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Vinyl Media

Multiplying customer choices with signmaking vinyl




A review of vinyl media? Why bother, you may ask, because today’s large-format, full-color digital printers can crank out virtually any color your customer requests and, many abler sign-printing machines will stylishly print on metallic type media – so why bother stocking anything but white, adhesive-back printable vinyl?

It’s a valid point, because, to some extent you can digitally print many sign orders, but we’d like to add that choosing the print process also limits what your shop can offer. Let’s say you’re bidding a truck lettering job, one with basic letters and graphics that the buyer expects to last at least five years. Can you guarantee that lifetime? Remember, it’s a truck, so road debris, smog, oil, direct sunlight and possibly acid rain will pummel, age and fade most ink-based graphics, even those with lamination. On the other hand, high-quality vinyl in machine-cut letter forms and brand shapes is designed for such environments; it’s also less expensive. 


Do we have your attention? If so, let’s look at what you can do with today’s adhesive-backed vinyl media. Leaving aside (for now) specialty media, your choices comprise two types of vinyl: cast and calendared. The essential differences are price and product lifetime. Adhesive-backed cast vinyl is your choice for difficult applications. It’s resistant to shrinkage, conforms well to curves, holds color and, obviously, should be your choice for vehicle signage and wraps or roadside signfaces. Less expensive and less dexterous, is adhesive-backed calendared vinyl. It’s created by a pressure-roller process, and sometimes offered in two classes, polymeric and monomeric. Neither is recommended for tightly curved or long-term applications, but the polymeric might handle sloping curves such as those found on bus or truck sides that are changed often. Monomeric is your least expensive choice for short-term, frequent-change or interior work. 

Cast vinyl is produced in a non-stress process. It’s not yanked and pulled during the making, so the polymers are more pliable and less prone to shrinkage. You’ll appreciate these aspects when stretching cast vinyl over rivets or fitting it into odd shapes. In general, cast vinyl is more robust than calendared with lifespans of up to 10 years – a range almost double that of calendared vinyl.

So why not just order cast vinyl? The answer is cost. Cast vinyl prices can be more than double the price of calendared; therefore, you’ll want to carefully study the application to determine which media is right for the job. If you’re in doubt, we recommend you talk to the vinyl distributor or manufacturer. 

When comparing sign vinyl to digital printing, consider that sign vinyl is available in various colors. Better is that your customer’s color choice, selected via the manufacturer’s swatch book, is exactly what they get.


True reflectivity is another struggle in digital printing, because the ink is always an overlay, and this reduces reflectivity. Also, printed reflective vinyl requires lamination, which also dulls reflectivity. As you know, city, state and federal traffic signs have strict codes for reflective signage, but fortunately you can find an adhesive-back vinyl made for the job. More fun is that many specialty vinyl products are available from various manufacturers: shiny metallic, fluorescents, holographic, engine turns, textures and more.

While we’re discussing sign cutting processes, remember that low-tack, adhesive-backed paint mask is available and a godsend when you need to apply paint but can’t draw a straight line. The same goes for spray painting. Also, don’t forget sandblast masking, which can be cut with most cutting plotters. It’s available in various thicknesses and strengths. Another interesting vinyl novelty is one with a dry-erase surface for making menu boards, employee notes and other applications. 
Finally, municipalities can demand true goldleaf for fire engine and police vehicles. True (and false) gold and silver vinyl media are available.

If your mindset has always been on the digital-printing side of signage, then hopefully we have opened your eyes to some new possibilities – which may open new opportunities in your shop.



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