Preparing Floors for Floor Graphics

Learn how to how to laminate the graphic, how to place it, how to prep the surface, and how to install the graphic so it will stay put and do its job.

With floor graphics representing a $2 billion industry, can you really afford not to get involved? The answer for most of you is “no.” But that doesn’t mean you should go in with your eyes halfway open.

Yes, your vehicle wrapping and vinyl installation skills with other substrates will come in handy with floor graphics. However, there’s a new thing or two you need to learn in order to make money with floor graphics.

If the edges of the graphics begin to peel up before the recommended lifespan of the product (which is typically not more than six months) then you’ll have to do the job over again. Why would the edges lift up? One reason is because the floor wasn’t properly prepared before you applied the graphic.

The moral of the story is you can spend a few extra minutes preparing now, or you can spend a lot more time redoing the job later. That’s really no choice at all. So read on to learn how to place the graphic, how to prep the surface, how to install the graphic, and how to laminate it for longevity.

Where to place the graphic
Before you set out to install a floor graphic, you need to be sure the vinyl will stick to the flooring material. Generally, floor graphics can be applied to waxed vinyl, sealed concrete, marble, ceramic tile, sealed wood and Terrazo, according to 3M.

But that’s not the only condition. The floor surface must be secure and in good condition. 3M suggests avoiding the temptation to install floor graphics over loose or uneven tile. The floor surface to which the graphic is applied should also be well secured, and free from cracks and chips, and missing and/or loose grout. The floor surface should also be free of silicone, as the presence of silicone will inhibit anchorage of the graphic to the floor surface.

Does that sound like a lot of shoulds? You’ll be glad you followed these suggestions in the end. Let’s add a few more dos and don’ts for good measure.

You’ll also want to be sure the floor finish is well bonded to the floor surface. That’s because floor finishes that aren’t well bonded may separate or release and result in the graphic lifting prematurely. What’s more, 3M suggests, the floor finish may come off with the graphic when the graphic is removed and demand the reapplication of the floor finish.

Complying with manufacturer recommendations
But wait! There are yet more requirements for graphic placement. For safety, and to maintain the integrity of the graphic, it is important to place the graphic in a moderate traffic area, away from main doorways, according to Avery Graphics.

It’s also important to note that the floor graphic will become slippery when wet. So it’s best to advise your client not to choose an installation location that where rain or snow is likely to find its way onto the graphic. If you are installing floor graphics in a warehouse setting then keep in mind that forklifts and tow motors can compromise the integrity of the graphic by spilling oil and tracking grime over the image.

Speaking from experience, Troy Downey owner APE Wraps, a digital graphics and wraps company in San Diego, Calif., says you have to ask yourself one more important question: What is your foot traffic volume and how long do you need the graphic to last?

“If we install floor graphics in a stadium, are they going to last and remain vibrant and look great with no curled up edges?” Downey asks. “That all depends on how many thousands of people are going to walk over it during that period of time. That is the down side. The upside is there are a lot of floors and a lot of surfaces to advertise on.”

Preparing the surface
Once you’ve determined the most appropriate location for the floor graphic, you’ll need to go through similar steps as you would to install vinyl on any other substrate. In other words, you need to prepare the surface for the graphic application.

If you don’t prepare the floor surface, then you compromise the durability of the floor graphic. In short, Avery explains, the application surface needs to be clean, smooth, and dry.

3M offers a system kit to prepare surfaces for floor graphics. But, if you don’t have this luxury ­ or if you are working with a very large graphic or a very dirty floor, you need to take additional measures. Here’s what 3M recommends:

Spray the floor.
First, spray the floor area where the graphic will be applied. Use a solution of 20 drops of detergent per pint (400 ml) of water. Do not use soaps or enzyme detergents. Clean the area.
Next, clean an area that is 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) larger than the graphic. This gives you a margin for error. Wipe the floor clean.
Now, wipe the floor clean and then dry it with a lint-free paper towel. Of course, 3M recommends its Perfect-it Wipe. But you can also use Kaydry Excel 6009 or something similar. The point is to make sure you remove all the soil and the grit without leaving lint in its wake. According to Avery Graphics, it is important to clean not only the area to which the graphic will be applied, but also eight to 10 inches around that area.

Remove any oil or grease.
This can’t be emphasized enough. You’ll need to wipe the floor with a clean, lint-free paper towel that has been moistened with rubbing alcohol that contains no lotions. Again, to avoid leaving a residue, wipe the surface completely dry with a lint-free paper towel before the alcohol evaporates.

“You may need to use tri-sodium phosphate to get up all the grime, bubble gum and grease,” Downey says. “A glossy surface is always better, but we don’t always have the luxury of working with glossy surfaces.”

If you are working with a painted floor, you have to do a paint test to make sure that if you have to reposition the graphic or when you remove the graphics, you are not also going to remove the paint with it. Consider this: Most permanent style floor graphics are going to use a permanent style adhesive, which is extremely aggressive.

Armed with this information, you are well on your way to a successful floor graphic installation. A final tip: Always pay close attention to the vinyl manufacturer’s specific guidelines. There could be additional requirements that make a big difference in the final application.

As seen on