Magnet Mania

Many people think of their kitchen refrigerator when the word magnet is mentioned. Others may recall a cartoon show’s embellishment of an oversized red-and-gray, horseshoe-shaped version. School science experiments and children’s games may also feature magnetic elements. The reach is wide.

Historically, magnets have not been absent from the sign scene either, available for in-store displays, vehicles and more. Though signage may not be the first magnetic application that comes to mind, it certainly has its place.

As technology progresses, magnetic applications have become that much more significant. Advances in direct-to-print techniques and customized fabrication have allowed for a wider range of use. Additionally, magnets are being used in conjunction with other materials, such as vinyl film, to create a memorable impression.

Developing a visibly noticeable promotional display, whether personal or corporate, is the goal of magnetic sign manufacturers. Where the sign is placed can make the biggest difference in if it is seen or not. “We do vehicle magnetic signage more than anything else,” says Gary Mellor, owner of GM Signs in Las Vegas.

Vehicles make a great canvas for magnets because of their wide, metallic siding. According to Scott Reese, vice president of sales for Xanté, “Magnets will work on a metal bumper as well as the side of a car door.” He also cites office door frames, file cabinets and any other metallic surface as a suitable place for a magnet.

The fact that magnets can also be made in several different shapes is a benefit to those looking for less expensive but original displays. “We don’t really keep ready-made magnets on-hand,” says Mellor. “We do everything custom.” Mellor says after a customer makes a deposit on a job, he’ll work up a sketch. He then prints to 3M vinyl and laminates it with an Avery overlaminate, saying that “a lot of applications include individually cut letters.”

Using an HP DesignJet 5500, Mellor’s design is printed onto the vinyl and applied to the magnet. A lot of magnetic materials today can be printed in one way or another. Drytac’s FerroJet product is available in three print technologies: aqueous, solvent and UV-cure. On the other hand, Xanté’s magnetic material is printed with toner-based laser printers.

Printability remains an intriguing advantage of making magnetic signage, especially with thinner magnetic sheeting hitting the market. But it’s the stronger magnets that may work best for vehicle applications, which require exceptional holding qualities for high-speed travel.

Says Reese about Xanté’s Myriad Magnetic digital media, a new flexible, rubberized magnetic digital media designed for full-color printing: “It’s quite thick so it will stick to the side of a truck on the freeway. One of our staff members put it on his vehicle and drove 80 mph in the rain and it didn’t move an inch.”

Normally, vehicle magnets are fabricated in standard sizes—12 inches by 24 inches—which are proven to work well. However, GM Signs discovered that larger magnets also work in some situations. “We’ve just done a couple of big magnets that are 24 inches by 50 inches for MGM Grand’s mini buses,” says Mellor.

Most individuals will note the easy repositioning and lower price of magnets as the most attractive qualities; however, other advances have provided even more benefits. The Myriad Magnetic media, for example, is waterproof, making it suitable for longer-term outdoor applications.

For indoor magnetic displays, some companies have developed new ways to hang graphics. For example, Drytac recently released its FerroCoat product, a reversible-style magnetic system dependent on a commercial-grade latex primer. “FerroCoat is sold in quarts and gallons,” says Jerry Hill, director of sales and marketing for Drytac. “It has particles in it and seems like magnetic paint, even though it is not.” The FerroCoat can be applied to a wall, which will attract magnetic materials. The wall can then be repainted over the FerroCoat so it appears unchanged from the original paint. “If a company wanted to promote its 25th anniversary in its lobby,” explains Hill, “but didn’t want to put magnetic sheeting up and disrupt the wall surface, FerroCoat could be used.”

Magnetic tile will stick to the coated wall on one side and graphics can be placed on the outside of the tile. “At the end of a function or event, you can take the graphics and tiles off the wall,” says Hill. “The primer is still there, but the wall looks normal.”

Still, other products on the market play a completely different role with displays. Emerge Industries’ Sticky Yard product is a magnetic measuring system that helps vehicle graphics installation work more easily with vinyl panels. “The process is applying Sticky Yard then taking a photo and bringing it into the software,” says owner Eric Carlson. “It’s like having a penny in a photo as a reference point—the Sticky Yard is the known reference.”

In a sense, the Sticky Yard competes with different vehicle graphics software packages on the market, though Carlson believes there are more benefits to using Sticky Yard. “With our system, it’s the same concept as using software, except you’re working on the exact vehicle and it’s one-tenth the cost (of purchasing software),” he says. As for the magnetic element of the product, the Sticky Yard measuring device has a magnetic backing to it so it can be laid upon the side of a car while accurate photos are taken for measurement. “You can take measurements of everything from the fuel door cut-out to the wheel base,” says Carlson. “Vehicle graphics are the blossoming part of the sign world and this product is a time-saver.”

A secondary use for Sticky Yard exists during the actual installation of the graphics. The magnet can keep graphic panels held onto the vehicle while they are being laid out. “They won’t take place of masking tape when hinging the graphic panels, but you can adjust the graphic as you get them placed,” says Carlson.

There will always be ways to improve upon and expand the capabilities of magnetic signage. The previous examples detailed just a few. However, magnetic sheeting still remains the most commonly used form of magnetic signage both indoors and outdoors. The difference lies in what type to use.

“Whether the magnet will be used indoors or outdoors helps to determine the type of laminate and adhesive used,” says Ruth Wyckoff, director of marketing, Magnum Magnetics Corp. “For example, we would typically recommend an acrylic-based adhesive for outdoor applications and a rubber-based adhesive for indoor applications.”

Other considerations must also be made when deciding upon magnetic signs. Most people may only think of magnets as temporary applications, but permanent magnetic signage is also an option. “We have magnetic sheeting with adhesive on it,” says Hill. “Basically you peel off the roll and strip it to a wall in whatever size area you want to cover. That’s your base.”

Next, a second sheet—that has a printable vinyl outer side—is placed upon the first sheet. Simply put, the base sheeting is permanent as it is adhesively attached to the wall surface and the second set of sheeting can be changed out since it is only being held to the wall by a magnetic force. “The beauty of it,” explains Hill further, “is that it has a green component because you’re saving from traditional graphics; you’re not using foam. If you’re shipping out these retail graphics to stores you save on waste and freight costs because you print it, roll it in a tube and send it out.” The changeability of the graphics and hanging become simple with this method as well because the retailer can do the installation himself.

Truly, there are many ways magnets are used in this industry, and as time goes on more improvements will be made. Perhaps after taking a more focused glance at magnetic applications, the public will see that they cover much more than just a home refrigerator. And maybe like the magnet itself, sign makers will draw more individuals to their work with the inclusion of magnetic elements.