Hands-On Banners
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Hands-On Banners

Discover how and when applying vinyl graphics to banners makes good business sense.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Vinyl banners are big business indoors and out, from grand openings to pole displays to trade show booths and beyond.

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  • Consider the statistics for outdoor advertising alone: In 2006, outdoor advertisers spent $6.8 billion, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. That’s up 8 percent from 2005. The biggest spenders? Local service businesses, restaurants, public transportation, hotels and resorts, retail and financial businesses, and real estate agencies. Sure, that’s not all banners, but banners add fuel to the outdoor advertising fire.

    The good news is there’s plenty of opportunity for shops to peddle message-toting banners. Mom and Pop signs shops may take an old-fashioned, hands-on approach to applying vinyl graphics to banner blinks, while larger operations boasting next-generation wide-format digital printers may rely on their high-tech equipment to get the job done. Whatever the technique, signmakers of all sizes can blend the art and science of applying custom graphics to these full-color promotional signs.

    Before you can cash in on the opportunities, though, you need to select the right materials and equipment to create promotional banners. Armed with the proper tools you can apply the vinyl graphics to banners that transform blank blinks into strategic communications vehicles that put money in your pocket.

    Selecting your vinyl
    Before we talk about the high-tech approaches, let’s get back to basics. When it comes to applying vinyl graphics to banners, not just any media will suffice. Banner applications demand an intermediate calendared vinyl. Calendared vinyl starts out as a solid and is melted and formed into a sheet, whereas cast vinyl starts out as liquid. The end result is that calendared vinyl has a memory of being something else. Cast vinyl’s memory is not as strong. Practically speaking, that means calendared vinyl will shrink a bit.

    “It’s alright to use a lower grade vinyl for banners,” says Craig Campbell, marketing coordinator for digital products at Oracal, a vinyl media manufacturer based in Jacksonville, Fla. “You don’t need to use a premium cast vinyl. The banners usually have a short life space, and calendared vinyl keeps the cost down in what has become a price-competitive market.”

    From an application standpoint, if your customer plans to change out the graphics frequently, such as updating an event date or location on the banner, Campbell recommends a removable vinyl rather than a permanent vinyl for those specific areas of the banner. Another consideration is matte versus glossy media. Campbell says matte vinyl works better indoors because it keeps the glare down.

    Readying to apply the graphics
    Applying graphics to vinyl banners starts having the right tools. You’ll need a vinyl or felt squeegee that’s about four inches in width, pre-mask, measuring tape, Isopropyl alcohol, a razor knife, an air release tool and a designated area in which to apply the graphic.

    Some of those tools are for the all-important tasks of preparing the surface. A dirty surface can make it difficult for the graphic to adhere to the banner material. Even if you do get it on, it won’t stay on for the long-term. Even though banners are typically short-term applications, you still don’t want to offer your customers anything but the best possible product. You can clean the surface with Isopropyl alcohol. Just make sure it is completely dry before you begin the actual application.

    One of the most common mistakes in applying vinyl graphics to banners is not applying to a flat surface. “We tape our banners to the table using two-inch masking tape because the banner has a tendency to curl and wrinkle,” says Dale Huenink, president of Vinyl Graphics, a vinyl graphics supplier in Oostburg, Wisc. “The masking tape stretches the banner out and puts some pressure on it. Then we lay down the graphics, typically using the double-hinge method, which is running the three-inch tape down the center and dividing the job in half.”

    Tensioning Solutions banner frames

    Applying graphics the old-fashioned way
    As Huenink mentioned, once you determine precisely where you want to apply the graphic use masking tape to hold the graphic in place while you slowly lift the graphic and remove its paper backing up to the mid-way mark. Then use a small squeegee to press the graphic into place, sliding the tool firmly over the graphic to work the air to the outside edges. Once the first side is securely in place, remove the tape from the center of the graphic and repeat the process on the opposite side.

    ‘‘Once the graphic is down, you can use some application solution and squirt it over the top of the paper,’’ Huenink says. ‘‘If you wait a minute, the adhesive on the paper relaxes and makes it much easier to pull off with less chance of pulling the graphics off the banner material.’’

    Another mistake is not maintaining even pressure with the squeegee. If you don’t press hard enough and consistently enough, you won’t burst the microscopic beads that burst and cause the film to adhere to the surface. Straight squeegee strokes are your best bet for any type of vinyl application. Overlapping strokes will ensure the best application. Finally, remove the rest of the application tape, using an air release tool to pop any bubbles.

    Joe Balabuszko, a regional sales manager for Earl Mich Company in Wood Dale, Ill., likes to keep the humanity in banners. He does this by combining applied vinyl with a hand-painted touch, including gold leafing. “Adding a personal touch captures the viewer’s eye better than computer-generated banners,” Balabuszko says. “Something textural and creative makes advertising work. With banners being mass-produced these days, the old adage may be true: signs are made to be ignored. The hand-painted touch makes the message stand out.”

    Printing directly onto the banner
    Balabuszko may be right, but the mass production of banners is still a reality at many sign shops today. Technology has helped push the point. The latest innovation in banner graphics is printing directly to the banner itself. Like many solvent printers, Gerber Scientific Products is in the business of taking the custom vinyl graphic application step out of the banner equation.

    The company recently announced the Gerber Solara ion, a wide-format UV inkjet printer. Of course, the solution is not for every sign shop. These types of printers run $80,000 or more. But shops that use the printer for multiple applications can save time and money by printing directly on to vinyl.

    “Our Solara ion lets you print directly on the banner, so long as the banner material is flat,” says Floyd Higgins, a salesman at Gerber. “You can’t put pre-fab banners that have seems in them through the Solara ion. You need to do the seaming afterwards. With the Solara ion, though, you can take the same graphic you printed onto the banner and print it onto rigid substrates, like plywood, using UV curable inks.”

    Still, some believe there will always be a place for applying graphics directly to banners, especially for larger runs that demand full color backgrounds. Since banners come in various colors ­ black, red, blue yellow, etc. ­ applying vinyl graphics to banners becomes more feasible in some cases.

    “Applying vinyl graphics to banners may be a dying process in many shops,” Campbell says, “but printing 100 banners with a full color background can be an expensive proposition from an ink perspective. In those cases, you may be able to compete better by applying the graphics by hand to a colored banner.”

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