A Basic Guide to Holographic Vinyl

Ferrari Digital Image Printed on Schein Holographic Silver Metal Flake

Ferrari digital image is printed on schein holographic "Sequins" silver metal flake vinyl film.

Adhesive backed vinyls for sign making fall into three categories; cast, calendared, and specialty. Previously we’ve talked about the differences between cast and calendared vinyl.

Now we will discuss one of the most popular of our specialty vinyls. Holographic vinyl comes in a considerable variety of metalized adhesive backed films. Most of these offer stunning visual effects including iridescent rainbow finishes, surface textures, and of course, the holographic diffraction for which the category is named.

In the Schein and Endura brands, SignWarehouse offers over 25 varieties in up to ten colors. Some of you may have experience with these high powered films. To others, this is a completely unfamiliar product.

Over the last few years, modern manufacturing processes have made resulted in better outdoor durability, better cutting, weeding, and printing characteristics which make holographics more versatile than ever. Let’s take a fresh look at what holographic films are, and how to use them to create dazzling signs and graphics.

How Holographic vinyl is made

As noted above, holographic vinyl is not your typical  pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) film.  Depending on the brand, it’s made from metalized PVC or metalized PET (polyester) with an embossed foil layer providing the distinctive visual character. The manufacturing process could be called a modern marvel. Iridescence, textures, and the ever popular holographic diffraction effects are embossed in the 2.5 – 3mil face film, then laminated with UV protectant, color and/or top-coat depending on the product.

Because of advances in manufacturing and materials, some of today’s holographic films are rated for up to five years outdoors. Not all brands and patterns are created equally, so ask before you buy. All Schein and Endura holographic vinyls are of the more advanced and durable varieties.

The most popular variant is the “lens or multi-lens which features a repeating fresnel lens pattern creating the illusion of a convex ball in the surface. It’s sometimes referred to as “ball vinyl” or “Christmas tree” vinyl because the lenses look like holiday ornaments. As wonderful as the holographic and iridescent effects are, they do have a downside in reduced conformability and an aversion to water. More on that later.

Schein and Endura holographic films comprise a permanent acrylic, pressure sensitive adhesive laminated to industry standard Kraft liners for easy release. Endura has heavier paper liner for superior layflat performance.

Holographic Vinyl Applications

The list of possible applications is endless. These dazzling films have been used on everything from aquariums to Zippo lighters, on race cars and roller skates, store shelving and snow mobiles. Here’s a brief summary of some of the more common applications.

  • Motor sports: Holographic vinyls have been used to create door numbers and graphics for stock cars for well over a decade. Its intense eye-catching impact appeals to speed demons from all over the USA and Europe. The most popular patterns for racing are the aforementioned lens and ¼” mosaic, also known as diffracto lite. Fluorescent vinyl is often used as an outline accent around holographic elements.
  • General signage: As noted above, advances in computer controlled manufacturing have lead to more conformable and UV resistant holographics. Schein and Endura films are now rated for up to five years outdoors. So any sign substrate that is suitable for calendared PVC vinyl is a possible application for holographics. An iridescent silver, colored chrome or faux metallic finish might be just the thing to give your vinyl graphics a little more pizzazz.  Contrast is one of the basic elements of good graphic design. You can’t get more visual contrast than Orange Chrome on a black substrate.
  • Custom vehicle graphics and accent stripes: The popularity of holographic vinyl in motor sports makes it a natural for custom vehicle graphics, and for the same reason. If you’re going to “pimp” someone’s ride, these vinyls should be in your tool kit. Unless your customer is restoring an entrant for the next Barrett-Jackson auction, he or she might be very pleased with a dash of red diamond plate or Hyper Plaid.
  • Retail window signage. When a retailer launches a promotion, effective POP signage is a must. One of the most effective uses of holographic vinyls I’ve seen was on the front door of a DFW area convenience store. They had placed a fairly small window graphic on the front door advertising the beverage that was on sale. Since it was done in a silver holographic vinyl on a black background, it was impossible to miss. The decal may have been supplied by the beverage distributor. Contact your local distributors and see if you can help them increase sales with this kind of eye catching retail signage.
  • Shelf liners: A related application is found inside the store. A mall chain of costume jewelry stores has used silver holographic films to line store shelves. The brilliance of the metalized silver vinyl draws shoppers’ eyes to the high margin merchandise. Suggest this tactic to your retail customers. If  you help them with more than just traditional signs and banners, you can become a valuable resource for all their marketing efforts.
  • Digital Print media: In addition to its myriad uses in vinyl cutters, silver holographic and iridescent vinyls can be used as digital print media. Depending on your choice of print methods, you can use Schein or Endura vinyls to add distinctive visual elements to your graphics because the embossed textures and patterns remain visible under the printed images.

Schein silver holographic vinyls can be used to create unique effects with thermal resin and solvent/ecosolvent printers. Endura holographic vinyl is not ecosolvent printable due to its acrylic top-coat. Both Schein and Endura films can be printed with thermal resin printers like the Gerber Edge, Summa DC3, or Roland ColorCamm. Printing on colors is not recommended as colored substrates throw off the CMYK values and cause unpredictable color shifts. Click here for more information about on process printing and non-white substrates.

  • Publishing, Scrap booking, Décor and more: Guinness Book of World Records publishes and annual update in hardback. Each year, there is a large holographic vinyl element on front cover. If holographic vinyl is suitable for hardback book covers, why not scrap booking? Schein Sequins could be a wonderful choice for scrap book and interior décor graphics.  Speaking of interior décor, Home and Garden TV has shown high end kitchen backsplash designs made from holographic vinyl. Be sure to laminate to protect from water. More on that later. And finally, because it’s made from self-extinguishing, non-burning PVC resins, Schein holographic vinyls are sometimes used as stage backdrops for concerts and other theatrical presentations. The larger lens patterns are ideal for these venues.
Holographic Vinyl Dos and Don’ts

The metalized foil face films that make the embossed effects possible also have a few drawbacks. As is the case with ultrametallic cast vinyls, the metallic element makes them a little less conformable, so they’re not recommended for application over rivets and compound curves.  The metalized layer can be corroded by contact with moisture. The polyester in Endura holographic vinyl is hydrophilic (it loves and attracts water). Wet applications using standard application fluids or dishwashing liquid will corrode the face film. Wet application of these products should be avoided whenever possible. If you must use application fluid, we recommend RapidTac II, which is specially formulated for use with non standard vinyls.

For marine applications, seal holographic vinyl with an overlaminate film or layer of transparent vinyl to protect from water damage. The best way to seal the film is to overcut the laminate layer so that it forms a ¼” border around the vinyl. Some customers prefer using ClearJet liquid laminate and a Sealit Pen.

As a roll of holographic vinyl is fed through a vinyl cutter or printer, sometimes the film begins to separate from the release liner. This is referred to as “tunneling”. It’s a minor issue because plotters will cut through the tunneled face film successfully so the quality of the weeded graphic is not affected. Tunneling in digital printing can be overcome by raising your printer’s head height to the higher setting to avoid head strikes.

If you have yet to use holographic vinyl in your shop, make adding these dazzling products one of your new year’s resolutions. If you’ve written them off as being only for short term graphics or stock cars, it’s time to take a fresh look at this thoroughly modern marvel. Feel free to share your favorite or most unusual applications for holographics in the comments below.

4 Comments

  1. AM STUDIOS says:

    I sometimes use holographic material as a background over which I put reflective material. Often the final piece is intended for use outdoors. Do you see any problems with this?

  2. JerryB_SW says:

    Hi AM Studios.
    Applying holographic on regular PVC vinyl is okay, but applying reflective on top of other films can be problematic, especially if the reflective is a traffic or engineer grade reflective with an acrylic face film. If at all possible, avoid applying reflective on holographics.
    I suggest you design and cut the graphic so that the holographic element is an outline or contour applied around the reflective, not beneath it.

  3. Heidi307 says:

    Hi There,
    Not a lot of companies stock Holographic films where I am based but I finally found a “Respect” holographic range.Any comments on this product? We will be using it for marine application. My design requires a small piece of chrome vinyl to be applied over the holographic vinyl. Will this cause a problem?

  4. Jerry says:

    Sorry Heidi, but we don’t have any information on “Respect” holographic vinyl. Applying a small piece of chrome over holographic may or may not work, depending on the composition of the film. A metallized PVC will be more suitable for that than a metallized polyester. So you need to find our more about the face film and construction of the brand you’ve selected. BUT…Using these films for marine applications is generally not recommended unless you laminate them or use an edge sealer like a Sealit pen. Exposure to water may corrode the foil layer in the film and cause it to fail.

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