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The UK must have one of the most buoyant markets for vehicle livery work of any developed country. Why this might be is difficult to say with any certainty but one thing is sure – the competition it creates informs the need for competitive prices, high standards of quality and creative excellence too and the sign and graphics industries have responded.

Of all the products and technologies we put in harness to participate in the market for vehicle liveries, media has probably evolved the furthest,  which is why signmakers should occasionally stop and consider whether they’ve  maintained the same pace or whether they are fighting with something sub-optimal for no reason other than that’s what they’ve always used.

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest sticks that’s been used as a spur to media developments for livery, is the advent of digital print. When inkjet printers came along, materials were already there. Some worked and some didn’t; those that did were quickly assigned the ‘digital’ badge, and the ones that didn’t met with a rapidly diminishing market.

According to Paul French, Metamark’s Chief Exectutive Officer, most ‘materials’ can get past the entrance of the ‘media’ club, but you’ve only to look at the output they yield to see that they have limboed under its door.

He said: “Poorly qualified media is not very tolerant of ink in general. It may fail in the adhesion stakes or be excessively soluble in the ink. If that’s the case, simply limiting the amount of ink via the material’s profile may fix the symptoms. Unfortunately though, limiting the ink may also limit the quality and colour gamut too, as less ink means fewer colours.”

That might be an issue in a market where the requirement is for larger-than-life impact.

Metamark has always claimed that its materials have a healthy appetite for ink and it provides a long list of performance benefits for anyone using its MD-Class media. There’s obviously a correlation between the printer-hardware’s performance and the media it’s printed on. Then there’s the arguably more important correlation with application specific performance.

Vehicle liveries create, without question, the most demanding of all application environments for printed graphics. Most vehicles live and die in the great outdoors and so the graphics applied to them see all that the weather can throw at them. Under the general heading of ‘weathering,’ all sorts of failure awaits poorly specified vehicle liveries.

Fading seems like an obvious one and all the more so when it’s seen in the flesh. A fleet that’s had liveries applied over time may look highly variable when its vehicles are viewed in the same place, at the same time. Paul French hands a share of the performance impact to the ink manufacturers, but accepts much in terms of the mitigation of the issue on the part of materials.

He observed: “Again, getting a decent amount of ink on the material is key, but there’s no question that laminating the applied print has the most positive impact Just make sure it’s a matched laminate though!”

Many manufacturers, Metamark included, offer matched laminates, but it’s worth making the point that this means it’s matched to the print’s substrate and not to the application per-se. In Metamark’s case, the laminates in the MD/MG range are mechanically matched, which means that they have the same basic elongation tendencies as the substrates they protect. That makes a difference when flat materials are being coerced over curved vehicle surfaces.

In terms of grails to quest for, an out-performing adhesive is there at the top of the list in response to markets’ needs. Many attempts have been made to ‘manage’ adhesive performance, some with disastrous results. Time was that adhesive used to grab like a footballer’s wife with a new Range Rover but now, thanks to market-led progress, things are more civilised. If you’re having difficulty applying media and materials these days, chances are that events have overtaken what you’re using. What we think of as ‘glue’ has actually become very smart.

Metamark distinguishes its smartest adhesive under the Apex heading, a patented formulation centred around single-component, fully-crosslinked chemistry. Put another way, it’s easy to reposition, builds to a very high bond and yet removes without leaving a trace of evidence that it was ever there.

S-and-S-Signs-and-GraphicsWhy should we care though? Well, anything that makes life easier in the application stakes has to be welcome. If we can make life simpler when producing staple output, such as vehicle liveries, then we probably should. End of life removal is most certainly an issue with both large fleets and those that display applied graphics for an advertising season.

Air evacuation schemes are now widely available and seem to work if the market uptake is any indication. These technologies make big demands of the adhesive system, so it pays to select a reputable brand. Opaquing inclusions that minimise substrate show-through is another feature to watch out for. Taken with a good, high performing face-film, these really can make graphics pop.

Though Metamark counts itself among the media sector’s key innovators, Paul French maintains that the market can always be counted on to find ingenious ends to its challenges. He reported: “We make a material with a black inter-layer that we call MD5-B, which we designed especially for those situations where a display printer might need a material that light can’t get through. Last time I checked, light couldn’t get through vehicle panels but it hasn’t stopped signmakers using the material for liveries!”

Apparently some of Metamark’s customers use the material as a foundation layer that they apply to vehicles that have some sort of permanent blight that’s too expensive to repair. A good example would be filler, or painted markings. It seems that MD5-B doesn’t just minimise the scar showing through, it eliminates it. So, when faced with the choice of an expensive paint repair job or reaching for the same thing on a roll, many car owners are choosing the roll option.

Vehicle livery is a market with many facets and one where some sectors of it drift off into the exotic. Anything that combines an element of customisation and someone’s four-wheeled pride-and-joy is likely to lead to more premium pricing. To this end, signmakers could do worse than turn to a roll of carbon-fibre effect material, and see where it takes them.

They should consider also the fact that a fleet is a persistent entity. That means there’s lots of rotation and churn within it. Rather than representing a single sale, they may be dealing with something that returns an annuity. However, let’s never forget that livery application can be challenging and the application itself brutally applies its own standards. Compromise on quality and the job will return, but not in a good way; get it right and watch the business roll in!

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