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The Ins and Outs of Window Graphics

NOVEMBER 20, 2020| SpeedPro of SF Peninsula


Window Graphics

“Window graphics” is a surprisingly vast category that can be broadly defined as any branding, advertising, imagery, or text applied to a window or glass surface. Before you decide which type of window graphic is best suited for your needs, take a moment to answer the questions below. Your decision will mainly be based on two things: where your windows are located and how long you want your graphics displayed. Give some thought to the location you intend to use and the overall look and feel you are hoping to create. Your answers will help determine which product and material will work best for you.

Some questions to consider before you begin…

  1. Are you looking to promote a seasonal special or short-term event?
  2. Are you looking for something permanent or semi-permanent?
  3. Do your graphics need to be easy to remove?
  4. Do you need graphics with a particular type of adhesive, meant for long term display, exposure to harsh weather, or installation on an unusual surface?
  5. How often will you change your graphics?
  6. If the graphics are for a short term promotion, do you need them to be easy to apply for employees or other non-professional installers?
  7. Do you want to simply extend your company’s current branding onto your windows? Or would you rather design something more immersive, drawing people in from the outside with external window graphics that continue on throughout the interior of your space?
  8. How about trying something more modern, printed in bright vibrant colors? What about something monochromatic?

Deciding which material to use is one of the most important questions to ask yourself before you begin.  Still not sure which direction to go? No worries. Our team of in-house design and production experts are ready to help guide you through the process. From perforated film to contour cut graphics to full coverage, we can help.

Some of the most popular window graphic styles and materials for printing are described below. This guide is meant to give you a basic understanding of popular window graphic styles and the different materials used to create them. Without further ado…

Location, location, location

Will your window graphic be applied to exterior windows or somewhere inside your building? This is an important distinction as it will determine the final aesthetic of your graphic. The two options to consider first are first and second surface.

First Surface Graphics

First surface graphics are applied to the exterior of the window and face toward the outside of the building. The image is printed on the front of the material and faces outward.

First surface application, full window wrap
Advantages of choosing first surface…
  • Colors appear vibrant and rich
  • Several types of vinyl and laminate options, giving you more flexibility in your design.
  • Material and labor costs are lower than “second surface”
  • Easy to see graphics with very little glare/reflection or possible dirt and dust
  • Exterior mounted graphics can be picked at or damaged by vandals
  • Shorter lifespan relative to second surface applications due to weather exposure
  • Although this is not a big issue for us in the Bay Area, in parts of the country with cold weather, winter application becomes a challenge

Second Surface Graphics

Second surface graphics are applied to the interior of the window and face outward, with the glass of the window acting as a barrier between the graphic and the outdoors.  In contrast to first surface graphics, second surface graphics are printed on the backside of the material and mirrored to appear correctly when viewed from the outside.

Privacy film is often installed as a second surface graphic- meant to be viewed from outside, looking through the glass.
Advantages of choosing second surface…
  • Less prone to damage, especially weather-based damage and wear.
  • Longer lasting than first surface applications
  • Great for cold weather
  • Color may appear less vibrant, especially behind tinted glass
  • Reflections and grime on the window’s exterior may distort the appearance of your graphics
  • Less flexibility in the design options and materials used


Example of first surface window graphic style applied to the exterior of the window, viewed from the outside of the building.

Types of Graphics

  • Etched glass vinyl creates an upscale aesthetic that looks like textured glass and is commonly used to define large open spaces like corporate office space or retail stores.
  • Opaque graphics are not ‘see-through’ meaning no light passes through to the interior.
  • Perforated window graphics let people see out, but not in. This means that someone standing on the outside of the building, looking through the window will see only the printed graphic, not the building interior. Commonly used on windows for vehicle wraps as well.
  • Transparent graphics are completely see-through. Once the graphic is printed and applied to the window, only the colored elements will be visible.
  • Translucent graphics, like transparent graphics, are also ‘see-through’ but designed to be backlit when installed, ensuring your graphic can be seen any time of the day or night.
Cut vinyl lettering, first surface application

Popular Window Graphic Styles

  • Vinyl lettering can be contour cut into any front imaginable- bold, script, or block lettering to name a few!
  • Full window wraps cover the entire window.
  • Partial window wraps cover a smaller area.

Whatever your business needs, let the team at SpeedPro of SF Peninsula help you craft and execute your vision. Our team of highly skilled designers and professional installers can handle any job- large or small. Get in touch today for a quote!

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SpeedPro of SF Peninsula

Studio Owner
Paul Reinhardt


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