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A Dilemma …. Branded or Unbranded?

Shane Drew puts a relatively unknown vinyl through it's paces. I’m not sure if I’m alone, but for several months now I’ve been pestered by Chinese suppliers to trial and test their products. Only today I received a DHL package with various chinese manufactured films for my examination.
All of these are unsolicited by me or anyone within my business.
I suspect my profile on various forums throughout the world, and my work as a freelance writer for various blogs and online magazines has got their attention.
Anyone that has followed my opinionated ramblings would know that I am an advocate of using ‘branded’ printing substrates over unbranded ones.
For the record, my personal preference is 3M products, but I am more than happy using Avery and Oracal products too. Between those 3 suppliers, I’m confident anyone can solve any installation concerns that a job may throw their way.
Recently I’ve been taken to task by several smaller independent wholesalers who argue that they can offer similar or better products supplied by niche manufacturers.
One of those companies is Colourgrafix based in Queensland’s Gold Coast.
Philip, the CEO, recently took me to task over my views on unbranded products. He argued very strongly that smaller wholesalers like him can compete with great products if given the chance, but often find it hard to be heard amongst the bigger players in the field.
It is a similar view that I have when it comes to smaller sign shops playing hard ball with the bigger players.
The problem is that I am very loyal to 3M and my present suppliers. I know the materials, I know the application method and I know what the material can and can’t do.
Philip argued passionately that unless I tried other brands, I would never know what else was out there. The argument was a fair one.
To his credit, Philip didn’t hesitate to put his money where his mouth was and gave me a roll of his best value air release permanent adhesive polymeric material to put to the test, through whatever I wanted to throw at it.
In the interests of journalistic integrity, no money was offered for me to do the testing, and no money was requested.  Philip actually put no conditions on me at all, which I found refreshing.
Because I’m not a huge fan of testing that involves token printing on A4 squares, my testing had to consist of ‘real’ sign jobs, in real environments, using real applications.
The first was for a non-profit that I often donate signs to. These signs were on corflute and laminated with, in this instance, a 3MIJ40 matte clear.
All signs were printed using the Roland VS640 with eco-max inks and all signs were applied dry.
The first thing I noticed was the print quality. It is as good as I’ve experienced on branded films, which has always been a concern of mine in the past.
The product called Jackal 15,000 series is a 100 micron polymeric film. It is certainly thicker than something like the Avery MPI 2105 Easy Apply ™ which is arguably one of the best products on the market in this category. This product though was certainly easy to apply. The air release was impressive, although I found the adhesive was a bit grippy. Once I modified my application technique it went down well.
Then we went on to Fibreglass. I decided to apply some signs to the side of a refrigerated truck.
The weather was cold, but within the surface temperature fitting range. Once again the grip was hard to get used to, but being laminated it was reasonably stiff and went on quickly. No application tape was needed, and a wide squeegee made the job a breeze. We did four drops and matching the design at each drop was no problem. The thicker material made that job much easier as its stretchability was greatly reduced.
In fact, it didn’t like to be stretched at all, and it constantly formed spears around any sharp edges. A shot of heat fixed that quickly though.
However, heating up the film surface to coax it around difficult sections wasn’t very successful either. Overheating the material turned it into something similar to melted plastic. Not an uncommon complaint with the thicker materials in the market.
After that, we applied it to sheets of glass. Once again, the surface was cold, colder than I would have liked, especially with such a strong adhesive.
This time, we applied the film un-laminated and with no application tape.
This was the first situation that I really wished I was using one of the ‘branded’ products that I know so well.
We were working in a confined area and the material creased easily and was clearly more brittle. It didn’t go down as easy un-laminated. We also found that the un-laminated material would tend to rip along the grid lines of the textured air release adhesive pattern.
Our last test was on a vehicle.
By now I was used to the adhesion, and I didn’t have much problem laying it down. We did strike a snag when trying to get it to curve and adhere under folds in the steel.
Going back and inspecting the job after about 4 hours we found the product was pulling away from the folds. Several attempts to get it to stick failed so we heated the material up till it was soft and had no problem after that.
Before we concluded our testing, we supplied several signs to novice and not so novice signies for their opinion and reactions.
To my surprise, one of my novice sign clients I supply contract printing to came back two days later and requested I change all his polymeric printing over to this new product. He’d fallen in love with the ease of application, and being a single operator, found the thicker laminated product easier to apply. One sign we did was 3600mm long and he felt it was a breeze to lay dry, and on his own.
The other signies didn’t have any complaints but most said they would rather stay with the branded materials at this stage as the materials were backed by a well-known and established manufacturer. Therein lies the problem with the unbranded materials for many sign shops. When their reputation is on the line, backup of a brand name has more weight.
Overall though, it seems a good product although I think it is more suited to flat surfaces, especially something along the lines of the transit, DIY or Real Estate markets.
The pros for this material: Excellent air release adhesive, Easy and quick dry application, Crisp clear prints on both our machines running a generic vinyl profile in VersaWorks, and price.
The cons for this material: Its thickness, especially if you use the matching laminate and its grippy adhesive.
The material itself is marketed in Australia by Rojo Pacific. According to their online profile they have been supplying the industry for 10 years in both film and substrates, and have almost two decades of experience in the industry.
Like the major players, they also offer a Product Guarantee.
So, I guess I have learned that there are indeed some products out there that perhaps deserve of a better wrap in the market.
Would I advocate everyone change from their branded polymeric products to this unbranded one?  
Well no, that’s not my call, but I’d certainly suggest that if you are not happy with your present polymeric supplier, it might not hurt to have an open mind on what the smaller players have to offer.
For the record, I did purchase a roll with matching laminate to honour my client’s request.
Before my 3M rep reads this and goes for his heart tablets, as the majority of my contracts and clients are 3M specific, you have nothing to fear….. for now. (Just kidding)

Shane Drew

www.vehiclewrap.com.au

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