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Tech Review: Signmaking Composites




What are the most common base materials used for making commercial signs? We’ll guess that you often choose MDO plywood, sheet aluminum, Plexiglas®, sign blanks, corrugated plastic, foamcore board or paper. Every sign order creates the challenge of choosing the right substrate, and it’s not always easy. Corrugated plastic, for example, is not the most rigid material in the world; aluminum is rigid but can heat-bow when printed on some UV-cure printers; heavy paper is great for posters, but may require rigid backing for store displays; and MDO is heavy and requires primer before finishing or printed material can be applied.

Luckily, sign industry manufacturers and suppliers provide numerous media choices. For example, in addition to the above materials, mixed composite materials combine the best features of different sign media and create products superior to any individual elements.

Signmaking composites comprise different materials layered – sandwiched – together to address a specific need. All of us are familiar with foamcore board, in which a lightweight foam is sandwiched between two rigid paper sheets to create media for indoor use. Foam-core’s combined composite materials – paper-foam-paper – support the structural rigidity of the board and the foam center provides depth with light weight. In addition, many types, sizes, depths and colors of foamcore are available and, as well, the board can function as digital-print mounting media. (An alternative to mounting a digitally printed paper poster to a foamboard is to order foamcore that’s skinned with coated, ink-receptive paper.) Gain extra work and profits by contour cutting multiple foamcore prints with a finishing machine. You can also cut a limited number of uncomplicated images by hand.

Another common composite comprises thin aluminum outside sheets with a polyethylene filler sandwiched inside. Some types of this composite are routable and, by that method, you can create a high gloss, inlaid two-color sign or graphic. Corrugated plastic core media is an indoor alternative to foamcore board and these can be joined with fitted, wooden dowel pins (set inside the corrugated flutes) to attach the pieces together and form a larger display.

For long-term, outdoor signs, a composite of single-face aluminum bonded to MDO plywood provides both rigidity and strength. You can finish the edges with commercial wood or plastic trim or supplier-offered edge caps. If you need an attractive wood-finished sign, look for such material composites as balsa and wood veneers that can provide beauty, structural strength and relative lightness to signage, with the added benefit of structural design options.

As you can see, you can choose numerous and different composite sign boards, so plan a few conversations with your sign supply house because you may learn of even more. The obvious benefit of using composite materials is savings gained in finishing times as well as added strength with reduced weight.


And last, although some of these materials may cost more than traditional wood, plastic or aluminum sheets, the professional appearance, plus savings in time and weight – with added strength – easily balance the additional expense. Finally, acquire media samples to display in your shop (get them when you visit your sign supply house), to show your clients and upgrade their sign choices.



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