having the potential to make the removal of vinyl graphics difficult go all the way back to the planning of the production run. We are going to begin at the time each layer of material was made. For our discussion today we will assume all the layers used for our roll of vinyl were produced at the same time, in the same location with temperatures, humidity, etc., ideal. Also we will believe that the materials used to make our top quality vinyl were near perfect chemical matches that we don't have to consider. All these ideals quickly change and multiply according to the type of vinyl, type of adhesive, type of release liner, type of laminate and even the protective install lamination. Then we need to add how all these components were stored and handled.

    Now, let's consider design: Our layered system eventually gets applied to all types of substrates which usually are not considered at time of the original design. In fact the material designers usually come up with one formulation for a difficult customer specification. With only that application satisfied the design is considered complete and the search begins for other markets for this formulation/product so they can recoup their engineering costs and hopefully establish a new profit stream for their company.

    Moving along to our next step in the life of our chosen vinyl, even with "perfect" vinyl…engineered and manufactured exactly as specified…the factors are multiplying even before it rolls off the line. Environment from that moment begins the aging process and differentially affects the vinyl depending on how "perfectly" it is transported, stored, re-shipped, re-stored, re-transported, cut, printed (an endless spectrum of inks!), new and old curing processes, packed then again and transported, stored and ultimately installed. And that is the short cycle!

    On to installation
    The installation itself has the possibility of carrying forward tremendous impacts when the time comes for removal. Was the substrate clean, smooth, warm or cold and properly prepared to accept water based acrylic adhesives? Is the paint properly catalyzed and cured and how will you know? Did chance decide the substrate or the combination of layers will become incompatible and outgas the third time they see sunlight? Was it a wet installation and were "tack" products used to enhance adherence to allow for stretching around contours and complex curves?

    Environmental impacts continue after installation with the added aging variables from outdoor and/or indoor exposure to all it encounters including pollution, pollen, airborne particulates, acid rain, sun light, cold, heat…well, use your imagination. Your list will probably be longer than my wordy article.

    After passing through all the traumas vinyl graphics experience while getting to and then doing their intended jobs, comes the actual removal process. Removals are typically based on time estimates after inspecting a single vehicle without full knowledge of whether all graphics came from the same source(s), were installed by the same crew(s), and were treated in the same manner (environmental factors, cleaning procedures, etc). Usually the crew removing was not involved with the installation.

    Sign Expo 2017 - Las Vegas Nevada - April 20-22 Mandalay Bay

    Users of our Vinyl-Off generally agree that 4 out of 5 jobs go as anticipated, with profit margins intact. But that fifth job is the problem. That can easily break down to twenty percent of any job. All the profits from the first eighty percent, and then some, can go out the window on the one that goes awry. Having something that smoothes that problem vinyl removal job is one of our chief objectives. If there is a constant in the problem removal job, it is the huge amount of time required. Callers tell us removing the vinyl without Vinyl Off was "impossible", "Coming off in fingernail-size pieces", "nothing moves it"; "I'm thinking about sand-blasting and repainting,"

    We recently consulted with a customer whose vinyl removal job went smoothly when removing the sides and rear doors, but proved almost impossible on the horizontal surfaces. In this example the after installation environment including engine temperatures most likely contributed their problem vinyl. Here was their 20%.

    As vinyl ages, it becomes less flexible and even brittle. Vinyl-Off revitalizes the vinyl layer, so that it becomes temporarily more elastic and then weakens the adhesive layer so it lets go more easily. With a more elastic vinyl layer and a weaker adhesive layer, pulling allows the vinyl and adhesive to come off together. We get reports of up to 90% time improvement on these trouble jobs. We did a job during the development of Vinyl Off that took 56 labor hours when removed in the traditional heat method and about two hours when using Vinyl Off. It was so fast the client didn't want to pay us for "the easy trucks".

    About the paint
    Paint is truly an issue yet it is seldom addressed by any company using adhesives. When it is talked about, only the immediate problem is addressed and that is only to stop the immediate cash out-flow. We receive calls everyday about removing vinyl from painted substrates. The objective of the crew involved is to remove the vinyl and leave behind a perfectly painted surface. Of course, if the painted surface wasn't primed, cured, or cleaned properly before installation then the results are far from the objective! As far as we know, no one in the industry, regardless of the method of removal, guarantees the paint through the process. And that is basically because no one company controls the whole process and therefore cannot evaluate in advance what the results will be.

    I've said this before but I think it is worth repeating. Whenever there's a real problem and the customer gets upset, it is whoever blinks first that gets blamed. Since there are so many points of failure, resolution climbs all the way back up the chronological ladder to the vinyl manufacturer and is left unresolved. Compensated perhaps but not resolved. Hopefully some of the facts in this article can assist in giving reasonable explanations to customers in these tough situations. Of course, try not to be the one who blinks!

    Over the years, safe to use VINYL-OFF has been successfully used to remove vinyl from a variety of surfaces, under a variety of conditions. It has demonstrated its cost effectiveness relative to hand held open flame burners; electric and infrared heat sources; eraser-wheel device procedures; and popular aerosol treatments. At a cost of less than fifty cents per square foot including labor for a fast, clean and "green" removal. VINYL-OFF is hard to beat. In terms of efficiency, customer's who use VINYL-OFF, as part of their removal process, complete the job in fewer hours (not minutes) versus other removal processes.

    Writer's Comment: The spectrum of vinyl film and transportation paint formulations is so broad as to discourage specific statements on the installation, care and removal of vinyl graphics. Although each removal job is somewhat unique, there is a common trend to make each job cheaper, cleaner and "greener,"

    Dennis Lasik is with West End Products LLC, Alpharetta, GA. For more information, you can contact him at info@westendproducts.com.

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