Building Banners

Vinyl banners are by far the most common banner type in use today. They are used everywhere from Albany to Zambia, from National Parks to car parks and from the poles to the equator. But rather than making them easier to understand, this ubiquitous nature has made them more complex and difficult. The variations of substrate, printer, inks, lamination and finishing techniques have become almost infinite.

Vinyl banner substrates have a variety of surface textures, but these are just cosmetics, and personal preference should apply. The important bits are in the composition of the banner material. Most vinyl banners are made of calendered PVC. Woven into some banners are polyester scrims. In these banners the PVC is coated over the scrims, providing a lot of extra strength. The weight of the banner also determines strength. Common weights range from 10 to 16 ounces. Backlit banners are translucent for even light transmission. Some banners allow small amounts of light to pass through, others have a block-out layer in the middle. Different situations require different choices here.

Choosing the right printing ink and substrate combination is also critical. Aqueous inks are only acceptable for short-term indoor use. The banner materials have to be coated to accept the inks and these coatings are not very durable or water resistant. UV inks do not bind very well to vinyl banners and scratch easily. Eco and mild solvents bond lightly to many banner types, but every substrate needs testing before any purchasing decisions are made. True solvent inks bite deeply into vinyl banner materials. The inks are resistant to abrasion and fading, making for excellent all-round banner choices.

If a longer term product is desired, the banner can be coated with a liquid lamination. This can be applied with a special coating machine or the old-fashioned way with a spray gun or roller.

After printing, most banners will require some form of edge finishing. For simple, short-term indoor use, banner tape is quick and easy. This double-sided adhesive is formulated for use with vinyl banners and will provide a good light-duty product. For a stronger bond without using any equipment, chemicals are available that actually alter the chemistry at the join. They are much stronger than adhesives.

If you want to get some machinery to make the job easier, heat welding is a good entry-level product. The heat seams are attractive and relatively strong. Radio frequency welding requires more expensive equipment and training, but gives a stronger, more consistent and almost invisible edge finish. The strongest, but ugliest, edge finish is sewing. Thread cannot be beat for a tough, durable hem. This also allows for reinforcing material to be sewn in when heavy-duty use is expected.

Banners can be used almost everywhere. They are good looking enough for even the chichiest occasion. Vinyl banners are tough enough for the wildest outdoor locations and they are cheap enough for the lowest budgets. Stand and framing systems are available in sizes that range from the personal to the gigantic, but almost anything can be turned into a banner holding device. They can be fastened to surfaces or stretched between poles. They can be attached rigidly or left floating like flags. There’s not much that you can’t do with a banner. One artist is even recycling old banners by sewing them into shopping bags.

There are lots of reasons why vinyl banners are so popular today. Easy to print, easy to fabricate, inexpensive to stock and easy to handle are reasons why printers push them, but durability, attractiveness, versatility and cost effectiveness are reasons why clients keep coming back for more.