More Than The Eye Can See

Mar 1, 2012

A clearer look at the window film market and how its technologies are changing.

It’s a matter of market and technology racing each other. The window film market keeps growing from both the consumers and the very products they use. But as new cars grow in features and options, window film raises its stock. We wanted a look at that market for this new year, so we asked a number of industry sources to give us the latest info.

Our first question was about all the new connected and wireless in-vehicle telematics and infotainment devices such as Bluetooth, iPod, satellite radio, navigation, Wi-Fi, etc. When using film with these, are there “radio-friendly” products we should use or avoid on these jobs?

‘Radio-friendly’ film

Cloverdale, Ind.-based Scorpion Window Film’s Josh Buis tells us, “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. 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 vehicle’s electronics. There are many options for installers that wish to avoid any possible occurrence. 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.”

Mark Gershenson at LLumar/Solutia, St. Louis, says, “Most window films will not interfere with electronic signal transmission. Window films with a high metal content can interfere with some radio frequencies on some vehicles, but it is somewhat dependent on where the antenna and sensors are built into the vehicle. To ensure no signal interference, most window film manufacturers offer a higher-performance window film with no metals to ensure that they are ‘radio friendly.’ Many of these films use nano-ceramic materials to provide heat rejection without creating signal interference.”

At  San Diego-based Solar Gard, a divison of Saint-Gobain North America, Valley Forge, Pa., which produces Solar Gard window film, Ari Sacal says, “Non-metalized and films made with nano-technology are ‘radio-friendly’ and tested to ensure they do not interfere with the electronics and wireless signals required by tire pressure monitoring systems, GPS, satellite radios, cell phones and Bluetooth. It is possible that certain metalized films may cause interference with wireless devices.”

Carson, Calif.-based Johnson Window Films’ Fred Zwilling gives us this: “If you’re looking for window film that is compatible with the new electronic technologies, there are a couple of things you should know. If a vehicle has a ‘shark fin’ on top installed by the manufacturer, then in general, it is OK to use any of the automotive films on the market today. Cars that have a factory device antenna installed on the rear window or with aftermarket electronics installed inside the car should stick to films that do not contain metals that can interfere with the transmission of radio waves.”

And at 3M, St. Paul, Minn., John Price says, “A non-metal window film is an ideal choice for a tint that will not interfere with wireless signals. Films to avoid would be any film containing metals.”

Consumer assist

We then asked about the advantages and benefits consumers should know about and what selling points should they be aware of. Gershenson from LLumar says,

“Window film has a number of benefits:

  • Heat rejection – window film can reject a significant amount of the solar energy, keeping the interior of the car cooler and more comfortable. This can lead to lower air conditioner usage, which in turn can lead to fuel savings, as well as lower CO emissions.
  • UV protection – window film can block up to 99.9% of UV rays. UV is a known cause of skin cancer and interior fading of the vehicle.
  • Glare reduction – window film can enhance comfort and safety by reducing glare, which causes eye fatigue.
  • Style and appearance – window films are available in a wide range of colors and shades to enhance the appearance of any vehicle.
  • Privacy – window film provides more privacy for vehicle occupants and contents.
  • Safety – window film designed for safety and security can hold glass fragments together in case of an accident that causes the glass to shatter.
  • It can also help to deter ‘smash and grab’ theft.”Sacal from Solar Gard points out, “In North America, 90% of side and rear car windows manufactured today offer very minimal protection from UVA rays. -¦ Automotive window film protects a customer’s investment in their vehicle by protecting passengers and the vehicle interior from UV rays, enhancing passenger comfort and customizing the vehicle’s aesthetic appearance…Window film can reject up to 60% of the sun’s energy, decreasing the driver’s dependency on air conditioning.”

Zwilling from Johnson says, “One of the greatest benefits of window film is an invisible one. By blocking virtually all (99% or more) of the sun’s harmful UV rays, window film protects passengers’ skin and eyes, like a sunscreen. An effective solar shield, it slows down the effects of fading and cracking of the car’s interior, as well.”

3M’s Price says, “Depending on the film and the climate, there can be a potential saving in gas. It really depends on the car, the location and how much the A/C is running.”

Like our other experts, Buis from Scorpion concurs with all the benefits just cited, reminding installers to promote those advantages. “Besides the obvious reasons to have film installed on your vehicle such as glare and heat reduction, consumers should consider [all of those] added benefits.”

Then there’s the ‘look’

Besides the comfort, safety and protective aspects of window film, Sacal notes the enhanced aesthetics, that films are “available in a variety of shades and colors,” he says. “Window film creates a sleek, customized look.”

Zwilling adds that, “Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the many benefits of window film beyond good looks. The Internet allows consumers to research films on the Web and educate themselves like never before. Heat reduction, UV protection, cutting glare, reducing fading and improving safety are the primary reasons people choose film. Everyone loves the great looks and appearance it gives any vehicle.”

Price simplifies it with, “Two primary reasons for window film would be comfort and style.”

Gershenson points out a common misconception: “In the U.S., most consumers have window film installed for improved style and appearance as well as heat rejection. Some car buyers will not have window film installed because they think they must have a dark window film to have sufficient heat rejection. With the technologies available in window film today, consumers can enjoy good heat rejection with very light films.”

Be an informed installer

Next, we wanted to know what installers need to know. Zwilling says, “The film choices for professional installers have increased dramatically in the past few years. The low end of the market has exploded with ‘color in the adhesive’ technology as some businesses have focused on survival by using the lowest-cost products. In the same light, the choices at the high end have expanded as some products focus on the highest margins. That means dealers must be more focused on their specific market instead of just offering the newest thing they’ve found. Having the most expensive film in a market that can only afford the lower end will send you to the poorhouse just as fast as having the cheapest film come back for warranty re-work day after day.”

Price points out the science of it all: “Probably the biggest misconception out there right now is that you need to go dark to cut out the heat. Innovative technology in window films right now is a multi-layer film technology that allows a virtually clear film, which can block more heat than many of the darkest films.

“The heat from sunlight comes primarily from two parts of the light spectrum: visible light and infrared. Dark tints really only attack the visible light portion and do little to stop the infrared light, which is the part of the sun’s light that makes us feel warm. Multi-layer window films operate differently. Instead of shading us from the visible spectrum, an advanced manufacturing technique is used to put together more than 200 layers of film laid on top of another to create a stack of film that is no thicker than a single Post-it Note. Each layer is positioned in such a way that it allows the visible light to pass through, but rejects the infrared portion of the light wave. This means keeping you cool in your vehicle without creating a super dark tinted look to a vehicle.

Buis cautions installers to know the laws.

“With the increased policing of illegal tinting, film installers must be aware of their local and state tint laws,” he says. “It is also the responsibility of the installer to educate the consumer. With the growing number of film brands storming the market, installers must do their homework before choosing a film. When choosing a film, the cheapest is not always the best route. Installers should decide on a film that decreases both labor and potential warranty issues.”

Gershenson points out the big picture: “With the technological advancements in window film over the years, there is a wider range of performance and price points available to the consumer. Installers should have a good understanding of the differences in performance and benefits of the films so that they can effectively meet the consumer’s needs as well as have a more effective upsell strategy. Some of the higher-performing films do have special handling and installation requirements, so being properly trained is very important.

“Last but certainly not least is being in compliance with state laws, which requires being up to date on the latest laws in their geography, and having a calibrated metering device to ensure compliance with these laws.”

Sacal says the installers are covered. “Solar Gard always makes sure its dealers have up-to-date installation techniques. For example, Solar Gard continues to upgrade its ComputerCut, an Internet-based film cutting system that allows dealers to download patterns directly to a plotter and cut film on demand, helping installers to complete jobs rapidly while minimizing film waste. Customers love it because it eliminates the need to use blades close to the car that could potentially chip the paint. As an added bonus, ComputerCut can lead to new opportunities for dealers since it can also be used to prepare signs and graphics work, and paint protection film.”

Proficiency through training

Speaking of installers, what training/certification should they have and how long does it realistically take to become a good one? Price says, “The tinting industry is a very mobile profession. Most shop owners are hesitant to invest in formal training for installers, knowing that most installers will tend to move on to another better-paying offer. Most installers learn from other installers via on-the-job training. There are training seminars offered by many window film manufacturers independently. However, a standardized window film installation training/certification does not exist.”

Buis tells us, “When learning how to install film, I will use the old adage, ‘Practice makes perfect.’ There are many professional installers that lack any type of certification or formal training. A true professional is constantly learning new techniques and perfecting his or her skill one vehicle at a time.”

Gershenson says, “We encourage installers to be more intensively trained in the various categories of film installation, from standard auto films and paint protection film to safety and security film. Nothing can more quickly advance the knowledge and skills of an installer than a few days working under the direction of master trainers with decades of experience. The tricks and tips that have worked their way into the industry over the past few decades can best be shared by seasoned trainers.

“Every new installer coming into the field should be realistic in their expectations. Having knowledge of tips and tricks is one thing, but developing the very specialized fine motor skills required to actually take advantage of those tricks is quite another. It does take training, a solid understanding of the technical information and daily practice over many months – sometimes six months to a year – of working with a more experienced colleague to become a master installer.”

Sacal points out a must-have: “Dealer training is a very important tool for a manufacturer to provide, ensuring dealers are trained adequately and often. Solar Gard provides dealers with ongoing education and training opportunities to keep them on the forefront of new technologies and innovations, helping them best serve their customers. [The company] offers dealers hands-on installation training classes as well as educational training DVDs…Additionally, communication regarding new technical information between manufacturers and dealers is important, and Solar Gard does this often through regular e-mail newsletters so dealers can always offer their customers the latest [information].”

Zwilling narrows it down to, the two parts of becoming a professional installer: “The knowledge to advise consumers; and the physical techniques of installation.

The IWFA (International Window Film Association) offers training manuals and certification programs for the ‘knowledge’ part,” he says. “Their certifications are a valuable way to be sure you know what you are talking about as well as a tremendous tool to separate yourself from less-educated installers.

“Physically, automotive installations are more difficult than flat glass and everyone requires a fair amount of experience to become competent. The smart way to learn the physical installation is with a class from a manufacturer or with the help of an experienced installer. You can learn the basics in a weeklong class, but it will take 30 or more cars to really get the hang of it. Most installers will admit that it took 100 or more cars before it became easy.”

The technology, marketing and methods of window films are constantly changing. Are you keeping up with them?