Types of Vinyl Used for Exterior Signs

When creating a sign, vinyl is one of the best materials to use. It can be cut into different shapes and sizes, printed and even wrapped on vehicles.

However, not all types of vinyl are created equal. Here are some of the most common types of vinyl used for exterior signs:

Cast Vinyl

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right vinyl for an application. The material itself, where it will be used, how long it will last and the type of adhesive you use will all impact your decision.

The first thing to think about is what kind of surface you are applying your graphics to. Some surfaces are flat, some are curved, others are rough textured and some have rivets and other obstacles that you need to be careful of.

Depending on the environment, you may also need your vinyl to be reflective or translucent to prevent sun damage or create an eye-catching effect. Once you have a clear idea of the environment and how your graphics will be used, it’s time to start looking at the different types of vinyl.

Both cast and calendered vinyl begin as the same basic plastic, but how they are manufactured has a major impact on performance and applications. Cast vinyl, also known as high-performance or premium film, is poured into a mold to create a sheet that’s thicker and more stretchy than calendered vinyl. It’s more flexible and has a “memory” that allows it to conform to non-standard surface areas for a paint-like look, and it typically lasts 8-10 years.

Calendered Vinyl

Calendered vinyl is produced by taking dough-like material and rolling it through calendered flattening rollers to form the desired thickness of film sheets. This process produces vinyl products that are less expensive than cast films. In recent years, calendered vinyl has improved to match the quality of cast products and can be used for longer term exterior signs without losing dimensional stability.

A popular application for calendered vinyl is vehicle wraps – those colorful eye-catching graphics that are applied to company vehicles or personal cars. The type of vinyl chosen for a wrap is important because it can have a big impact on how the finished product looks and its durability.

There are two main types of calendered film products – monomeric and polymeric. The difference is in the chemical plasticisers used during production. Monomeric vinyls have short-chain plasticisers which use up quicker and migrate faster, causing the film to become brittle over time. Polymeric vinyls, on the other hand, have longer-chain plasticisers that don’t migrate as easily so will last much longer.

Both kinds of vinyl are good choices for vehicle wraps as both can be used to produce eye-catching graphics and help companies stand out from the competition. However, both vinyls have their own specific strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to consider the application before choosing the best type of vinyl to use.

Translucent Vinyl

Translucent vinyl is ideal for backlit sign applications. It can be used as a graphic overlay on acrylic or backlit light box signs. The translucent adhesive-back material has an outdoor durability of 4 years unlaminated. Lamination can increase longevity to 10 years.

It displays rich, vibrant colors both in reflected and transmitted lighting. This makes it perfect for LED light box signage, windows, awnings and other custom backlit applications. It also looks great on glass, plastic or other clear materials.

The patented removable adhesive allows users to create temporary or long term graphics without worrying about residue. It’s easy to use with most standard hobby or professional cutters such as the Silhouette Cameo, Cricut Maker and Explorer, ScanNCut and Roland. It’s easy to weed and reposition on most surfaces dry without application fluid, allowing you to fine-tune your installation until it’s just right. You can then apply pressure to activate the adhesive and finish the job.

Reflective Vinyl

Reflective vinyl is a specialty material that can be cut to shape and applied to any glossy surface. It has a metallic base that allows it to reflect back light when lit up. You’ve likely seen this type of material on road or street signs as well as on police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. This reflective property is what permits them to stand out during night-time driving.

There are many variations of reflective sheeting available in the market. Most come in an engineer or hi-intensity prismatic grade. Each type has its own unique characteristics and performance specifications. There are also varying levels of durability depending on the type and brand.

You can find a wide range of different colors and finishes for your printed reflective sign as well. Beaded reflective is one of the most common, appearing flat and pearlescent in normal daylight but truly lighting up at night. Retro-reflective or black reflective vinyl is another option and appears brownish in daytime but lights up with artificial illumination (think traffic signs).

Increasingly, we’re seeing fleets of commercial vehicles and company vehicles incorporating reflective elements to enhance their visibility at night as well. This is a great way to help ensure drivers can spot the vehicle and identify their presence in low-light conditions.


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