Taking Care of Your Digital Graphics
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Supply 55 BannerPRO, EcoPRO continuous ink supply system, guardian laminators, quickmount


Taking Care of Your Digital Graphics

Installing graphics is only part of the job of selling wraps and flat surface installs. You need to make sure your end user is aware of how to properly care for their graphics once they are installed.

By Dennis Lasik

Using the wrong chemicals on a perfectly wrapped or applied graphic can cause catastrophic failures or significantly shorted lifespan. Don't be a victim, make sure you know how to care for graphics after installation and educate your end-users as well.

SGIA Expo 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana - October 10-12

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  • I’ve been in the graphics business for over thirty years. During those years, especially during my fleet graphics experience, I’ve seen countless “material failures” settled with the manufacturer, printer, or the installer taking all or part of the blame for failures that just plain were not their fault.

    The scenario usually goes something like this: A customer has graphics applied to a vehicle or fleet with clear expectations of at least several years of service from the job, (I hear the rule is half the amount of time the sales rep sells as fact; an issue we will address in a future article). With half the anticipated time under the bridge, the once beautiful graphics look awful --- curled edges, potato chipping, oxidized or out-right fading, etc. When the, “Whose to Blame?” game begins, the finger pointing starts hot and only gets hotter. Here’s the logic: the vinyl with a three-plus years rating only lasted 18 months, so somebody somewhere must have done something wrong. In most cases this is right.

    Watch the material
    When it comes to material failures, possibly the biggest single issue we face is graphics being washed with harsh, usually highly caustic materials that literally destroy the vinyl. Many people don’t think about a sheet of plastic less than 4/1000 of an inch thick surviving multiple washings with harsh detergents. All this in addition to everything else the graphics are exposed to from sunlight, pollen, bugs, engine exhaust and acid rain in some places along with everything else hitting them at high speed.

    Vinyl graphics are absolutely amazing and can stay that way with a little care. When was the last time a material supplier reminded their customers about the dangers of using acidic or caustic washes on their vinyl? Heck, while we are at it, most of the majors don’t even tell us which of their products are vinyl and which are not! Oops! Let’s get back to the topic of this piece.

    The printer/ sign shop usually gets the first call. Records are pulled and the manufacturer and installation team get called into the fray. It’s a blame-fest with no winners and higher insurance rates for those with coverage and a direct hit to those without. The whole industry gets hurt as is the usual outcome. Secondary fall-out is that the customer is not likely to lean toward the same team for the next round of signage, and will insist on a different manufacturer, printer or installation group depending on who blinked first and got blamed with failure on that particular job.

    Try to imagine the cost to the industry for these finger-pointing bouts. It adds up in wasted hours, bad feelings, climbing insurance premiums, and free re-do efforts across our industry. These situations also take vehicles and signs out of service and may even waste customer time.

    Here’s a recent example of a situation that, although resolved to the installer’s benefit, probably did not leave a contented customer. An installer I know received a call from a nearly hysterical shop manager and drove from Atlanta to Orlando to see that diesel fuel had spilled all over the “failed” graphics. My friend, for the sake of this article we’ll call him Nathan, had the audacity to ask the customer why he thought this was the fault of the installer and to his amazement the answer was that no-one said specifically this could happen!

    Now this is the point where someone has to take responsibility and to Nathan’s credit he had a copy of his sign-off sheet saying the client had been counseled on proper care of vinyl graphics and pointed out that at no time was he told that fuel was good for the graphics. Following the gunfight in the visitor’s parking lot, the Fleet Manager stepped up and agreed that maybe they were a little careless. My point is that if it wasn’t for the foresight of explaining how to take care their new graphics, in this case with the Fleet Manager, and a sign-off sheet proving it, this most likely would have been another extensive and expensive replacement. But regardless of this outcome to Nathan, the customer was still left with damaged graphics and less than optimal appearance for his fleet.

    Explain the rules
    We don’t have enough space to get into all the areas a signoff sheet should include, and like choosing colors, the choices are subjective and can be emotional as well. Several items that are almost a requirement such as: explaining the substrate must be clean and free of debris, knicks and dents. Be sure to mention the install will most likely include sharp objects and probably heat which may be evidenced when the graphics are removed. And, of course, my favorite: do not wash with products that may damage the vinyl!

    SGIA Expo 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana - October 10-12

    So who is REALLY at fault in these scenarios? Well, in most cases it’s a lack of education on the part of almost all the parties involved; especially the customer. It is not that we do it wrong; it is that we could be doing things more right. The intended result being that everyone stays happier! In the above example, proper caring for the vinyl was on the sign-off sheet. That’s a huge step in the right direction and I commend Nathan’s company for their foresight. Overall, it’s an education issue that, as an industry, we are leaving unresolved. And usually in business, an unresolved issue is a substantial opportunity for someone to make money.

    My trip to the barber yesterday got me thinking. Although I’m a bit thin on top, please feel free not to share your personal observations, my barber is happy to advise me on how to take care of what little there is. Obviously he’s looking for some carry-over sales of hair products and to add a little insurance that I will return to him when another haircut is needed. He’s also concerned that I remain pleased between my visits, as well as when I leave his chair. It’s just good sense and even better customer service.

    Apply the same practice to your sign business? Before you finish the install, and then run to your mailbox to wait for the check considers this: we are entrepreneurs who know it is easier to get repeat business than it is to find another customer. Carry specific products so your customer will have to come back to you for re-supply. When it comes time, (which we appreciate how very valuable it is to your customer) for more signage why would they go anywhere else? You are the expert when it comes to signage and they will rely on your guidance if you make the effort to offer your expertise.

    Keep in mind that almost all graphics are changed by circumstance. Vehicles get traded or sold while they still have value and that means before they wear out. Vinyl is a wonderful product and with only a little attention can easily be kept looking great. Your customer can easily take care of them if they know how, and here comes the good part, and if they know where to get the proper graphics maintenance products.

    Through your shop materials suppliers, you can carry or use some of our Crystaltek products on an as needed basis to make sure you and your clients are using the proper products. The line includes a pH balanced Wrap Wash ‘shampoo’ that is specifically designed to thoroughly clean all exterior surfaces and will not damage graphics, headlight lenses, tail and marker lights or windshield wipers and weather seals. Wrap Wash is a water saver as well, by not requiring a pre-rinse and rinses free at almost any temperature. So it also makes a great pre-install wash for your jobs. There are also products for removing oxidation, renewing, sealing and UV protection and of course Vinyl-Off and Adhesive Off, for when the time comes in every sign’s life to be ‘retired’. These are some great tools to seriously consider for your toolbox.

    Remember to add a specific recommendation to your sign-off sheets for products that correctly care for the vinyl signage you have just installed. Keep them looking great, stay in touch with your customer between installs, and add a recurring revenue stream with just a little “how to” education. Remember that the install is only one part of the job, education of the client can and will save you headaches and will keep your excellent work lasting its lifetime.

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