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A Comprehensive Guide to Commercial Window Film

Window films offer enhanced security, eco-friendliness, and aesthetics by addressing common window-related challenges. Learn more about the valuable benefits of window film solutions.


Schools, hotels, airports, retail stores, government buildings, medical campuses, and more … commercial buildings come in all shapes, sizes, and functions, but nearly all of them have one thing in common: windows. Windows provide natural light and visibility that can elevate the look outside and the atmosphere inside.

However, windows can also introduce some challenges. Window films and finishes directly address these challenges, protecting people and property from external threats and providing a more secure, private, and eco-friendly environment. With advancements in window film technology and product options, these solutions have taken on a critical role for contractors, interior designers, facility managers, and architects looking to reinforce and enhance their glass finishes.

Understanding the key benefits and new features of these window films can help you create a safer, more comfortable, and more aesthetically appealing environment for employees, tenants, guests, patrons, occupants, and visitors.

Scroll to learn about developments in window film solutions for security, solar control, and aesthetics.

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Comprehensive Guide to Window Film cover


Chapter 1

Safety and Security Window Film

Chapter 2

Solar Window Film

Chapter 3

Specialty Window Film

Chapter 1

Safety and Security Window Film

Window films are best known for shading, tint, and thermal protection. But did you know that advanced window films can also prevent dangerous shattering due to extreme weather, break-ins, and even explosions? 

It’s wise to prepare for these dangerous scenarios, and safety and security window film can help you do just that—protecting both the people and the property within your building when it matters most.

Safety and Security Films

Windows are often the weakest point in a building envelope. Window films provide a cost-effective and convenient way to reinforce windows, greatly enhancing your building’s safety and security.

Advanced security window films like those in the 3M™ Safety & Security Window Film family are specifically designed to mitigate shattering and reduce the risk of flying glass. With the right window film application, vulnerable windows gain an extra layer of protection and become less likely to break—and far less likely to shatter if broken.

Attachment Systems

The safety, security, and strength of a building’s windows and glass can be further enhanced with 3M™ Impact Protection Attachment Systems. These combination systems attach a filmed window to the window frame, creating a robust shield that significantly outperforms window film-only systems. This extra level of protection guards against impact energy from earthquakes, forced-entry events, and bomb blasts.

Multipurpose Solutions

Window films like 3M™ Safety and Security Window Film are engineered for a multitude of purposes. In addition to their anti-shattering capabilities, window films can also provide privacy, energy efficiency, and protection from harmful UV rays.

3M™ security films also come in dual-function options such as the new multi-optical layer—a high heat-rejection prestige line. It is virtually clear but rejects almost 50 percent of the total solar energy while providing security benefits.

Safety and Security Functions for Window Films

3M™ Safety and security window films typically serve one or more of these purposes:

Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories to get a full sense of the benefits of these highly engineered, purpose-built window films.

Spontaneous Glass Breakage Protection

Spontaneous glass breakage can occur for many reasons, such as thermal stress, glass thinness, powerful winds, damage during installation, or pressure generated by the binding of the glass’s frame. With the use of window film, your glass is reinforced with a protective layer to strengthen the material and minimize damage and injuries caused by shattering glass.

Intrusion Prevention

One of the most common reasons for security film to be installed on a commercial property is for intrusion protection. Windows and glass doors are among the weakest points on a building envelope and are often targeted as an entry point for criminals. Billions of dollars are lost due to property-related crimes in the U.S. alone, and unfortunately, fortified glass is often too expensive to be a feasible security upgrade.

Security window films and attachments are used to help delay intruders and would-be thieves from entering a property. With properly installed security window film, intruders will have a considerably more difficult time penetrating or breaking through the glass, adding precious minutes to the crime timeline — and giving police or security the chance to respond before a theft takes place.

School Safety

The Federal Commission on School Safety and the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission report both recommend safety window film for school buildings. Window film helps schools harden their glazing by delaying forced entry, reducing visibility, and containing shattered glass.

In fact, security window film has been proven to delay entry by between two to six minutes. This stops intruders from gaining quick access to the school, giving additional time for staff to initiate emergency response plans and first responders to arrive at the scene.

Blast Mitigation

In this day and age, there is always a possibility of an explosion or blast occurring near highrises, government buildings, offices, shops, commercial properties, hotels, hospitals, and public spaces. And if the worst does happen, broken glass shards from windows and doors are one of the leading causes of fatalities and property damage.

Some of the most advanced safety window films being developed today by 3M™ can mitigate the damage caused by glass shards resulting from an explosion or blast. Though it’s not possible to eliminate completely, these films can significantly reduce the penetration of glass shards into the interior of a building, which means a lower possibility of injury or fatality to people and less damage to property.

Storm Mitigation

Tornadoes, hurricanes, severe windstorms … extreme weather events like these happen more and more frequently in the 21st century, and they are often forceful enough to break glass.

Fortunately, there are safety window films designed specifically for storm mitigation. While no window film is completely hurricane-proof, some films are engineered to keep shattered or compromised glass in the window frame in the event of a severe windstorm or other extreme weather event. When that shattered glass is kept within the frame, there is much less chance of injury or damage to people and property.

Graffiti Protection

We’ve all seen unsightly graffiti or tagging on storefront windows, bus stop terminals, bathroom mirrors, and public buildings. Though not as severe as an explosion or hurricane, graffiti is a much more common occurrence that gives building owners and property managers constant headaches.

Anti-graffiti window films are designed to create a layer of protection over bus stand ads, transit stop banners, storefront and retail windows, school windows, and even mirrors. When a vandal tries to scratch, gouge, acid etch, or tag the glass, they are tagging a film that can easily be removed and replaced. If the vandalism is removed sooner rather than later, this often discourages repeat offenses, and it also preserves the image of the shop or advertisement.

Protection Is Paramount

When it comes to your facility, you need to feel confident you’re doing all you can to protect your patrons, tenants, employees, and property. And though no building is totally impenetrable, modern safety and security window films go a long way in mitigating injuries, damage, and even fatalities. They also serve as a significant deterrence to intrusion, theft, and vandalism.




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Chapter 2

Solar Window Film

Windows let in beautiful sunlight, but they can also let in unwanted effects, such as glare, heat, and outside eyes. Solar control window film allows you to enjoy your windows while enhancing energy efficiency, comfort, privacy, and protection.

Covered in windows, large commercial buildings or high-rise apartments almost appear like a giant solar panel system. It’s no wonder, then, that solar control can be a challenge for these properties. By applying the latest solar window film to all the glass and windows in a building, you can make a tremendous difference, creating an energy-efficient facility with the ability to absorb or reflect the sun’s heat and solar rays throughout the year.

Benefits of Solar Control Window Film

The original patent for solar window film dates back to 1966. Since then, window film in general, and solar window film in particular has gone through a series of evolutions and engineering advancements. While the original films were little more than tint, modern solar window films bring a whole new set of features to the table, benefitting contractors, architects, planners, building managers, occupants, and tenants.

Let’s examine the primary benefits of solar control window film, including:

  • Cost savings through energy efficiency
  • Occupant comfort
  • Fade protection
  • Privacy and aesthetics

(Current multi-function window films like those in the 3M™ Safety & Security Window Film Solar Safety Series also include features like blast and intrusion protection. See our Safety and Security section above to learn more.)

Cost-Savings Through Energy Efficiency

Solar control window film can lower heating and cooling costs by rejecting and refracting ultraviolet (UV) radiation, infrared (IR) light, and heat from the sun. By turning away the sun’s powerful rays, building managers and property owners can eliminate hotspots within a building, insulate windows and glass, and build heat-load reduction throughout.

Conventional window films lower both visible light and harmful, heat-producing rays to provide good sun control performance. However, wavelength-selective films are now available that are designed to block specific regions of the solar light spectrum, from infrared to ultraviolet. These films can be virtually clear, rejecting a very high percentage of IR while still allowing a very high percentage of natural daylight into the interior of the building.

It’s also worth noting that solar window films like 3M Prestige are free of metals, making them safe to use with 5G cell tower signals. You won’t have to worry about blocking out cell service while you block out excess sunlight.

By the Numbers

Modern solar control window films deliver up to 99.9 percent rejection of UV rays and up to 97% infrared energy rejection.

Windows account for a major portion of cooling loads in any building. For the average commercial building, 28 percent of the entire cooling load is due to windows.

Solar control window films save up to:

  • 19 kWh/ft2 on a single-pane window
  • 12 kWh/ft2 on a double-pane window

Solar control window films can become carbon-negative in as little as 6 months.

Among the top 50 commercially available energy conservation technologies, window film was listed by the Department of Energy as a top-tier technology with the fastest payback ranking and the highest probability of success. In 2022, 3M Solar Control Window Film was identified as a finalist in the Department of Energy’s Green Proving Ground, and it is currently undergoing field validation testing.

Occupant Comfort

While energy savings are undoubtedly important, another major benefit and factor in purchasing decisions for solar window films is occupant comfort. Solar control window films can help you achieve a more comfortable indoor temperature while mitigating hot and cold spots and UV radiation (one of the leading causes of skin cancer). Simply put, solar window films allow the sunny side of your building to be cooler. That means people can enjoy more consistent comfort across all parts of your building.

Another common occupant comfort issue that windows can cause is glare. The typical approach to dealing with glare is by installing blinds or drapes. However, blinds and drapes often completely eliminate natural light—or create a patchwork dappling on the interior that can be distracting or aesthetically displeasing. And it’s safe to say blinds and drapes do next to nothing in terms of enhancing the insulative and energy-efficient qualities of windows.

Solar window films are a more effective choice to address glare. Rather than obstructing the view, the right window film can optimize the transmission of light through a window best suited for each unique situation.

Learn how NGS helped Delta Airlines enhance occupant comfort in its concourses at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Read the case study!

Fade Protection

One big concern for business owners and managers of commercial properties is the fading that can occur when objects are placed in the path of direct sunlight within the interior of a building. Ultraviolet rays, visible light, and solar heat can all have a bleaching effect over time, leaving furniture and signage looking aged and lackluster.

Solar window films will typically reject 99 percent of the UV radiation, and depending on the film chosen, it can reject as much as 79 percent of solar heat and 91 percent of visible light. Clearly, installing window film significantly impacts the rate at which fading occurs. Interior furnishings and property are particularly vulnerable to UV light, visible light, and solar heat penetrating a building’s windows and glass. And though solar window film can’t stop fading altogether, it can be very effective in mitigating and delaying fading to prolong the life of furnishings and property.

Privacy and Aesthetics

Think of your building as a massive shell. Some shells look distinct and polished, some blend into the surrounding environment, and some stick out like a sore thumb. The choice you make in solar window film has a great impact on the exterior look, aesthetic appeal, and privacy of the building itself. Fortunately, there is an abundance of designs, patterns, and privacy levels you can choose from in solar window film to deliver the aesthetic appeal and privacy level you want for both occupants and passersby.

Another part of the aesthetic equation includes reflectivity and transmission. Older, outdated window films often harshly reflected light, which created a real disruption for people traveling near or around the building. With modern solar window films, the reflectivity can be eliminated, and decorative touches like frosting or shading can offer a unique look and a specific level of privacy. Solar window films can improve exterior aesthetics by providing a uniform, polished, and more modern look to the building facade.




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Chapter 3

Specialty Window Film

Modern offices, hotels, convention centers, and work-live spaces are filled with interior conference rooms, banquet areas, lounges, offices, and gathering spaces where glass partitions play a role in design and function. Specialty window films can serve to enhance privacy and aesthetics and serve the very practical function of preventing people from walking into a clear glass panel in these areas.

There was a time when frosted glass windows in a conference room at a law firm were cutting edge. Today, the game has changed. New privacy options for glass offer an amazing assortment of patterns and designs to choose from when creating private spaces. You can even implement branded or custom designs to provide privacy and elevate your space.

Depending on the designer’s aesthetic and privacy requirements, the glass and windows in interior rooms and offices can be completely transformed into something visually stunning, subdued, or stylistic. Decorative glass finishes and films come in a wide assortment of options, including:

  • Gradient options
  • Prism dots
  • Clouded or frosted finish
  • Partially opaque
  • Alternating design
  • Etched design
  • Custom designs
  • And more!

Let’s look at a few different types of specialty window films and explore how they are used to elevate privacy and aesthetics.

Architectural Surface Films

Architectural surface films, also known as architectural finishes, help “finish” a surface when applied to a substrate. You can use these films to update the look of shelving, furniture, walls, and more.

Architectural finishes have various uses, finishes, and flexibility forms. Conformable finishes are pliable. They are usually delivered as sheet goods, typically in a roll, and are hand-applied. On the other hand, flexible finishes can be bent or flexed but are susceptible to being modified. Plastic laminates are an example of a flexible finish.

While artificial finishes are not designed to replace genuine materials in all situations, they do provide a convenient and cost-effective way for an architect or interior designer to achieve a design objective when timing or budget won’t allow for the purchase of new materials.

Architectural finishes such as 3M™ DI-NOC™ provide designers and architects with a versatile material that can mimic the look of many natural materials, such as wood or stone, at a fraction of the cost of these decorative materials. With 850+ finish options to choose from, you’re sure to find an architectural finish that meets your aesthetic goals.

Decorative and Branding Films

One of the problems with motivating employees in an office building is that office buildings look too much like … office buildings. Research has demonstrated what most employees know intuitively: Drab, colorless, featureless workspaces demotivate and demoralize employees. On the other hand, visually interesting buildings can better engage and energize employees. A 2022 study found that a more aesthetic environment enhanced healthcare workers’ well-being amidst the stress and exhaustion of the pandemic.

With decorative film, you can personalize your internal glass walls or windows with specific colors, patterns, textures, art, and logos. Select from decorative window film, building wraps, graphics, and bespoke prints to find the most suitable material to transform your glass and walls into a unique branding statement or creative opportunity.

Decorative privacy window film can include a variety of lines, dots, and solid or gradient patterns; it is fully customizable. Employees can even draw on your walls with advanced whiteboard and chalkboard film! Furthermore, logos, designs, or photos can be printed, plotted, embossed, or layered on the decorative film to give your decor a personalized touch.

Privacy Window Film

Research shows that, while collaboration and socialization at work have their benefits, employees need to have a sense of privacy to foster creativity, focus, and engagement. Window film is a simple and effective way to bring more privacy to otherwise transparent windows and partitions.

In addition to traditional privacy options like frosted panels, you can also take advantage of more visually interesting options like printed graphics and decorative window films, which can add textures, patterns, and color to your space.

Smart Film

The future is here! Smart window film, also known as switchable film, is a product with adjustable light transmission from clear to opaque using AC power. This smart film has many functions, including light adjustment, UV and infrared blocking, security, and advertising capabilities.

This is all possible with the click of an app button. With the use of polymer-dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) technology, thousands of liquid crystal droplets can change the appearance of a surface when exposed to electricity. With improvements in moisture control, smart film can even be applied to existing windows with a special adhesive.

Bird Deterrant Film

Every year, approximately 1 billion birds die in North America alone from colliding with window glass. Feather Friendly® Window Film addresses this critical issue by overlaying clear windows with a series of tiny dots that help birds detect the hard surface and avoid hitting it.

To a human, these designs are understated and are hardly noticeable from a distance, but they can make all the difference for migrating birds. Feather Friendly® Bird Deterrent Technology offers a simple yet impactful solution to bird collisions, saving birds’ lives and helping buildings achieve a more eco-friendly design.

Enhance Your Building’s Form and Function with Window Films

Today, window films can help you enhance your building in a variety of ways. Whether you want to improve security, solar control, aesthetics, or all three, the right window film solution can help you meet your goals—no disruptive, time-consuming, or cost-prohibitive renovations required. Ready to discuss your goals and how window films may be able to help? Let’s talk!




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