Awning Tips and Tricks

In today’s tough market, everyone is looking for ways to stand out from competition, and a complementary piece of signage can be the perfect touch to any place of business. But to add a little flair and functionality, an awning just may be the right answer.

“We think awnings are appealing to today’s consumer because they provide a visual definition of the entry to the business and a shelter, which makes the place of business more inviting from an aesthetic standpoint,” says Hal Hunnicutt, vice president of marketing for Glen Raven Custom Fabrics. “But it also provides shade and shelter from the wind and rain, which greatly extends the usability of an area.”

Kevin McKinley, vice president of sales of Arlon, finds that many sign shops sign shops prefer to outsource those projects to awning manufacturers and wholesalers, but with a few simple tips and tricks, awning fabrication can become an additional listing to anyone’s services.

When printing a fabric awning, several options are available. Scott Fisher, vice president of sales and marketing of Fisher Textiles, recommends solvent inkjet or UV-curable printing because the inks are more durable against the sun than some of the alternatives. Depending on the ink, an outdoor digital print lasts two to five years. He also says solvent and UV-curable printing especially is an option if the awning will be subjected to limited handling. Fabric generally is coated to accept the solvent and UV-curable inks, and this extra layer can be susceptible to scratching.

Another printing method is dye sublimation, but Fisher does not recommend it for outdoor applications. After six to 12 months of direct sunlight, the ink substantially will fade; however, dye sublimation is a good choice if the awning will undergo excessive handling, says Fisher. When a fabric is printed using dye sublimation, the ink embeds into the fibers.

“You can take it up and down, wash it – you’re not going to wash any of the ink off. And, in that same breath, you’re not going to scratch any of the ink off, either. It’s going to be very durable from a handling standpoint,” explains Fisher.

Of course, there are options besides digital printing that look to more traditional methods. McKinley instead encourages screen printing for awnings because the graphics last even longer, approximately seven to10 years.

“When you’re talking about screen printing, you’re able to use more high-quality inks. This allows you to meet the more rigorous demands of corporate identity signage. Because of the way it’s delivered to the substrate, we are allowed to use more industrial inks optimized for our process,” says McKinley.

Fabric selection also is an important consideration, especially when dealing with outdoor awnings, and, in the opinion of John Pierce, Weathermax product manager of Safety Components, using a fabric specially designed for outdoor printing is the most critical factor, as outdoor fabrics are engineered to inherently hold up to those harsh environmental elements. Pre-treatments are available, though, but Pierce states that it will not hold up as well as an outdoor-specific fabric.

“Any kind of topical treatment is going to dissipate much faster than something that’s all the way into the yarn,” says Pierce. “You can have the world’s greatest print, but if the fabric, which is the base of it all, doesn’t last, then you have a major issue on your hand.”

Before printing on the fabric, Craig Zola, business manager of awning and marine fabrics of Herculite, recommends handling the fabric with care and setting up a work area that is conducive to the nature of fabric. Avoid any fabric abrasions or snags by keeping your table and work surfaces smooth. Also, the fabric should be delicately cleaned before printing.

“We suggest wiping the fabric with isopropyl alcohol to assure it is clean. Cleaning should be across the material from side to side with paper towel. Shop rags should not be used since many contain silicones,” advises Zola.

But the cleaning doesn’t stop there. According to the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association, once the awning is constructed, an annual cleaning typically is necessary to preserve the looks and service life. However, additional cleansing may be needed if stains or other unwanted markings appear. During the first year of service, the regular cleaning schedule should begin. Although the cleaning can be completed by the client, as an installer, you also can offer a maintenance contract.

Naturally, the awning frame provides structural strength and support; therefore, it is important to properly treat this component. To avoid rusting, Zola says the frames should be primed and painted, and galvanized steel and powder-coated aluminum help reduce maintenance. Both steel and aluminum are common materials and often require engineering design and approval.

To construct an awning that provides the most protection, there are many specifications to consider, such as the height, width and the angle toward the sun. Of course, visiting the future awning’s location will help you determine the elemental factors, but Hunnicutt suggests using awning design software, noting that he uses Canvas Link.

“It will allow you to take a photograph of the façade of the building, where the customer wants the awning, and you can use the software to build a frame and map the fabric onto it for a photorealistic depiction of what the building will look like with the awning,” explains Hunnicutt. “You can even see how the sun is going to come down on it.”

And as an extra perk, this software can be used as a selling tool. Hunnicutt suggests shooting a photograph of your potential client’s building to create a virtual awning using the software. Then send the prospect a copy of the image attached to your business card. For a business that has never purchased an awning, it may take that photographic illustration to understand how this type of signage can enhance its image.

Pierce suggests joining a trade association for networking and educational opportunities. Not only can you gain design ideas but these organizations also are helpful when trying to figure out some of those complicated permit and coding issues and even can provide references, says Michelle Sahlin, managing director of PAMA.

“Actually, PAMA is working on a permit reference document to help awning and canopy companies and those who are using awning and canopies as signage,” says Sahlin. “We also recommend that [awning installers] go to the local municipality’s Web site and find out what the requirements are or contact a local official.”

In addition to the permit reference document, Sahlin says PAMA has a building code handbook, which is available through the Industrial Fabrics Association International bookstore. This handbook specifies international building codes, a summary of codes at the state level and flammability requirements.

Joining a trade association especially is helpful to those new to the awning market. With all the printing options, construction considerations and regulatory codes, there are plenty of avenues to learn.

“You’re going to make mistakes if you’re just getting into it, and if you can talk to someone who already has made that mistake, you can avoid doing that yourself,” advises Pierce.