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Vinyl-Banner Basics, Part One

Select the right materials and keep the design simple.



Many vinyl-film companies spend significant time testing and evaluating their products’ suitability with banner substrates. Because banner substrates include polyester, nylon, canvas and flexible signface material, there’s much to test.

With myriad products on the market, researchers can’t test every one. Thus, this article will focus on vinyl banners. I’ll discuss banner-material selection, as well as vinyl-application techniques, and banner painting, installation, storage and cleaning options.

Selecting banner material

A vinyl banner substrate is usually the best choice when applying vinyl graphics. Such banner materials typically comprise a polyester scrim embedded in white vinyl. These vinyl materials are cast or extruded, and are manufactured similarly to cast and calendered films. During casting, the scrim is coated with layers of liquid vinyl; during extrusion, layers of hot PVC bond to the polyester scrim.

Selecting the right material is critical. Therefore, rely on your sign-supply distributor, and study the manufacturer’s technical bulletins. Once you find a good combination of materials, stick with it.

When evaluating a banner material for cut-vinyl graphics, screenprinting or digital printing, vinyl and banner manufacturers consider such characteristics as flexibility, opacity, gloss, surface smoothness and material thickness. Test methods that check such performance properties are essentially straightforward. In fact, you can perform these in your shop prior to selecting a product.


Flexibility. Although banners shouldn’t be folded, check a material’s flexibility. Fold the banner and check whether the substrate returns to its original shape. Because some customers will store banners folded — even after you’ve instructed them otherwise — you don’t want the banners to show creases.

Opacity. If you decorate the banner on both sides, make sure the material has enough hiding power to prevent one side’s graphics from showing through the opposite side. Technical bulletins often document opacity as a percentage, such as 96 or 100%.

Gloss. High-gloss material can obscure applied or printed graphics. For printed graphics, a matte finish is usually preferred. When reviewing product specifications, look for materials with a gloss level under 10, at a viewing angle between 45 and 60°.

Smoothness. If you’re going to print onto the banner, rather than decorate with cut-vinyl graphics, examine the surface’s smoothness. Smoother surfaces print better, whether you’re screenprinting or digital printing.

Material thickness. A thinner banner substrate, such as a 10-oz. material, is easier to process through a printer. For outdoor banners, customers expect durability. Thus, persuade them to use a high-quality, heavy-duty banner substrate, such as 13- or 15-oz. material.

Heavier fabric is stronger, less likely to tear and allows for wind slits. Material weighing 15 oz. or more is generally designed for decoration on both sides.


Furthermore, heavier outdoor material generally has fewer, but thicker, threads per inch. Banner substrates with thicker threads aren’t as smooth as indoor substrates, whose fabric features a higher thread count. Materials with more threads per inch have a smoother surface, but, as the surface becomes smoother, it loses strength.

Dyne level. Whether you’re applying cut graphics to a banner surface or printing on it, dyne level measures a substrate’s surface energy. Inks and pressure-sensitive films stick less easily to banner materials with low-surface energy, because the ink, or adhesive, won’t readily wet out the surface.

A minimum dyne level of 36 is desired. Banner material with a higher dyne level allows the adhesive on vinyl films and inks to more easily wet out the surface for good adhesion. Compared to other materials, PVC banner material’s advantage is a consistent dyne level.

Hue. Whites can vary. Vinyl banner material comes in two different hues: bluish white and yellowish white. For outdoor advertising and digital applications, bluish-white material is generally preferred. On the other hand, screenprinters often select yellowish-white material, because it costs less. If you’re decorating the banner’s front and back, check the material’s whiteness on both sides, so the banner’s front looks the same as its back.

Many signmakers are tempted to strip off graphics from old banners and recycle the material. However, if you value your time, which is probably worth more than $50/hour, this doesn’t make any sense. The cost of banner material is lower than your labor cost to clean an old banner.

Ask the right questions


When you initially review a project with a customer, ask the right questions. This way, you can determine which material weight and type to use. Here are some questions to consider:

* What’s the banner’s intended purpose?

* Where will the banner be used?

* Will the banner be mounted flat against a building, or mounted between two poles?

* What city ordinances apply to banners?

* How long does the customer want the banner to last?

* What’s the customer’s budget?

"Most customers who walk into my shop don’t have a clue about what type of banner they want," said Butch Anton of Superfrog Signs & Graphics (Moorhead, MN). He continued, "As a sign professional, it’s my job to steer them in the right direction — advising them about size, color and content — so I can best satisfy their business needs."

Anton primarily produces stock-size banners. He keeps nearly six of each popular size, such as 3 x 6, 3 x 8, 3 x 10, 4 x 8 and 4 x 10 ft., in inventory at all times. He only inventories white banners, because he can easily paint them to change the background color.

Before using a banner substrate, store your raw materials as you would other signage materials: out of direct sunlight and in a temperature- and humidity-controlled area.

Keep banner designs simple

Good banner designs are simple — don’t use eight words, when four will do. Don’t use an overly ornate typeface, when a simple one is more legible. Furthermore, limit your number of elements, and emphasize a primary message, such as a store special. Also, allow enough white space, or open area, to create an uncluttered look and improve readability.

Bigger banners are better. Sell your customer on the idea that bigger banners are more noticeable, more readable and generate more store traffic. Bigger banners also mean higher revenues for your shop.

When you see an attractive banner design, photograph it for future reference when designing your own banners. A portfolio can also be a useful selling tool.

It doesn’t have to be white

Generally, brighter colors attract attention. Instead of black block letters on a white background, try something different. Vinyl banners are available in various colors. Signmakers, like Anton, often paint the background color.

"Instead of selling a plain-white banner," Anton explained, "we add value to the signage by adding color. By doing so, we can charge an additional $30 for the banner." To paint the backgrounds, Anton uses Ronan Aquacote waterbased paints, which he applies using a foam roller.

He further explained, "We roll a thin coat of paint onto the vinyl banner. The paint quality is so good, it covers completely in one coat. Typically, we can paint a 4 x 8-ft. banner in 10 minutes."

By directing high-volume fans onto the painted material, the banners are dry to the touch in approximately 30 minutes and ready for vinyl applications.

After two hours, the paint is bulletproof — it’s so hard you won’t pull any paint when you reposition vinyl or remove application tape. However, if you tear off a little paint, you can easily touch up your work.

Ideally, you should wait a day before rolling vinyl banners. The waiting time is certainly much less if you use solvent-based paints or lettering enamels.

According to Anton, "With waterbased paints, I can paint the banner, dry it, decorate it with vinyl, and ship it within a day. This is important when dealing with customers who need their banners right away. Plus, if you can provide more than your competitors, you can charge more for your services."

Before you apply graphics, various paints can decorate vinyl banners. Although sign enamels can be used, many signmakers prefer waterbased paints, because they dry faster.

Avery Dennison Graphics & Reflective Products Div.’s Alan Weinstein noted, "Not all paints are compatible with all vinyl banner materials. When you mix numerous raw materials together, some complex chemistry takes place. The banner substrate, paint, vinyl and clearcoat, or laminate, must all be compatible. If they’re not, problems can occur."




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