Film Tech

Jun 10, 2011

From protection to performance to privacy, the reasons for customers to purchase today’s advanced window films are numerous. For every motivation to purchase, however, there are equal numbers of technical considerations for the restylers who sell and install films.

As the technology we all enjoy in our vehicles progresses – from simple terrestrial radios to the most advanced GPS, satellite radio, navigation units and WiFi – those technical considerations become even more important.

As much as these considerations change the window film market and its key demographics, much has remained the same: Primarily, drivers today are as intent as ever in their desire for technically capable window film applications.

Fred Zwilling, distribution manager (and former director of training) for Carson, Calif.-based Johnson Window Films and a former window film shop owner, notes that while safety is important, privacy may be the most popular reason for customers to purchase window film products.

“The No. 1 reason people purchase these products in privacy,” he says. “Once you’ve had a vehicle with great film, if you go without it you feel like you’re driving in a fish bowl. Safety, too, is important – in an accident, having film installed will reduce the amount of broken and flying glass – but privacy is still a more common reason to buy film.”

According to Tony Scire, senior account representative, 3M Auto Care Market Center, St. Paul, Minn., a supplier of window films in the automotive aftermarket, there is a wide array of reasons to have window tint on your car today. And even as more new vehicles roll off the dealer lot with colored glass as original equipment, there is a great opportunity to offer higher-end, more-effective film products.

From “fuel efficiency, economy, comfort, preventing interior fading to preventing skin cancer – having those reasons is very important,” says Scire. “But it’s very important to consider that a lot of the cars, especially SUVS, that are coming out of the factory with privacy glass that is color within the glass, there’s no thermal barrier within that glass.”

That is just privacy, he says, but nothing more.

Factory tint not on a par with window film

And the limitations of factory glass, in and of themselves, create a great deal of opportunity for aftermarket film suppliers and installers.

“When you apply a low visible light transmitted [or VLT] film to an already dark window, such as on an SUV, you’re creating not only the privacy effect, but you’re giving yourself all of the benefits of the thermal barrier for heat rejection and heat absorption,” Scire adds. “It’s very important to understand that even though the glass looks dark coming out of the factory, there are no thermal performance characteristics in the glass.”

Josh Buis, vice president of Window Film Operations for Cloverdale, Ind.-based Scorpion Window Films agrees that while factory glass may look similar to windows that have aftermarket films installed on them, the performance is rarely up to par with the aftermarket.

“There are many vehicle manufacturers that provide tinted windows from the factory, but this is nothing more than privacy glass and offers vary little protection from the sun and all of its damaging properties,” he says. “The addition of a light VLT film over your OEM privacy glass will increase the protection on the interior in the rear of your vehicle.”

All of which is to say that when it comes to protection, most OEM window treatments are generally focused only on aesthetics, not performance. That becomes a key selling point for restylers as they educate their customers.

Aftermarket films, however, provide a host of other benefits beyond mere appearance, says Ari Sacal, automotive product market manager at Solar Gard, manufactured by Bekaert Specialty Films, San Diego.

“In North America, 90% of side and rear car windows manufactured today offer very minimal protection from UVA rays,” Sacal says, noting that aftermarket films can block up to 99% of UVA and UVB. “[Aftermarket products shield] passengers against premature aging and skin cancer, and discoloration or fading of leather, vinyl and fabric – and protect a customer’s investment in their vehicle by protecting passengers and the vehicle interior from UV rays, enhancing passenger comfort and customizing the vehicles’ aesthetic appearance. This shield protects the passenger’s skin from the sun’s damaging rays, regardless of the film darkness.

“Window films also reject solar energy, decreasing a vehicle’s interior temperature, reducing the need for air conditioning, and cutting glare,” he adds.

Different tastes for different states

Sources tell Restyling that today’s window film customers are becoming more aware of the benefits of technologically advanced window films, and they now have numerous options to meet the varying needs of each individual driver, depending both on their geographic location and personal preferences.

Johnson Window Films’ Zwilling notes that, in general terms, ceramic and metallic films perform better in the hotter southern states, while more traditional dyed films perform better in cooler, northern states.

“Beyond merely performance, price also plays a factor,” he says. “Ceramic films, for instance, are more expensive, so you’ll see more interest in these films in places that are generally more affluent – Switzerland and Austria in Europe, for example, or Manhattan and Beverly Hills, domestically.”

Zwilling notes that standard films, hybrid or dyed films typically will be sold in higher volume in rural and economically depressed regions.

However, 3M’s Scire notes that state laws also dictate what film is available, to varying degrees:

“If you’re within a state that has high-VLT laws, then you’re going to be limited to a lighter film on the window so that you comply with state laws; but the biggest part of the decision is going to depend on what kind of performance you want with that film, relative to heat rejection and look,” he says.

“So all films, although they look the same on the roll, their performance relative to interior comfort is going to vary. There’s going to be a large price deviation between the technologies and how the customer chooses, and a lot of that will be based on a good-, better-, best-sell because the VLT options within the lines of film are fairly broad and will allow applications in most states around the U.S.”

Solar Gard’s Sacal notes that, beyond just state laws regarding VLT ratings, certain geographic areas have weather-related considerations that drive certain product considerations.

“Metalized films utilize metal layer coatings, typically aluminum, and tend to have a higher heat rejection,” he says. “They also offer protection from glare and UV light. The high heat rejection properties and UV protection of these types of films will bring the most benefit to warmer regions like the South, Southwest and West Coast.

“Dyed or metal-free films will be signal friendly with electronic devices, but may not offer as much heat rejection, so they will likely appeal to those in more seasonal regions like the Northeast or Mountain West,” Sacal adds. “Films made with nanotechnology -¦ use very small particles to selectively transmit visible light and block the sun’s infrared heat. The result is a radio signal friendly film with high heat rejection, UV protection and glare reduction. These films will likely appeal to customers in all geographic regions.

Sacal notes that when dealing with customers who are focused on the aesthetics of a window film, a restyler will want to suggest a color-stable film to “avoid the stereotypical ugly purple windows.”

Beyond merely geographical location, Scorpion Window Films’ Buis notes that customer driving habits also play a part in fitting the right film to each customer’s needs.-¨”Films that are dyed, metalized, ceramic and hybrid dyed/metalized all offer varying amounts of protection based not only on geographical regions, but customer preference, as well,” he says. “Many high-performing films are available to give you excellent heat rejection as well as protection from the sun’s violent rays that may cause skin damage. Those consumers that spend a lot of time in their car traveling receive an excessive amount of exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.”

Technical considerations

While advances of recent years in regard to window film materials have provided great new options for restylers and their customers, they haven’t come without related technical considerations.

First and foremost, says Scorpion Window Films’ Buis, is the tendency for metallic films to interfere with some aftermarket electronic accessories like radios (both terrestrial and satellite), cell phones and Bluetooth units or onboard navigation units.

“With the ever-growing world of electronics in not only high-end vehicles but all vehicles, it is crucial that you pay attention to your customers and their needs,” says Buis. “While it is said that films containing metals will cause interference, it is hard to pinpoint an exact culprit. Many manufacturers vary in their film production process. Some may contain more metals or a varying type of metal that may or may not interfere with your vehicles’ electronics.”

Buis says that for each of those occurrences of interference, there are film applications to solve the problem.

“There are many options for installers that wish to avoid any possible occurrence,” he notes. “With today’s dyed films being produced to last just as long as a high-performance film, these films will give you lifelong protection and color stability to exceed the expectations of all your customers, whether they are a high-end or a budget-conscious shopper.”

Johnson Window Films’ Zwilling notes that in many cases, newer vehicles now have antennae and transmission for onboard technology outside the vehicle (as opposed to mounted on or in the windshield or windows.)

“In the older vehicles, you’d have the antennae in the windshield,” he notes. “Today, that technology will be housed within a fin on the roof or something similar. That inherently cuts down on the challenges you’d run into when installing window film.”

3M’s Scire notes that electronics are often the primary consideration when choosing which film to suggest to a potential customer.

“Today, choosing your film – is really going to be driven upon the onboard electronics that are on cars today,” he says, noting that 3M specifically limits what types of materials are used in their specialty and nanotechnology lines to avoid interfering with onboard technology. “Because there’s no metal involved in these films, you can apply them in any VLT to any window on the car, and not run the risk of having any AM, cell phone, GPS or new-to-come technology interference within the cars.”

Scire notes that choosing the right film technology for a certain customer’s preferences and technology choices are even more important given the increased sophistication of today’s OEM electronics.

“A lot of the Japanese-, German- and Italian-engineered cars today have very sophisticated onboard electronics,” he notes. “If you stick with specialty films which are carbon-based films and nanotechnology films – because there is no presence of metal in any of those products -” then you don’t have to worry about any of the electronics that are going into today’s new cars.”

With new technology going into older, pre-owned vehicles, the same considerations apply, says Scorpion’s Buis. In used vehicles, however, cost is often a bigger factor. “Cost is usually a factor in choosing between the different types of film,” he says. “Dyed films are usually more affordable. This is where customer interaction is important for you and the customer to decide what is important to them.”

Another significant concern for both window film installers and customers is the durability of a specific product. In this regard, Solar Gard’s Sacal notes that purchasing film from a reputable national manufacturer with a track record of supporting its products is an important decision.

“It is important to search for products which have a national manufacturer’s backed warranty – in order to avoid films which may bubble, peel or change color with time,” he notes.

By taking these decisions – the type of material, VLT, the effects on technology, quality of product and support from the manufacturer – into account as a restyler consults with his or her customer, the sale and purchase of today’s high-tech window films can be both profitable and beneficial.


Window Film Tips & Tricks

“In regards to tools, I think it’s important for installers to always be on the lookout for creative uses for tools from other industries. If you’re at a Home Depot, be on the lookout for other uses for the products they sell. Most of the tools in this industry came about as adaptations from other industries.”
– Fred Zwilling, Johnson Window Films

“The most important tip is actually one of the most simple: Pay attention to detail. Especially when you’re dealing with the more expensive ceramic or metallic films, mistakes can be incredibly expensive. Be sure to take the time you need to do installations right the first time.”
– Fred Zwilling, Johnson Window Films

“One tip installers might overlook is the amount of soap they use when installing film. It’s important not to use too much soap in your mounting solution. Too much soap added to the mounting solution makes the film very easy to position but can negatively affect the film’s ability to adhere to the glass surface in the short and long term.”
–  Jon Mitchell, Solar Gard

“Installers should also ensure proper removal of the mounting solution fluid by using a squeegee in good condition. It should have a sharp edge and be free of grooves and nicks. A squeegee with a nick in the edge can leave a small trail of fluid, resulting in an uneven dry-out and a longer dry-out period.”
-” Jon Mitchell, Solar Gard

“Maintain your tools. Keep the edges clean to prevent scratching, gouging, or even tearing the film. The right tools make the job easier and save time.”
-” Josh Buis, – Scorpion Window Films

“Techniques will vary: You can ask 100 film installers how they do a certain installation and you can receive 100 different answers. The main thing is, once you have a routine that works for you, stick with it.”
–  Josh Buis, – Scorpion Window Films

“My biggest tip to new installers is practice and cleanliness. I believe window prep is the most important part of film installation. Once you get a few cars under your belt, cutting patterns and shrinking becomes easy. Making sure your glass is as clean as possible is crucial. You can cut your best pattern, shave the edges, have the perfect fit and the install can be ruined by debris in between the glass and film.”
– Josh Buis, – Scorpion Window Films

“One of the things we suggest with installers is to create a sterile, climate-controlled environment. When you’re going with specialty films that cost a lot of money, you want to make sure that the installation goes on right the first time. To have a non-open-air environment is important because you don’t want to have contamination in your film.
– Tony Scire, – 3M Auto Care Market Center

“It’s also important to not try to push a tool too far. If an installer has a favorite squeegee or tool that he’s using and that tool becomes worn and the edges become brittle, it can often scratch the film or damage it toward the end of an installation; so we encourage that they change out their tools fairly frequently.”
– Tony Scire, – 3M Auto Care Market Center

“When you’re dealing with specialty films, especially on an older car or a European import with very tight gaskets, it’s important to check to make sure that the channel has felt-lined rubber gaskets, so that when the window goes up and down within the regulator it doesn’t scratch the film.”  
– Tony Scire, – 3M Auto Care Market Center