Too many times, when dealing with vinyl banners, I notice that 90 percent of our knowledge is lost and we tend to purchase only on price or convenience. And I am just as much to blame as anyone because in the old days (around 10 years ago) I used a fantastic banner material, it was light blocking 13 oz. and it printed like a dream, and today you cannot find this material anywhere! So let me help bring you up to speed on all the choices for banners and when to use what.
Smooth (non-scrim) banner is great for indoor applications such as this, but since it is made without reinforcing mesh material, it is not as strong as scrim banner.
VINYL BANNER MATERIAL
Vinyl banners are made of two products—polyester mesh (scrim) and vinyl. The polyester mesh provides added strength. The linear mass density of the mesh fibers is measured in units called deniers. A high denier count for the mesh generally means a smoother scrim vinyl. Typically banner mesh is between 150 and 1,000 deniers. Although it could be implied that that a 1,000 denier mesh is stronger than a 500, it’s not necessarily so. A number of tests have been done that have proven this not to be the case.
Liquid vinyl is made from a number of chemicals, mainly polyvinyl chloride and some kind of plasticizer. Plasticizers are used as softening agents that provide added flexibility and can be either monomeric or polymeric. Polymeric plasticizers offer better performance, and the difference in how well your banner lasts can be huge. If a banner is cracking and falling apart after a year outside, it was almost certainly made from vinyl containing a monomeric plasticizer. For a few extra cents per square foot you should always purchase banners made with a polymeric plasticizer.
Banner material is created two ways: laminated and coated/dipped. Coated/dipped is the process of feeding the polyester mesh through a coater that covers/dips the scrim in a hot vinyl mixture that contains a plasticizer. With the other process, two layers of vinyl are laminated together around the scrim mesh. Often a black layer is added in between to make block-out material. Most banners today are made using a laminating process because it results in the lowest-priced product. However, the coated/dipped process is still considered by many to result in the best quality banner material you can purchase. Most coated/dipped banners are made with a polymeric plasticizer.
Vinyl banner material comes in a variety of weights and configurations. Knowing which types are best for which applications can save you time and money.
Coated/dipped banner material costs more, but in my opinion the added quality is worth the extra money. Most backlit banner material is made this way. Now this does not mean that if you purchase a laminated banner that you will have a failure in a short time frame. But for a true long-term solution, I suggest coated/dipped vinyl banner material.
PRINTING YOUR BANNER
I use a good solvent printer for all my long-term vinyl banner work. Solvent inks work great with vinyl and the inks will last fairly well outdoors, even without laminating.
Vinyl banner material that has been optimized for use with UV-cure inks is also available, though I am told it is somewhat more expensive. I have never purchased special vinyl banner material just for UV-curable ink and so can’t speak as to how well it works. Polyester-based banner material works quite well with UV-cure inks, however. So if you are going to use a UV-cure printer to make vinyl banners, you might want to ask some questions before you buy.
Most vinyl banners that are made for UV curable ink have a shelf life of six months, and solvent banner one year. This does not mean that if you purchase a one-year-old banner the product will fail before you print on it, but it will fail one year faster in the field. The reason for this is that the plasticizer used in most of the banners is monomeric; and monomeric plasticizers tend to migrate out of the banner over time making it stiffer and more likely to crack in the weather—especially in cold weather. This explains why so many distributors have Huge Banner Sales. In many cases they are unloading old inventory. It would be helpful if banner manufacturers placed date-of-manufacture on their product, similar to the way beer companies place a “born-on” date on beer containers.
This outdoor banner failed after less than a year, most likely because the vinyl had reached its shelf-life expectancy. The monomeric plasticizers in some banners can migrate out of the banner over time, making it stiffer and more likely to crack in the weather.
This close-up image shows the difference between regular mesh banner material, left, and speaker mesh, right. Both allow wind to pass through, but the speaker mesh is even more porous, allowing sound waves to penetrate unfettered while still providing printable area.
There is a lot to be said around the issue of banner finishing, but I’m just going to highlight a couple of ideas here.
Grommets—It’s best to use spur grommets as they will grab the banner and hold on best. You can use a hand-grommeting tool, or, if you do a high volume of banners, automated grommeting equipment is available.
Hem, Pockets, Seams—RF welding or Hot Air welding equipment, or stitching with a heavy sewing machine is best for creating hems, pockets and seams. Banner tape works but tends to pucker, and the banner may not be very strong. If you are using banner tape, there are many options, but I prefer Venture Tape (www.venturetape.com) because it is designed for long term.
MY PERFECT BANNER
If I had a wish for my perfect banner material for most of my banner applications, it would be the following:
• Gloss or semi-gloss on one side and matte on the back. This way I can offer both finishes and only have to stock one material. Value Vinyls offers a 13 oz. banner material called Freedom Opaque Matte that fits this bill, (available in 36", 54", 62" and 72" widths).
• 12 – 14 oz. in weight as this is just a great weight for most printers and to be able to lift the roll.
• Block out in the center so I can sell this to anyone for any application and not worry about the sun or trade show lights washing out the image. Plus, it works great for pole banners.
• The material would be made with a polymeric plasticizer, but I do understand the cost would be about $.10 more per sq. ft. due to this additional cost to manufacture. Realistically, the material would be made with a monomeric plasticizer to keep the cost down.
• A strong 500 denier weave mesh so the banner would be very strong.
• Be a laminated banner so as to keep the cost down.
• Come with a three-year outdoor warranty against cracking.
• Come in both 54" and 63" widths.
• Come in 150' rolls
• Be kept in stock on the west coast, central region, and the east coast. This way everyone has access to the stock within a few days.
This outdoor banner still looks great after a year outdoors, most likely because the vinyl was made with polymeric plasticizers that offer better performance.
Mesh banner material is an excellent choice for outdoor pole banners because the mesh design allows wind to pass through.
BANNER TYPES AND THIER USES
Banner Solid Scrim—This type of banner material is ideal for many types of outdoor applications. Comes in weights from 7 to 22 oz. A heavier banner does not make a stronger banner in all cases, you should check with the manufacturer to determine the right banner weight for your application.
Truck-side graphics and long-term pole banners work best with 18 to 22 oz. banner, and I recommend you use only coated/dipped banner material. Billboards are best with 7 to 8 oz. material. For small, short-term outdoor banners, any kind of banner will work.
Banner Solid Smooth—This banner comes in 10 to 13 oz. and is ideal for indoor applications only. Typically this material does not have a scrim mesh so it can tear easily, but is smooth so it looks very nice. Roll up banners, banner stands, ceiling banners, blinds for windows, etc., are the most popular choices for this material.
Banner Backlit—Comes in 14 to 20 oz. and is designed for long term applications. It is great for indoor and outdoor backlit applications, including pylon signs. Most companies double-strike this material so the image is more vibrant with the lights behind it. Almost all backlit banner is coated and uses a polymeric plasticizer for long life applications.
Mesh Banner 75/25—Best for environments that have wind issues. I use mesh for all large outdoor wall-mounted banners, staging, concert stage, single-sided over-the-road banners, as well as indoor one-way vision applications where a banner will work. Almost all mesh banner is coated and uses a polymeric plasticizer for long life applications. I get this from Value Vinyls and Ultraflexx.
Speaker Mesh 45/55—I use this for two applications, covering scaffolding at a concert and building wraps. I get my material from Verseidag, called Seemee Mesh Standard. This material is coated and they do use a polymeric plasticizer.
THE FINAL WORD
I would be remiss if I did not do a ROI on banners. So let me use me as the example. I have a few clients that order banners outside that are expected to last over a year. One such client hung his banners on a chain link fence with spur grommets and all the banners are hemmed. They looked great, but after one year they cracked and were starting to fall apart. I now have to replace a total of eight 59" x 48" banners— for free! My cost to replace all these banners is $9 in material and about four hours of my time. Total cost for this one client is $155. Now, this is just one client—we sell hundreds of banners to clients who never call me back because of a poor product—but for this guy, I have to face the music about my banners.
If I had ordered a better grade of banner material in the first place—one that cost me seven cents more per square foot, say, a coated/dipped banner made with a polymeric plasticizer—this would have saved me more than $110 in lost material and time. Lesson learned.
If you always give your customers the best products, you will always be confident that no other company can offer a better product.
Good luck, and be smart with your money. I’ll see you on the show floor.