Vinyl Options for Working with Course Surfaces

Avid Digital used LexJet Simple MTS Adhesive Vinyl to produce graphics that called attention to a temporary Club Patron bar set up on a plaza for fans of the Long Beach Grand Prix.

While vehicle wraps have been a popular vinyl application for the past several years, more vinyl options are routinely becoming available to get those wrap jobs out the door with greater speed and reliability. Signage companies have wrapped everything under the sun, starting with their own unique vehicle wrap applications, such as boats, motorcycles and even accompanying helmets, and are now moving on from smooth-surfaced vehicles to include wrapping on rough surfaces as well. Seeing the emergence of this market, vinyl manufacturers are focusing on product options specifically tailored for these non-traditional surfaces for both indoor and outdoor use. 


When using rough surface-ready vinyl, there are two types of adhesive qualities, says Dione Metnick, product line manager of LexJet, Sarasota, Fla. Some brands are best to use when you just need a strong adhesive for rough surfaces while others conform to the textured grooves. Often, communicating these differences to the customer and determining which type of vinyl you need is the biggest challenge, Metnick says, so before starting a project, you must first find out the type of exterior and client expectations regarding conformability. 

Before starting the project, be sure to determine which rough surface-ready vinyl is best for your needs. The performance is different among various manufacturers. Photo courtesy of Avery Dennison. 

“There are lots of different vinyls on the market for rough surfaces, and each of them performs a little differently,” Metnick says. “It’s just knowing which one to use, depending on the surface. If it’s a brick building or a stucco building that’s really textured with not much surface area for the adhesive to bond to, then you might need something that heats up and conforms to the grooves, versus if it’s a rough exterior that has more surface points of contact for the vinyl to adhere to.”

Some common exteriors for rough surface-ready vinyl include concrete, asphalt and other outdoor porous substrates, says Paul Roba, North American technical manager of Avery Dennison, Pasadena, Calif., and many of these applications are found as special entry markers, welcome mat effects, directional information, and promotional graphics for events or products. Sporting arenas and schools as well as any advertisement, such as point-of-purchase displays, are also popular uses for rough surface-ready vinyl, says Jason Yard, marketing specialist for MACtac Graphic Products, Stow, Ohio.

This wall mural was wrapped with Arlon’s DPF 8000 3-mil industrial-grade media for hard to stick surfaces and Series 3220 Overlaminate. It was wrapped by Imagine It Graphics, a company in California.  

In addition to these applications, old arcade games are becoming a popular surface for this type of vinyl. Often, old arcade games are refurbished for display, but the graphics are no longer as vibrant as they once were. While traditional vinyl would normally be a suitable option, it isn’t always strong enough to adhere to the arcade game’s surface.  However, the strong adhesive of rough surface-ready vinyl is ideal for this instance. 

“When graphics have been applied to and removed from the same surface repeatedly—such as construction barricades and arcade games—it makes it almost impossible to apply a regular vinyl to the surface, even a high-performance cast vinyl,” says Metnick. “These are great applications for a vinyl designed for application to multi-textured surfaces.” 

Rough surface-ready vinyl also works for traditional vinyl applications, Metnick adds, which some sign shops may like because only one vinyl needs to be stocked, even if the extra adhesive isn’t always necessary. This type of vinyl is usually compatible with solvent, low-solvent and UV-curable ink systems, she says, though compatibility may vary by product type.


For the most part, working with rough surface-ready vinyl is similar to traditional vinyl, Metnick says. However, notes Ritchie Daize, international account manager of Arlon, Santa Ana, Calif., there are some slight disparities. With a stronger adhesive, the rough surface-ready vinyl may require a somewhat different application process. 

Valley Wide Signs & Graphics in Allentown, Pa., owned by Steve Gingras, used MACtac’s RoughRap WW100 for this interesting phone booth graphic on a cinder block wall.

“Generally, this type of vinyl has a tackier adhesive, which usually makes the product less stable and more prone to shrinkage,” Daize explains. “Most wall wrap media is installed with a foam roller after heat is applied to the vinyl.”

Before applying the rough surface-ready vinyl, you should take special care to prepare the surface. Sometimes, Daize says, a sealer or paint may be needed if the exterior is susceptible to dampness or has a loose surface, but usually, you can simply brush the surface to remove loose debris and then apply the vinyl.

In some cases, the surface is first power washed before the rough surface-ready vinyl is applied, which ensures there is no debris, Metnick says. However, if you choose to go this route, be sure to let the surface completely dry. 

“You don’t want moisture trapped underneath it, trying to dry out,” Metnick says. “It will build the bond better with a completely dry surface.”

Like with any wrap, before applying vinyl for hard-to-stick surfaces be sure the surface is free of debris and completely dry. Photo courtesy of Avery Dennison.

Depending on the brand of rough surface-ready vinyl, heat may be needed for application, as different manufacturers have varying recommendations. But the brand isn’t the only consideration. The type of weather can also be a reason to use heat, Roba notes, and for the adhesive to take in cold temperatures on porous surfaces, a warmed up vinyl is usually necessary. When applying the heat, Yard offers some advice: “The main challenge is applying enough heat and pressure consistently across the graphic. MACtac recommends that installers use a heat gun or torch to heat the vinyl to about 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and immediately press the vinyl into the texture with a foam roller or similar device.”

As the rough surface-ready vinyl continues to develop, you can expect more creative applications to come. Just like vehicle wraps have expanded to other applications, Metnick expects to see more creativity from rough surface-ready vinyl. 

“With the development of vinyls for multi-textured surfaces, building graphics are becoming more popular. Once relegated to windows and other smooth surfaces, now graphics companies can help their customers advertise on a grander scale in a wider range of venues.”

EnviroScape Mural Plus! is the newest product from conVerd Presented by Neschen. It is an FSC-certified media that incorporates 10 percent post-consumer waste.

Most major vinyl manufacturers have a rough surface-ready product, and some have multiple products for more specialized applications. Be sure to ask your distributor or manufacturer’s representative about which vinyl will work best for you.