Wall Graphics and Low VOC or Zero VOC Paints

Photo credit: John Selig

Photo credit: John Selig

There appears to be a problem that has, in recent years, reared its ugly head, the problem being that we have experienced some wall graphics failing in the field. After some investigation we believe that the most likely reason for the failure is that the walls were painted using a “Zero VOC Paint”. These paints have additives that adversely affect adhesives on most Adhesive Backed Vinyl (ABV) films.

Why are we just now seeing this?

This issue seems to have appeared in the last few years. So what we were successful with three, four or five plus years ago, will not work today.
This all seems to stem from the government regulating the reduction of VOC’s, especially in paint.
Industry wide, everyone is seeing complications and failures.

On investigation, the only source that provided a different theory, was the manufacturer, Orafol. A representative that we spoke with said that they typically see a rise in complaint calls from the Midwest area from November-March. They tend to think that the problem may also be with the dry air in the winter months actually drying out the adhesives in the films with water based adhesives. Essentially, the adhesives never fully wet out and can’t do their job. He recommended going with a permanent aggressive adhesive film (*see CONS below for Option 2) which has a solvent based adhesive.
(However, if this were the case, then why are just now seeing this? Interesting theory nevertheless.)

What do we tell the client(s)?

Based upon our research and feedback that we received up to this point, there are three options that we can put before our clients and each of them has pros’ and con’s:

Option 1

Digitally Printed Wallpaper with proper primer.
– PROS: Durability, Adhesion, Textured media available for specialty look.
– CONS: It’s wallpaper. It needs adhesion promoter/primer and goes up with wall-paste.
Removal…well it’s wallpaper. Can-not die cut lettering or shapes/designs.

Option 2

Use an ABV film with a permanent, aggressive adhesive (3M IJ39, Avery 2903, Oracal 3691, etc…)
– PROS: Cost effective. Installs just like any other digitally printed graphic. Can be contour cut to shape or for lettering.
– CONS: This will completely destroy the wall when (if) it is ever removed. It will peel paint and several layer of the underlying drywall paper surface. Client will need to skim coat the entire wall or cut out and replace drywall.
(*so make sure we put it in the right place and everything is spelled correctly)

Option 3

Re-Paint the entire wall where the graphics will be applied with Semi-Gloss Standard Latex (all other walls can be Low/Zero VOC).
– PROS: Ensures proper wall finish that we know will work.
– CONS: Cost to the client. Will the contractor adhere to the request to use a standard paint on a specified wall? Timeframe; must allow paint to outgas (cure).

What do we do?

Moving forward, when selling or proposing wall graphics we need to find out what the wall was painted with before proceeding.
The ideal scenario is to apply graphics to walls finished with a Standard Semi-Gloss Latex Paint (NOT A LOW OR ZERO VOC VERSION) that has been allowed to cure for a minimum of 7-10 days (30 days optimal). We have had discussions, or received information, from three of the major manufacturers and nine ASI affiliates. We have procured sample rolls of material and test kits coming in from a few of the major manufacturers in order to conduct tests.

Nearly everyone we have spoken with says that you must, in all circumstances, test the graphics on the wall first because what may work for one location (or paint brand), may not work for the next.

In addition, everyone also said that proper wall preparation is crucial to success. Most recommended a simple solution of water and alcohol mix (70/30 or 80/20 mix) to wipe down the entire wall, not just where the graphics will be.
Repeat prep 2-3 times and allow to dry before application.
Several people recommended a light sanding to the area to receive graphics, then wall prep.
Subsequent to writing the above we located the following very interesting video


Researched by Mike Douglas, ASI St Louis and other ASI participants

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