As sign makers, you likely notice them all the time, hanging from every building, post and tall object a city will allow. Banners are now abundant almost everywhere large numbers of people assemble. Whether you’re cruising down the city streets or strolling through the mall, banners are one of the most common signage elements going, advertising the latest event or reinforcing a brand image. And while your normal shopper, baseball fan or restaurant patron may not put much thought into what those banners are made of, sign people sure do. And the materials those banners are made of are becoming more varied in a hurry, especially in the fabric world.
FABRIC FOR OUTDOOR BANNERS
Using fabric, rather than a rigid substrate, for an outdoor banner is appealing to a sign shop because the substrate is lightweight, says John Evans, vice president of sales for Herculite Products in Emigsville, Pa. This allows the sign shop to ship the banner at a lower cost for a more economical option than its rigid counterparts. Fabric also has a wider variety of banner uses, he adds. The flexibility of fabric allows it to wrap around surfaces that a rigid substrate just can’t.
“Fabric makes for a flexible banner,” Evans says. “You can form it around corners and things like that. It’s much more versatile than a rigid sign board that basically is just put against a flat wall or surface.”
In the outdoor environment, traditional fabric banners appear outside of many typical locations, including restaurants and retail shops, but they are also taking on a different look, says Josh Propp, product development and sales specialist of Value Vinyls in Grand Prairie, Texas. Backlit applications are becoming more popular and have a way of giving the banner a unique look. The substrate has improved to allow more light to transmit through, making backlighting more effective than in the past.
Mesh fabric is also gaining ground for banner applications, Propp says. From a promotional standpoint, mesh fabric transforms the substrate into a “living sign,” he says. These applications are often large and can encompass an entire area of a building. Though they are show-stopping signs, dealing with city restrictions can be challenging. Many cities have size limitations, so if you are installing a large banner on a building, be sure to check out local ordinances.
Both Evans and Propp agree consistency is one of the most desirable qualities a banner substrate can have. When working with print technology, there are many variables, such as inks, printers and software; therefore, a consistent, reliable substrate is critical to producing a high-quality image.
Photo courtesy Dave King
Photo courtesy of Herculite
A consistent product also saves time and money on the job, Evans says, because a sign shop can use the same RIP profile from previous runs, which means there are few issues that could cause a reprint. This cuts back on ink, material and labor costs.
“If I owned a print shop, I would only make money if I didn’t have to reprint the banners because the colors weren’t sharp enough,” Evans says. “That’s where I lose all the ink and material I used. That’s where I blew the time when it took four or five hours to print the job. You’re starting from square one the next day, and you want to be working on the next job tomorrow.”
Antimicrobial treatments, which are applied to fabrics to resist different types of bacteria and viruses, are another available feature, one that many sign shops don’t know exist, says Scott Fisher, president of Fisher Textiles in Indian Trail, N.C. These treatments have long been used for apparel, particularly sportswear, but they haven’t been prevalent in the graphics market.
“People are always touching banners, so I’ve always thought antimicrobial banners would be a good idea,” Fisher says. “Any type of medical use, such as putting banners or signage near hospitals, would be ideal for antimicrobial treatments. Using them on banners that are going into any public venue where there are a lot of people could be beneficial, too.”
In Fisher’s experience, dye sublimation has been especially popular for outdoor banners because of the high quality of color. When dye sublimating fabric, the dye is embedded into the substrate’s fibers, which gives a more vibrant look. This embedded image is also permanent, so it can stand up to outdoor elements.
Solvent and UV-curable printers are also used for outdoor banners because they are both technologies sign shops are familiar with, Evans says. Print operators know what to expect, and running into any surprises before a big deadline is less likely.
Upgrades in printing technology and fabrics have increased their use outdoors. Photo courtesy Fine Balance Imaging Studios.
“They’re tried and true,” Evans says. “They’ve been tested, and they work well in the industry. For the most part, they are also less expensive. So many people have equipment that only prints in solvent and UV, so they’re using current equipment, rather than investing in new equipment, especially in this economy.”
Of all the available technologies, UV-curable printers appear to be growing the fastest, Propp notes. UV-curable printers are fast, and as the technology improves, the machines only seem to get quicker.
“The print quality is phenomenal, and when it comes off the machine, it’s cured and ready to go,” Propp notes. “UV-curable printers have a lot of environmental benefits, as well. You’re not dealing with solvents, harsh smells and that type of thing.”
As printer technology continues to evolve, banner substrate manufacturers plan to keep up with the times, Propp says. New advancements are constantly on the horizon, and outdoor banners work best when the substrate manufacturer and printer technologies are compatible.
“We are constantly looking at those recipes to develop a better product, one that will last longer in terms of shelf life and have better ink adhesion for long-term outdoor applications,” Propp says. “It’s something that we had to be in front of and are constantly working directly with the printers. It’s very important our products do well.”