Vinyl Signs

Learn about all types of signs. Which signs are best for the job? Vinyl, premade, magnetic, safety, trafic, real estate signs and more.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

How to save money by making your own sign.

The Sign Guy,



In the sign industry we commonly refer to the material that the sign is made out of as the substrate. Examples include, wood, vinyl banners, aluminum, coroplast, etc. But what many customers do not realize is that they can purchase vinyl lettering or vinyl decals and apply them directly to typical substrates themselves. Translation – saving money by buying blank substrates inexpensively at local hardware stores such as Home Depot and Lowes and avoiding the prices sign companies need to charge to apply the material. Although you do pay tax by buying locally on the substrate, you can save tax on the vinyl by ordering over the internet.

What are vinyl letters and/or vinyl decals? They are letters (or images) that come prespaced according to customer specifications as words, phrases, or sentences on pre masking tape. The lettering is self adhesive and by removing the paper backing, they can be applied directly to almost any substrate, car, boat, truck, windows, snowmobiles, jet skis, vans, store fronts, etc. Make sure the surface is extremely clean and free of dust or lint. Once the lettering or decal has been aligned, simply rub over the masking covering the vinyl and then remove it. The result will be perfectly spaced lettering or a decal designed as ordered with a professional look. Most sign companies will allow you to purchase multiple lines of vinyl lettering with the spacing between the lines defined by you. You can also usually obtain a combination of vinyl lettering and images on one decal.

Another tack you may wish to consider is to have the entire sign printed on vinyl made to fit the substrate you prepurchased (with a small bleed of additional vinyl to wrap around the sides). We must caution you that this is a bit more tricky to apply than vinyl lettering, but problems can be overcome with care and some suggestions. When applying the vinyl to the substrate, remove the paper backing about two inches at a time, align, and then press or roll it on the surface. We recommend a roller for the application (roller applicator). Once the first part is properly aligned and applied, remove another two inches of the backing and proceed in this manner with the rest of the sign. Another trick is to moisten the substrate so you can move the vinyl if you accidentally align it improperly when first applied. The water prevents it from adhering permanently for a few seconds.

When you apply vinyl, it is inevitable that you will run into the “bubble” problem. Tiny bubbles of captured air will form under the vinyl. Usually these can be worked out with the roller but in some circumstances, they will remain. A blow dryer (not too hot) can be used to heat the vinyl up so that the air can be rolled out easier. Under some circumstances if the bubble is large, the vinyl can be heated and the bubble punctured with a pin (careful here – only a tiny hole is needed). Be careful not to heat the vinyl too much because it can permanently deform it.

Recently, a new product has been introduced which enables the vinyl to be adjusted if it is pressed on but incorrectly aligned. The adhesive does not seal permanently for a few hours after it is applied. The material is a bit more expensive but well worth it if you are inexperienced. Don’t feel bad. I know many sign companies that are now going to the easy stick vinyl to avoid large overhead costs caused by mistakes with the old permanent seal vinyl.

Lamination of signs

The sign guy


I suspect that everyone has an idea of what lamination is even if you have only seen it in passing. Restaurant menus are a common example. A plastic finish is placed over the menu to protect it from food and stains. But did you know that you can laminate just about anything that is flat? If it needs to be protected and reused, it is something to consider for lamination. The laminate also makes the original material stronger and more durable. All of our signs can be laminated, but the reasons are varied and not all signs should be laminated.

A number of our customers have fondly taken to our dry erase laminate. They can have engineering plans, tables, or other diagrams printed on almost any of our substrates (for example, PVC or aluminum). Once we cover them with the dry erase laminate, it allows the users to mark up the signs with dry erase ink which can easily be wiped off. It is wonderful for talks and demonstrations.

But our primary use for laminates is to protect signs and give them longer life expectancy. For example, our UV inks used in digital printing have a life time of about 3 years before they begin to fade without lamination. But a laminate can give them an additional 2 to 3 years without fading.

We like to encourage our customers to laminate the magnetic car signs we produce, because it protects the inks from abrasions – the roads constantly kick up dirt and dust which strike the signs. You should also consider laminates for signs that are frequently taken down and put back up. Real estate signs are a perfect example. They can come easily scratched without lamination. The user can also roll the sign up after meetings and reuse it without fear of the sign becoming warn.

And finally, we like to use laminates because they give the sign a nice professional finish. There are two basic types of finishes that can be achieved from laminate: matte and gloss. Matte finishes look a bit granular and are not reflective, but they tend to make colors on the sign more striking and vivid. In contrast, gloss finishes are reflective and tend to make bright colors radiate with strong definition.

There are two basic types of laminates: hot and cold. Hot laminates are placed on signs at approximately 220 to 300 degrees F. The process is a little more expensive than cold laminates, but the laminate lasts a bit longer. Unfortunately, some inks used in digital printing will melt under the hot conditions. You also cannot use hot laminates on heat sensitive papers.

Under these conditions, cold laminators are required. They use pressure sensitive adhesives to secure the lamination film. We also use a spray laminate (cold) to protect signs when cost is an issue. Spray laminates protect the sign but do not give a gloss finish or make the material more rigid.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The graphic problem

Digital printing has revolutionized the sign industry. Current printers can reproduce an image at 1440 dpi (dots per inch) at virtually any size. But they are worthless if the original image is of low resolution. We define resolution using pixels. A pixel is commonly thought of as the smallest individual unit of an image (tiny dots if you will). If the pixel content is low, the image will look fuzzy. Anyone that has blown up a picture in a popular program like Adobe Photoshop has experienced the pixilation of an image. The most common way to express the resolution of an image is via two integers: the first is the number of pixel columns or width and the second is the number of pixel rows or height. Another common way to express resolution is by giving the total number of pixels in the image (usually expressed as megapixels). It is determined by simply multiplying the pixel columns by the pixel rows.

Most typical file formats such as bmp, jpeg, png, etc. will give the physical image size. This is done through DPI. For raster images (those images in rectangular pixel format), DPI means the number of pixels printed within one inch horizontally and vertically. For example, if you have an image expressed at 600 by 300 (or 1.8 megapixels) and you want to print at 300 dpi, the image would need to be printed within two inches by 1 inch (you divide 600 x 300 by 300 dpi) – a very small image to get the needed resolution. The bigger you print the same image, obviously, the lower the amount of dots per inch. A 20 by 10 inch print of the same image would be only 30 dpi. Try to imagine how bad the quality would be if you had only 30 dots for every inch.

We commonly have customers uploading 600 x 300 jpeg images of the family dog, say, and ask us to put it on a vinyl banner 4 by 2 feet, for example. We refuse to print a sign with less than 300 dpi, because we know our customers will not be happy wth the quality. If we enlarged this image to fit the sign, we would get a sign with 12.5 dpi (only about 12 dots per inch).

We need to help educate so you will know that we are not trying to aggravate or, worse yet, price gauge when we ask for a better quality image. Believe me, we only do this so the customer will be happy with the final product. I always feel bad when I have to disturb a customer. I understand the buyer’s position. They want quick results with minimal effort. But customers have to take a proactive role, because once and a while, a sign company will go ahead and print a borderline or low quality image. We won’t do that – we insist on quality – which sometimes makes the customer think we lack some mysterious technology that our competition has. There have been those frustrating times when a customer will tell me they know of a local sign company that will print their sign with the image as is. And then they hang up miffed.

If we cannot get a higher quality image we need to convert the file to vector format. This format allows us to enlarge the image without loss in resolution. In fact, we have a full time graphic person that can do this rather quickly in some cases. We usually try to do it gratis for our customers, but sometimes we have to charge them. It is awkward because the customer does not always understand. Some even suspect we are attempting to add on frivolous charges. We want them to understand why!

But I also have to caution customers. Some sign companies will charge high prices for art work. Converting a diagram or clip art to vector format can be very cheap – about $10. But poor quality photographs require the artist to reproduce the file as a graphic drawing in detail. It takes time and most companies will understandably try to recoup their costs. But you should not be charged more than about $30 an hour and photographs rarely take more than 2 or 3 hours to convert.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Magnetic signs

The sign guy:

Recently, a woman called to ask about replacing a magnetic sign she had purchased from another company. Her original sign had actually blown off the side of her car. I had visions of the sign flailing around in the wind and striking some poor motorist behind her or worse yet, some fellow on a motorcycle. I inquired as to whether she had tried to get her money back. But it seems the company refused to refund her money and worse yet, claimed it was her fault. Appallingly, they accused her of placing the sign on a dirty car surface.

Although surfaces should always be cleaned before any type of sinage is placed on them, rarely should a magnetic sign “blow” off, if ever. The sign company that sold her the original magnetic probably made two glaring errors. 1) They used an inexpensive magnetic material not meant for vehicles, especially moving ones. The sign business is intensely competitive and some disreputable companies turn to cheap material for an edge. 2) They cut corners and I mean literally! They cut square corners instead of rounded corners. Rounded corners prevent the wind from “catching” an edge.

In fairness to the company, maybe they didn’t know any better. There are tricks of the trade that can come only with experience. But that does not help the woman that lost her sign. And even though these companies don’t last long because they loose repeat business, it agitates me to see a customer have a bad experience buying a sign.

So if you are off to buy a magnetic sign, concentrate on getting the right material. Make sure you ask for 30 mil thickness with rounded corners. And don’t let them charge you for the rounding. It should be a standard!