We’re all familiar with the piles of fridge magnets we’ve received from dental offices and muffler shops, or even the ones we’ve bought for mom at tacky tourist shops on our travels. They’ll cling to metal, for sure, but they’re usually not that complex, with some traditional vinyl media glued onto a magnetic backing—prone to peeling and pretty low-tech.
That old-school image of magnetic printing is starting to fall by the wayside as manufacturers have figured out ways to create infinitely more malleable substrates that can be directly printed on themselves. Other, more revolutionary magnetic-receptive systems allow for infinitely adaptable and reconfigurable signage possibilities for retailers, with enough magnetic power to support hooks or even shelves.
That’s been a huge business for Boston-area manufacturer Visual Magnetics, whose unique two-part magnetized fabrics and magnetic display systems have made them the go-to solution for major retailers, cell phone carriers and other companies who rely on ever-changing in-store graphics.
Joe Deetz, president and CEO, says his company came up with the notion of a coating made of magnetized paint back in 1992, which allowed almost infinite variations on size and use.
“Everyone liked magnets but hated cutting them, and there were always limitations on width,” he says. “We figured out how to print a high-quality film using a ferrous-based micro iron coating—I was originally doing that out of my garage, even though I had clients as big as Charles Schwab.”
Visual Magnetics now specializes in large, layerable lifestyle graphics for retail displays, which change seasonally. Signage customers can choose printable substrates from 20 different materials and an 8,000-strong library of colors or fabrics (even an exotic pineapple tree wood-infused material for one client), with applications in government offices, schools, hotels and healthcare.
Today’s magnetic signage business is also big on ecological concerns and country-of-origin pride, with many of the made-in-the-U.S. products manufactured from recycled or recyclable materials. Deetz’s products boast of being entirely PVC-free and, with the exception of some base films, are all made at his Massachusetts plant.
Granted, those more traditional applications can still mean steady customers for sign shops—magnetic vehicle signs, calendars, business cards and the like—but new materials make for easier print jobs and more adaptable applications, with an infinite variety of widths now available, as well.
Jim Cirigliano, marketing manager with Magnum Magnetics in Marietta, Ohio, says his company has integrated direct-printable substrates that include both magnetic media and magnet-receptive media—no more of the old-fashioned process which required printing images first to vinyl and then adhering them to the magnetic backing.
Magnum’s magnetic-receptive material, RubberSteel, is flexible and printable, but not actually magnetic itself. The product is useful for creating interchangeable signs, with surfaces that are receptive to magnets and ideal for POP displays.
“Increased awareness in recent years of the benefits and value in magnetic retail POP and other commercial graphics systems has resulted in a dramatic increase in demand,” says Mike Gertz, marketing manager with Master Magnetics in Castle Rock, Colorado.
Gertz says his company’s variation of the magnetic-receptive sheeting material, FlexIRON, can be used as the base layer for easily changeable signs, using PrintMagnetVinyl magnetic sheeting that can be directly printed with solvent, eco-solvent, UV or latex ink systems.
Alternately, Gertz says Master Magnetics’ PrintMagnet, with a paper topcoat, is better suited for aqueous inks. “This one-step process of printing directly to the magnet is the source of time and cost savings for these projects,” he explains.
Gertz says sign shops can also benefit from magnetic assemblies, valuable accessories for printing projects including self-supporting banners or signs, or non-scratching magnetic hooks that can hold up to 65 pounds.
“Instead of fasteners that require drilling, gluing and other forms of mounting, magnetic assemblies are easy to use, won’t damage the structure they’re attracting to and are easily repositionable,” he adds.
Size is also an important factor and today’s magnetic signage solutions offer more adaptability, meaning one-piece, vehicle-sized jobs or much larger retail applications than in the past.
Stephen McLevey, customer service and product manager for Arnold Magnetic Technologies’ Flexmag Industries, says his company’s variation on the directly-printable magnetic substrate, can be ordered in wide-format rolls of 24 to 40 inches, in lengths as much as 5,000 feet long.
“We can, technically, do half-ton-rolls, if someone has the equipment to handle it,” he says.
Cirigliano says Magnum’s DigiMaxx super-wide magnetic media, available in widths as large as 48 inches for large-format signage applications, is also the only super-wide format made in the United States.
“We’ve seen an increased demand in American-made magnetic material,” he says. “Perhaps it’s a pride thing as well, but it also makes good business sense to purchase material manufactured by high safety, environmental and quality standards, and backed by U.S.-based customer service.”
Turnaround time for custom orders is quite reasonable for all vendors on most of these products, a useful and money-saving factor for smaller sign shops.
“Time can vary with custom cutting and slitting due to production time, but with proper planning, even on custom orders, we can keep shipping to 1-3 days to anywhere in the country,” Gertz says.