Designing vinyl liners

February 1, 2014

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Designs must immediately and broadly appeal to a trend-conscious customer base, while working within a vinyl printing process, which requires a beautiful multi-tonal pattern be created from only four base colours of ink.

By Dominika Marcisz

Designing vinyl liner patterns for above-ground and inground swimming pools is a fun, yet challenging job as the patterns created not only need to appeal to consumers, but also need to provide pool builders the ability to enhance a space as personal and unique as the backyard. Designs must immediately and broadly appeal to a trend-conscious customer base, while working within a vinyl printing process, which requires a beautiful multi-tonal pattern be created from only four base colours of ink. It is always rewarding to see how a finalized liner design complements the décor of a beautifully designed backyard oasis.

The path of inspiration

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The vinyl liner choice is heavily influenced by the popularity of rock waterfalls and big, in-pool benches.

Inspiration plays a huge factor in designing vinyl liners. Ideas can come from anywhere; a good designer maintains a constant passive awareness of their environment for initial concepts. For example, some good starting points include the textile industry, landscape design, architecture, interior design, and nature. From rocks and shells to baskets and planters, the observation of colours and textures all influence the initial concepts presented to industry focus groups.

Feedback from these groups, as well as input from fellow design professionals and other links in the manufacturing and sales chains, help to hone these initial concepts into designs the end consumer will want to install on their pool.

A world of colour

Today, there are many resources available specific to colour trends. Designers research the use of colour in complementary markets (e.g. automotive upholstery or the fashion industry), and gauge the colours used in their vinyl liner designs against these prevailing trends. The overall colour scheme of a liner design is crucial as it reinforces the mood of the swimming pool, and ultimately the backyard, for a long period of time.

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Colour might be the single most important characteristic determining whether a particular pool liner pattern will succeed or fail.

Colour might be the single most important characteristic determining whether a particular pool liner pattern or collection will succeed or fail. As such, an approved initial liner concept quickly moves into collaboration with a development team comprised of colour development specialists and vinyl ink technicians to achieve the best end product possible.

Just because one colour may have been popular one year, it does not mean the same colour should be applied to the following season’s vinyl liner patterns. This is important because colours in products such as apparel are not expected to ‘stand the test of time.’ However, vinyl swimming pool liners are generally in the pool for at least five to seven years. Designers work hard to create patterns that have a classic appeal and will not look dated after two years. Therefore, the vibrancy and exact hues that made the initial design concept a hit with focus groups must be preserved and enhanced for final impact in the marketplace. This requirement for colour accuracy extends past the inks right to the base colour of the vinyl itself. Early base films were aqua or baby blue. Today, however, as printing technologies advance, the trend has moved toward a white base film as it makes the colours in the pattern appear more vivid.

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Designers are exploring base films such as grey, which evokes a gunite esthetic to co-ordinate with slate pool decks and coping treatments.

Designers are also exploring base films such as tan, which is popular in regional markets with warmer climates, and grey, which evokes a gunite esthetic to co-ordinate with slate pool decks and coping treatments. Given how important it is to choose appealing colour schemes for designs and ensure they come out ‘right’ during the development process, it is even more important for a designer to be aware of marketplace expectations despite what colour trend research might suggest.

For instance, 2012 and 2013 saw acid greens and sugared almonds become influential colours across multiple industries; however, most pool owners prefer and expect more sophisticated, pool-friendly colours. Where colours in the fashion industry change from season to season, pool liner colours must be derived from the classical end of the spectrum, where they are less susceptible to bold changes in the prevailing trend.

Backyard fashion statement

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Although there are some regional influences on what consumers choose for their backyard, when designing and developing new patterns the best designers try not to impose unnecessary constraints on the creative process by designing their in-house patterns with specific regional markets in mind.

Fashion trends in upscale backyard furniture also influence vinyl swimming pool liner colours and patterning. Outdoor furniture has moved far beyond simple, plastic lawn chairs to luxurious furniture with softer edges and bigger cushions. Door rugs, outdoor curtains, and even backyard kitchens must all tie in to a cohesive outdoor room, and the designer realizes their patterns must add gravitas to the backyard fashion statement.

The vinyl liner pattern choice is heavily influenced by the overall colour scheme of the home and the popularity of rock waterfalls and big benches for lounging; therefore, having a pattern that blends easily over benches and steps, while flowing from a waterfall into the pool, makes certain patterns very popular.

Although there are some regional influences on what consumers choose for their backyard, when designing and developing new patterns, the best designers try not to impose unnecessary constraints on the creative process by designing their in-house patterns with specific regional markets in mind. Rather, they will apply trend forecasting and research during their design process, and then leave it to dealers with rich knowledge of their individual marketplaces to select which liner designs will sell best in their respective regions. An ongoing collaborative process between designers and dealers may include various tweaks to colours and textures by request, or even development of custom pool liner patterns from the ground up.

Tile borders and floor designs

The flurry of innovation in the realm of vinyl pool liner designs is most apparent in creative imaginings of the tile border. The easiest trend to pinpoint is a recent shift toward wider tile repeats: tile borders with a continuous, serpentine look, made possible by a wider tile repeat, which expands the scope of visual interest.

Tile pattern designs traditionally repeated every 228 mm (9 in.), with some patterns comprising two repeats of the tile pattern across the width of a vinyl sheet. Newer liner designs carry a single pattern iteration across 457 mm (18 in.), relying on adjacent vinyl sheets to create repetition. In these newer, wider patterns, the final result is a distinct, complex look—making vinyl liner patterns contemporary and chic.

The trend in some markets in Ontario is for full pattern coverage—which means the same pattern used on the pool’s floor is used on the walls, right up to the coping. Many customers want their pools to have an all-concrete look. To achieve this, in conjunction with a borderless liner, some builders use a low-profile grey coping and cantilever the deck or pour it lower, whereby the stone overhangs by 6.3 to 13 mm (0.25 to 0.5 in.).

Consumers today are also looking for a seamless, continuous look throughout the pool; therefore, the tight, dark-speckled floor patterns tend to be popular. As backyards are getting smaller, the trend toward smaller, rectangular pools, which offer a clean, modern look, and full-pattern liners work best in these pools. Coping treatment to swimming pool edges can affect design choices, especially if the treatment would create an overhang that would obscure the top of a tile border. Designers accommodate the variance in construction techniques by creating taller tile border patterns that hold visual interest even when an overhang would partially obscure them.

A clock-work design

The design process can be long. Since the inspiration and development cycle repeats annually, designers are always on the lookout for new ideas and creative inspiration. In general, the period between each February and June sees the following season’s pattern designs in development, with a watchful eye kept on liner sales during the summer to pick out any hit patterns; a big, early hit with customers can be sustained with a heavier production run and even changes to other designs to incorporate that same hit quality.

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Once the manufacturer’s annual product portfolio is chosen, designers adjust colours, textures, and make any final tweaks to ensure each design is ready for mass production.

Some vinyl liner manufacturers get involved in the trade show circuit, presenting their liner design concepts to fabricators, builders, landscapers, and consumers from North America and Europe. The feedback taken in from such industry showcases creates a valuable chance to cull less saleable design concepts from the product mix and suggesting improvements to the top designs before the concepts are brought to the market.

Once the manufacturer’s annual product portfolio is chosen, designers adjust colours, textures, and make any final tweaks to ensure each design is ready for mass production. For example, tweaks can be as simple as a colour scheme change for a fabricator who may love a pattern, but needs a different colour scheme to meet the demands of a regional marketplace. Even the simplest changes require a complete run through the proofing process to ensure the remaining design elements stay intact and the pattern lives up to its potential.

Vinyl implementation

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Although liner patterns are initially designed on paper, they need to be created with an eye for being reproduced on vinyl.

Although liner patterns are initially designed on paper, they need to be created with an eye for being reproduced on vinyl. Not just once, but reproducible always—from roll-to-roll and lot-to-lot.

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Ink and colour-matching experts stay close at hand to translate the paper design to the vinyl printer.

For each finalized pattern, manufacturers engrave a cylinder from which thousands of meters of liner will be printed. Then, a team of workers on the manufacturing floor ensure the pattern is printable clearly and in sharp register. Ink and colour-matching experts stay close at hand to translate the paper design to the vinyl printer. Tight controls in the manufacturing process guarantee durable quality. Every pool liner design must withstand the wear and tear of the swimming pool environment—from water treatment chemicals to extended periods of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.

The entire implementation process mirrors the design process in scope, taking several months to produce a single pattern design. All vinyl must be printed and ready to ship before the building season, which invariably makes deadlines tight. It is not unusual for a designer to be on call 24-7 in case the manufacturing department needs a colour press/print check of a particular liner design. For this reason, throughout the design process, a smart designer works with the highest degree of accuracy possible, with the foresight to minimize these eleventh-hour incidents, which could jeopardize deadlines and or possibly delay product shipment.

What is new for 2014?

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All vinyl must be printed and ready to ship before the building season, which invariably makes deadlines tight.

For 2014, fabricators ambitions are increasing. The marketplace is demanding tile border designs that create the illusion of three-dimensional complexity, interplaying with the water’s edge. The coming season will also see liner patterns inspired by natural materials synchronized with modern textures. Colour schemes will stay subtle, beautiful, and positioned to work with a versatile assortment of backyard surroundings and styles. Breakthrough advancements in ink and vinyl coating technologies are creating new possibilities for high-gloss finishes, which designers are incorporating into new, ultra-premium designs.

In one sense, however, this is nothing new for industrial designers working within the realm of the backyard: in 2014, the industry will see more patterns created in close concert with what builders and consumers want inside their swimming pools. Involving these audiences early in the design process helps ensure the vinyl liner market stays in touch with today’s trends, keeping homeowners at the forefront of backyard fashion.

 

 

Marcisz_HeadshotDominika Marcisz is an industrial and graphic designer for CGT, a manufacturer of vinyl liners for above-ground and inground swimming pools in Cambridge, Ont. She has studied design at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Fanshawe College, and won the Golden Cylinder Award for excellence in gravure printing in 2011, 2012, and 2013. She can be reached via e-mail at Dominika.Marcisz@cgtower.com[10].

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Photo_1_Vinyl_Liner_Design.jpg
  2. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/vynall_pool_photo_option_3rd_panel.jpg
  3. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Vinyl_Liner_Design_2.jpg
  4. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Photo_6_Vinyl_Liner.jpg
  5. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Photo_3_CGT_Vinyl_Liner_Design_Working_On_Concepts.jpg
  6. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Photo_5_Vinyl_Liner_Developing_And_Inspecting_Concept_Art.jpg
  7. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Photo_4_CGT_Vinyl_Liner_Design.jpg
  8. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Colour_Matching_2.jpg
  9. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CGT-plant-04.jpg
  10. Dominika.Marcisz@cgtower.com: mailto:Dominika.Marcisz@cgtower.com

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