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Seaming Vinyl Banners: To Stitch or Not to Stitch?

Double-lock stitching increases the durability and improves the appearance of the banner. It is just the most time consuming method. Find out when the time investment is worth the durability payoff.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Stitching can be one of the most durable alternatives when uncooperative weather is likely to batter the banner.

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  • When banner tape is out of the question, chemical weld won’t quite last long enough and RF welding is not within your budget, it may be time to consider old-fashioned stitching to seam your vinyl banners. Yes, old-fashioned stitching. Despite new technologies, this could still be the best way get the job done.

    Again, banner tape is a very short-term solution for seaming vinyl banners and RF welding is an expensive proposition. While stitching can be more complicated, it may be worth the trouble in the grand scheme of things, especially in high wind conditions. Indeed, stitching can be one of the most durable alternatives when you are uncooperative weather is likely to batter the banner.

    “You have to look at all the factors when deciding how you are going to seam the banner,” says Robert Shipman, vice president of marketing for Instant Imprints, a national sign franchise based in San Diego, Calif. “If you are using the banner short-term and indoors, then there is no need to stitch the side. You would stitch and nylon-reinforce a banner if it was going to be used outside for a long duration or exposed to heavy wind loads. Ninety-nine percent of banners are not exposed in that way.”

    Theory in Action
    Shipman recalls working on a three-story banner for a football stadium. The banner was almost like a sail on a ship. Instant Imprints had to design hardware to mount the banner to the side of the facility in such a way that the wind could flow behind it and escape rather than stress and possibly stretch the material.

    “We put what's called wind flaps into the banner. We used bungee connections so there would be flexibility. The banner looked kind of like a balloon starting to blow out and then, the air would give off through the wind flaps and it will just snap back in place,” Shipman explains. “By taking that approach you can preserve the lifespan of the banner.”

    Alternatively, if he had chosen to screw the banner into the side of the building he would have lost that flexibility and could have seen the banner curl at the edges. Or, if he had used ropes instead of bungee cords the sides of the banner would probably have gotten stretched out as they resisted the wind and the rope would have wound up in a tangled mess.

    That’s why Instant Imprints gives its customer hardware, including bungee cords, if the banner will be exposed to high wind loads. Shipman knows from experience that the proper installation will allow the banner to hold up better to wear and tear. “Even if you have a banner that’s stitched and sewn, if you expose it to a high wind load and it doesn’t have the ability to give a little, then it’s going to rip the corners off the banner,” Shipman says. “So it’s a matter of knowing where the customer is going to display the banner and making sure it is mounted properly.”

    Overlap versus Butt Seams
    Alright, so what about overlap and butt seams, you ask? Overlap and butt seaming are the most common ways to join large vinyl images. Overlapping is perhaps the quick and easy way to get the job done, but the disadvantage is ugly strips in your beautiful work of art.

    “Overlapping literally means you are taking two pieces of material and overlapping them one-half to one inch. One piece of material literally goes on top of the other,” explains Doug Mier, a Dallas-based sign expert with FastSigns International.

    Butt seaming, on the other hand, is where the materials butt up against each other. This technique makes the seam almost invisible to the naked eye. Many believe butt seaming is the only way to go if you have realistic images of people or other critical imagery on your vinyl banner. The key is not to print the banner in a way that seams will come down the middle of text or critical imaging areas.

    Perhaps surprisingly, though, Mier suggests the overlapping method much of the time: “We are talking about time, not artwork. Nobody makes a seamless material that’s 30 feet wide and no machine can handle a 30-foot graphic. So you have to seam it. If it’s done right, the human eye will ignore part if it, sort of like a vehicle wrap. It’s noticeable but not unsightly.”

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    The bottom line is that double-lock stitching increases the durability and improves the appearance of the banner. It is just the most time consuming method of them all. Your best bet for the least visible seam is to mark the locations of seams in your graphic file with tick marks or lines on a separate layer sent to the back. Then the printer can determine the amount of overlap it needs in order to let you stitch the seam. Again, the goal is not to stitch where there are words or critical images. Here’s another obvious but sometimes overlooked tip: use thread that is the same color as the vinyl when stitching. When in doubt, use clear thread.

    In-house versus outsource
    If you want to outsource the whole process, you can send your banners to companies like Super Stitches in Youngstown, Ohio. The company also advises sign makers on equipment selection if they want to take it back in-house, and even offers sewing lessons.

    Super Stitches advices sign makers not to use typical home sewing machines because they can’t feed the material rapidly and consistently through the needle. Home machines lack pulling power and leave you with inconsistent stitch lengths. The company recommends a dual, or unison, feed commercial machine. This is better known as a “walking foot machine.”

    These machines feature a presser foot that sits on top of the material. It has its own set of gripping teeth and walks in unison with the bottom feed to create a double feeding action of the material. That leaves you with larger, consistent stitches. This is the same type of machine used by upholsterers.

    You may also opt for a double needle chainstitch machine. It uses four spools of thread feeding from the top of the machine and does not require changing the bottom bobbin thread. That makes it a good choice for large volume banner production. These machines are used in the garment industry.

    Ask the right questions
    So how do you know what type of seam technique to use? Ask your customer the right questions, Shipman repeats. “You have to understand specifically what the customer’s needs are,” he reminds. “Most of the time there is no physical reason why the banner needs to be stitched. Ask them where they are going to install it and how they are going to mount it. That should give you the answer you are looking for.”

    For more information on how to use banner tape, chemical weld and RF welding, check out parts one and two of this three-part series.

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