More on What You Need to Know About Rivets
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More on What You Need to Know About Rivets

Discover the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of installing vinyl graphics over rivets. What you find out may surprise you.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Dealing with rivets is the price you pay for greater profits. But applying over rivets need not be a nightmare if you have the right knowledge and skills.

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  • Are you ready to move from simple vinyl applications to the complex projects that generate the big bucks? Then that may mean learning to apply over rivets.

    Rivets permanent mechanical fastener, consists of a smooth metal shaft with a head. Rivets are placed in the part and held in place by spreading the tip protruding through the material. No one likes them. But they are fact of life if you are going to work with fleets, including semi-trucks and large buses.

    Indeed, dealing with rivets is the price you pay for greater profits. But applying over rivets need not be a nightmare if you have the right knowledge and skills. So what do you need to know about applying vinyl over rivets? You don’t know what you don’t know.

    SignIndustry.com asked the pros that same question. Read on to learn what you should know before taking on the rivet challenge.

    Back to basics
    Much like any vinyl installation, the fundamental truth to applying material to a substrate is to make sure it is clean and dry. If you ask any vinyl manufacturer or application expert what is the most common mistake people make in the installation process, then you will get the same answer every time: inadequate preparation of the substrate’s surface.

    For more information on this subject, read our article, “Vinyl Techniques: Preparing the Surface.”

    Preparing the surface may seem like an obvious part of the vinyl installation process, but often time it is the step that people take for granted. Whether it is hurried installers working by the job or inexperienced applicators that don’t understand the process, contaminated substrates are one of the leading causes of vinyl failure.

    “You usually want to get a truck cleaned the day before you do the installation,” says Chuck Bules, a technical service manager for Arlon. “If not, then just use a damp rag with water and alcohol to clean off the surface dust. But don’t saturate it.”

    Of course, once you’ve cleaned the surface, Molly Waters, a spokesperson for Avery’s technical marketing department states that you need to check all seams, rivet heads and corrugations for any remaining moisture or solvent. “If moisture or solvent is present, then you should use a heat gun or propane torch to dry the surface completely before starting any work,” she says. “But take extra special care not to burn paint or rubber seals.”

    Absolutely no wet application
    There’s a great debate in the sign industry over vinyl installation: Is it better to apply wet or dry? But when it comes to rivets the debate is over. Bules says you simply cannot use wet application when you are applying vinyl over rivets.

    That “not wet application” rule also applies to another wet subject ­ rain. Bules says never to attempt to apply vinyl over rivets on a rainy day. Why?

    First of all, condensation stays under rivets and seams much longer than it would under a flat surface. So if you lay your vinyl down over anything but an absolutely dry surface, then you will trap moisture under the graphics.

    “You will get all the way to the point of finishing the job and as soon as you turn on that blow torch you are going to wish it was a different day because in every place you hit that torch you are going to get bubbles if water is caught underneath the rivets,” he says.

    Bules says whenever you see trucks on the roadway with raised rivets (the vinyl is tented up around the rivet) it’s very likely that it looked beautiful when the installer initially applied it. He just didn’t apply enough heat into it to melt the film in place.

    “Think of candle wax,” Bules says. “To some extent you can shape it cold but when it’s warm you can really get it to take the shape of the mold.”

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    Using the right tools
    There are tools that will make the installation process run much more smoothly. Experts recommend an air release, or pin tool. You’ll also need a heat gun to help stretch the film.

    A squeegee is an absolute must, say experts, and some installers actually use two different squeegees; a standard hard squeegee for the general work and a felt squeegee for the detailed areas. Felt squeegees help you avoid scratching the vinyl in those hard to wrap areas.

    “Tent your material over the rivets as you are putting it on, then come back and poke some holes around the rivet so you can have a place for the air to escape. Then, using heat and a rivet brush, work it down around the rivet head,” suggests Jeff Stadleman, technical marketing manager for the graphics product group at MACtac, a manufacturer of pressure sensitive adhesive.

    Stadleman says for very large rivets you might even use a cutting tool to relieve any stress that you put onto the film. What’s sure is that if you don’t apply the vinyl properly, then it will pop back up.

    “Eventually after it pops back up it allows the adhesive underneath to oxidize,” Stadleman says. “The adhesive will not go back down and then it will come brittle and start breaking off.”

    Waters says inexperienced installers often use razor blades to pop bubbles. But this is a dangerous practice because it creates a slit in the film that leads to a stress point and causes the vinyl to give away.

    “Over time that film may shrink a little bit and you’ll see all of these little slits or cuts and they’ll tend to go back to the material supplier saying it’s a material defect when really the installer may have caused that by putting the cut there,” she says. “A pin prick with a pin tool makes a circular hole that somewhat is self-healing so it doesn’t shrink back later.”

    Using the right materials
    Nathan Franzblau, founder of the Professional Decal Application Association, says too many installers don’t take enough time to consider whether or not they have the right tools ­ and the right vinyl. For example, he says, if you are going to put a screw into the wall, you could choose between Philips head screws and straight head screws.

    “If you have the wrong material in your hand it’s not designed to do the job that you are about to do,” he says. “And if you are not educated, then you might very well put the wrong material down and it would not produce the desired result. Maybe the rivets wouldn’t stay down, maybe the material would fade. You’ve got to use the right materials.”

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