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The Rundown on Calendered Vinyl Films

Calendered vinyl films were once thought of as an inferior economical choice, but some calendered vinyl film manufacturers have come a long way in terms of product quality and breadth, by offering conformability, durability and that image pop that is required for the application.

By Rick Moore, Marketing Director, MACtac Graphic Products

As consumers, we live in a world where we are bombarded by thousands of advertising messages everyday. This challenges advertisers to be creative with their messaging, keeping it fresh and finding new and innovative ways to permeate the market.

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  • One of the ways advertisers are accomplishing this goal is by continually changing the imagery and messaging associated with their products, and advertising in very non-traditional ways — from airline trays and elevator doors to skyscrapers and even water towers. This shift in the past five years has driven product development for graphic vinyl to shorter run digital printing and shorter term calendered vinyl films.

    Even though calendered vinyl films were once thought of as an inferior economical choice, some calendered vinyl film manufacturers have come a long way in terms of product quality and breadth, by offering advertisers the conformability, durability and image pop that they require, regardless of the application. The one thing that hasn’t changed is affordability, which is reflected in the high demand for calendered films. Meanwhile, cast film demand remains flat to declining in relation to application mix.

    Calendered vinyl films are named for the manufacturing process by which they are made. Like all vinyl films, calendered vinyl films are usually comprised of a mixture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polymer, plasticizers, pigments and other additives that provide UV resistance and high-heat stability. To make a calendered vinyl film, the materials are mixed and heated, then extruded though a series of calendaring rolls that press the mixture into a flat sheet. Textures are added during this process using special cylinders, so the product is considered ‘finished’ as it comes off the rollers. This process is simple, efficient and economical.

    Traditionally, calendered vinyl films are between 3.2-mil and 4-mil thick. However, in recent years, advances in calendered technology have enabled them to be thinner (as low as 2-mils), while still offering longer term durability (up to 10 years). Some calendered vinyl films can now offer industry-leading shrinkage resistance, gloss and performance, depending on the chemical additives used in developing the film.

    As a result of much advancement over the years, calendered vinyl films are now a great choice for a wide variety of graphic applications. Just to name a few:

    When combined, calendered vinyl and overlaminate provide a paint-like finish, as well as ultra-conformability, durability and easy application.

    Automotive Wrapping: Companies are seeing the advertising impressions that result from using vehicle wraps for special promotions and corporate identification. Calendered films are becoming popular for this because they are now just as thin and conformable as their cast alternatives, but at a much more competitive cost, which is beneficial for the increasing frequency of updating campaigns and messaging.

    Wall graphics are a hot trend for retailers and homeowners because they add interest to walls, but are easy to remove when it is time to change the decor. Calendered vinyl films are an ideal choice for wall graphics because they are easy to work with and provide great image pop.

    Wall Graphics: Trend alert! This is a hot trend for retailers and homeowners. Retailers use wall graphics to create large impact areas for their stores, and drive their branding message home by creating custom wallpaper and furniture. Homeowners use them as a creative way to decorate their home for short-term events such as theme parties, or longer term projects such as adding a family mural to a wall or cartoon inspired decals for a child’s room. Calendered films are the perfect choice for wall graphics because they are easy to work with and provide great image pop.

    Floor Graphics: The relative rigidity and caliper of some calendered films makes them ideal for floor graphics because they are easy to handle and strong enough to stand up to the demands. In floor applications, an overlaminate is always recommended to protect the image against the wear and tear of foot traffic and floor cleaners as well as to provide the required slip resistance needed by law to avoid injuries. (See industry standard ASTM D2047 for more information on the static coefficient of friction requirements for floor graphics).

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    Today’s retailers are challenged to continually pique the interest of consumers, and many are turning to shorter term graphic applications to keep their messages fresh. Calendered vinyl films provide the necessary conformability, durability and ease of use — all at an economical price.

    Screen Printing: Calendered films have always been the media of choice for screen printers for a number of reasons. First, screen printers most often do larger runs, so calendered films are much more economical. Second, screen printed projects are more likely to change frequently, so they do not need long-term durability. Third, the flexibility of calendered films allows them to be used in a lot of creative promotions.

    Matching the Product to the Job
    First and foremost, any film choice needs to meet your customer’s expectations. Asking your customers what they really need is an important step. Frequently customers “over-pay” because the product offering is designed (and priced) to significantly outlast their intended purpose for the application (i.e., an eight-year cast product for a vehicle graphic that will be changed in three to five years). The same dichotomy exists with adhesives that are more aggressive than necessary or laminate choices that do not protect or enhance the image produced by the vinyl and your equipment.

    So, making the selection between cast versus calendered vinyl film is not the only thing to consider when specifying a job. Perhaps more important than the film type, and certainly more important than the manufacturing process, is the entire graphic system as a whole. The finished graphic is more than just the film; it includes the vinyl, adhesive and over-laminate. Here are a few questions to ask that will help specify the right system for the application:

    • What type of print quality and finish do you desire?
    • How can you maximize your output size for minimal waste? What is the best method to print the graphic to maximize productivity?
    • In what environment will the graphic be applied, including weather conditions, lighting and to what substrate?
    • How long would you like the graphic to last?
    • What media choice is going to meet your need effectively, and also maximize your profitability?

    Answering these questions will help determine the durability, adhesive, overlaminate and finish needed for the specific application, and, at the same time, directly affect your bottom line. It will also assist you in meeting the requirements of your manufacturer’s warranty.

    Performance is Key from the Product and Supplier
    With all of these variables, it is clearly important to work closely with your graphics supplier to specify the right graphic system for an application. Reputable manufacturers and suppliers publish a wide variety of information to assist you with this task on their Web sites. This information includes performance guides that explain the technical nuances of the product, such as thicknesses, peel adhesion, face stock data, shrinkage, durability, chemical resistance and adhesive qualities.

    Performance guides also should include warranties, as well as these applicable testing methods:

    • Thickness (film plus adhesive)
    • Peel Adhesion
    • Face Materials Data (tensile and elongation)
    • Dimensional Stability (shrinkage)
    • Flammability

    Remember, as you wade through all of the performance criteria of the various products available on the market, the application and its requirements should drive product selection. And with the advancements in calendered vinyl films, the number of options available to give your graphics the impact and durability they need have greatly increased.

    So what’s the deal with calendered vinyl films? When you are a printing professional that needs to make your product stand out in a crowd, make sure to consider high quality, cost-effective cast alternatives as a part of your competitive edge.

    That’s the deal that will help you grow in a highly competitive market where pennies will begin to count. If the options become overwhelming, work with your preferred media provider to find the right product system to fit your application needs. More and more, those needs are being met by today’s high performance calendered films.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, 2nd Quarter 2007 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2007 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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