Hidden Elegance: Window Privacy Films with Glass-Like Finishes

Either printable or plottable, these window films offer a cost-effective design aesthetic paired with ease of install and removal.

By Melissa Donovan, https://www.digitaloutput.net

Window films for privacy and finishing are used on the interior and exterior of commercial and residential buildings. Advancements occurring in pressure-sensitive adhesion technology as well as liners and facestocks make it easier than ever to transform a space.

Media exhibiting glass-like finishes such as frosted, etched, and dusted are popular options. Either printable or plottable, these window films offer a cost-effective design aesthetic paired with ease of install and removal.

“Windows play a crucial role in any space and films help achieve key design elements such as functionality, privacy, ambiance, unity, and color. The combination of visual light transmission paired with plotting and printing capabilities of the film creates a dual-purpose product that not only creates visual blockage but also allows for branding and customization that balances both the aesthetics and functionality of the space,” says John Sharkey, director of sales – wide format and specialty products, Nekoosa.

Above: Available in Deep Etch, Light Etch, Dusted Crystal, Frost, Sand Blast, and Sand Matte finishes, each Nekoosa Glass Finishes film offers a degree of privacy by obscuring direct visibility while allowing excellent light transmission.

Propelling Demand
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that window films featuring a glass-like finish are popular. Design trends, advancements in media technology, and an increase in demand for privacy—while maintaining a visually appealing graphic—are just a few of the reasons there is an uptick in interest for these products.

On the one hand, Jim Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec of America, Inc., believes changing architectural and interior design trends influence the demand for window film. “Many modern designs incorporate large windows and glass elements, which can create privacy and decorative challenges. Window films provide a versatile solution to address these challenges while maintaining a stylish appearance.”

“Window films give windows and mirrors an exclusive look, whether they are used for promotional purposes or to create more privacy,” says Bruno Vanoppen, marketeer, Grafityp Selfadhesive Products.

Independent research conducted by Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions found that “in the last five years, over half of contractors, architects, and designers indicated that office projects were among their top three project types, followed by education and hospitals/healthcare. Over the next three years we expect to see an increase in biotech/life science and hospitals/healthcare facilities projects,” shares Heather Hammond, associate product manager, Avery Dennison.

All of the aforementioned environments benefit from window films with a glass-like finish. Technology advancements enable contractors, architects, and designers to utilize these products to their fullest. “The development of more sophisticated and customizable window films allow for catering to different needs and preferences. As a result, the market for window films is expanding to include a broader range of customers—homeowners, businesses, and government organizations. Overall, the demand for window films is expected to grow as more people become aware of the benefits and versatility,” foresees Amanda Smith, marketing communications manager, graphic and signage solutions, Mactac.

“The rise in demand for window films has increased in recent years due to privacy concerns as well as the availability of innovative window film solutions in the market. Improved print technologies allow printers and designers to produce more creative images on window films,” agrees Sharkey.

Even with the more people working from home thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric Norby, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc., still sees strong demand for window films.

Jay Kroll, product manager for cut, transit, and wall solutions, General Formulations, admits that the COVID-19 pandemic invigorated graphic communication for surfaces like walls, windows, and floors. “That kind of attention for these application areas is great for familiarizing end users with the materials and options available to decorate their space or better represent their brand. Print service providers (PSPs) are able to piggyback these additional projects with an existing customer base as their familiarity with the film options expands as well.”

Seen Here
Window films, more specifically those with glass-like finishes designed for privacy and finishing purposes, are found in both interior and exterior environments. While the commercial sector is more prone to employing this media, there are instances of it in residential spaces.

“The most common area we see these films being used for is interior and exterior commercial spaces such as offices or event spaces where confidentiality and discretion are crucial, but so are aesthetics and visual appearance,” explains Sharkey.

Halloran agrees, citing business, offices, and public institutions as commercial spaces using window films to create a more comfortable and secure environment.

“Office spaces with glass wall dividers for executive suites or fishbowl-like conference rooms are great for providing an open, airy space, but the unfettered visibility can also be a distraction both for those in the meeting space or walking by. The use of an etched decorative film—whether solid, contoured, or as cut accents—can help bring a feeling of privacy to the space without sacrificing light and by adding to the overall aesthetic,” says Kroll.

Based on Avery Dennison’s research “office, education, and hospital/healthcare are the top three project types for designers, architects, and contractors when it comes to decorative films. Property managers differ slightly with office, retail, and warehouse projects as their top three project types,” notes Hammond.

Vanoppen admits that while Grafityp’s window films were initially used for commercial purposes, it has expanded in recent years to residential settings and personal offices. The reason, “they are a less expensive alternative for sandblasted glass, even though you can hardly tell the difference. Besides, sandblasted glass is permanent. A window film can be removed, after which the glass is in its original state again.”

“Cost is an important advantage of decorative films. With Avery Dennison decorative films, you receive the look of etched glass at a fraction of the cost,” says Hammond.

Today, “window films are used everywhere there is glass, and can be used for everything, from very temporary, promotional displays up to semi-permanent architectural embellishments. I recently saw a window film obfuscating a load-bearing column inside a museum, changing the appearance of the heavy stone column to a light, open feature of the room,” shares Norby.

Added Benefits
While window films with glass-like finishes’ primary advantages are privacy paired with a high-end visual appearance, they also offer a host of other benefits worth noting from reducing UV rays to protecting the glass from natural disasters or bird strikes.

Beyond enhancing privacy, window films can help reduce glare from UV rays. “As more businesses prioritize sustainability and energy savings, the demand for window films in this sector has grown,” explains Halloran.

“Reducing the amount of UV rays entering a space helps to prevent furniture, floors, and other elements from fading. Window films also offer energy saving benefits by reducing the amount of heat entering a space during Summer months and retaining heat during Winter months,” adds Smith.

Additionally, “some window films can provide safety benefits by strengthening the glass, to help prevent breakage and shattering during natural disasters or break-in attempts,” continues Smith.

Nekoosa Glass Finishes offers a Bird Safety Film engineered to allow birds to see windows that otherwise appear invisible.

Popular Finishes
Window films exhibiting glass-like finishes are available in dusted and etched to crystal, frost, or sandblasted effect. The variety allows PSPs, architects, designers, and the end user to find a solution that truly fits their needs.

“Typical privacy films will have a hazy appearance designed to allow light to go through, but restricting visibility of people or things on the opposite side. Often referred to as a 24-hour privacy film for its ability to remain translucent and opaque regardless of whether it is lit from the front or back, it’s accomplished with components of film finish, color, haze, and additives like metallic flakes for that deep etch crystalline appearance,” explains Kroll.

Smith details what each specific finish looks like. “A dusted finish gives the window a sandblasted appearance, which is visually appealing; while an etched finish has a more intricate, frosted design on the film. A crystal finish gives the window a shiny appearance, while a frost finish can be used for an opaque look. Lastly, a sandblasted finish provides a textured effect and is ideal for creating a distinctive window look.”

“Depending on the desired level of privacy, end users opt for an etched or dusted look—these films have the solid translucent surface that you think of when you think of a window film,” says Norby.

Out of Nekoosa’s line of products, Sharkey finds the Dusted Crystal finish the most popular because of “its subtle, sophisticated, and modern appearance. The semi-translucent look adds a touch of elegance to windows without being overly flashy, all while providing the perfect amount of privacy.”

Printable Films
Most—if not all—window films designed for privacy and finishing purposes are plottable, and today thanks to advancements in technology, many are also digitally printable. Their ability to be printed is increasingly popular as PSPs can create one-of-a-kind window films.

“Those looking for more decorative window films have a variety of patterns and/or printable films to customize their space. With the increasing popularity of white ink UV printers, PSPs create bespoke window films,” shares Norby.

More media manufacturers provide digitally printable versions of their glass-like films. For example, Grafityp offers one of its etched glass films in a digitally printable version. According to Vanoppen, the film doesn’t present any special challenges.

“Print providers will find it easy to print digitally printable window films designed for privacy and finishing purposes. Print media such as Mactac B-free Window Films are profiled and tested for printing and can have a beautiful result,” shares Smith.

Despite media specifically developed for printing, there are still challenges to contend with. “Ink adhesion and consistent color accuracy are the two biggest challenges when it comes to printing on window films. Additionally, the images on window films need to be designed and printed for easy installation,” admits Sharkey.

In regards to design, Norby says “it’s difficult to envision the way a print will look on a translucent window film, especially because the lighting might change over a day from frontlit in the daytime to backlit at night.”

Lamination—or lack of—also needs to be considered. “A big challenge here is to be able to protect ink during installation or through the life of the graphic without adding a laminate—as the look of the product is tied heavily to the film’s finish. For these films, the use of an application tape is highly recommended during install,” suggests Kroll.

“Films often change appearance when laminated, so it’s important to make sure that the film still looks correct after lamination, or to inform your customer that outdoor durability will be impacted by an unlaminated, printed graphic,” explains Norby.

Expanding Audience
PSPs can enrich their product portfolios by offering window films with glass-like finishes to current customers as well as expanding to new customers/market verticals.

Customization of window films allows print providers to capture additional business with current customers as well as new business. Starkey points out that the ability to print and finish window films offer print providers an advantage over those not printing to glass films. The variety of finishes available give both the print provider and end user the ability to design and create premium window graphics. “Custom window graphics gives the provider the opportunity to capture additional business in retail, interior decor, and hospitality.”

According to Kroll, a PSP’s greatest asset—besides its customer list—it its “ability to help spark creativity and new ideas with patrons, enriching its brand and design with additional elements that leverage its unique position as dreamer and do-er, taking those big dreams and making them tangible and real.”

“Decorative films—especially those that offer privacy—continue to be popular. If PSPs want to capture this market audience then including these films in their product portfolios is a must,” attests Hammond.

Glass Goals
Offering privacy, safety, and aesthetics, window films with glass-like finishes are a growing segment in the graphic arts. PSPs can leverage existing relationships as well branch off into new verticals by offering these materials. Popular in commercial settings, but finding a place in residential as well, window films are used as-is with many preferring a simple dusted or etched look. Others may prefer to up the ante by collaborating with a PSP and creating a custom design.

Visit digitaloutput.net for more on window films with glass-like finishes, watch a replay of a recent webinar or read a roundup on available products from vendors mentioned here.

Feb2024, Digital Output