- Vinyl business signage can display your brand clearly to potential customers no matter how bad the weather is.
- Because vinyl is plastic, it’s crucial to understand the specialized printing processes it requires.
- Different types of ink are available, so you should research the pros and cons of each and consider the best option for your needs.
- This article is for small business owners and marketers who are considering vinyl signage.
Your business needs to let the outside world know where your company is and how it can help customers. Most businesses you frequent or pass by have signs, banners or awnings that you associate with them. While a window sign or lights can be helpful, physical outside signage is critical for letting people know who you are and how you can help.
Printing signage on vinyl helps build your brand while protecting it from rain, snow, sunlight and other harsh weather. However, printing on vinyl requires specialized materials and expertise, and the process is more involved than wide-format printing on paper or fabric.
We’ll explain the vinyl printing process and what you need to know before you start creating your signage.
Tip: If you have an idea you want to turn into a full-fledged design for marketing your brand, test it out using our Adobe Creative Cloud Express tutorial.
Why vinyl creates excellent signage
Vinyl is a plastic that has been around for decades. Short for “polyvinyl chloride” and sometimes abbreviated as PVC, it’s often used for items such as shoes and raincoats. Vinyl has excellent flexibility, impermeability and ruggedness, making it the perfect material for printed outdoor applications.
However, vinyl’s excellent signage qualities also lead to its biggest challenge: Inks don’t readily stick to its surface. For this reason, creating a long-lasting image on vinyl is both an art and a science.
What kind of ink does vinyl printing require?
There are two primary approaches to coaxing the ink to adhere to the vinyl surface: solvent-based inks and aqueous latex inks. Each has pros and cons. There’s also a newer, more eco-friendly variation of solvent inks.
Using solvent-based inks is a time-honored technique. Solvent formulations work by slightly melting the vinyl to allow the ink to seep into the media’s surface and stay there. Solvent-based ink is the top choice for items that must be outdoors. This printing technique is used for parking lot signage, vehicle wrap ads, window graphics and much more.
Solvent ink has the following benefits:
- It creates an excellent image.
- Printed items have great weather resistance.
- The output can often last years without experiencing significant color shifts, fading or peeling.
However, solvent ink also has some downsides:
- Solvent-based inks emit copious amounts of volatile organic compounds that are flammable and dangerous for technicians to breathe.
- Solvent-based printers often require elaborate ventilation systems that can add thousands of dollars to an already expensive printer and require maintenance costs over the printer’s lifetime.
Eco-solvent ink formulations
A newer category of solvent ink mitigates its downsides while maintaining durability. These eco-solvent formulations use a mixture of milder solvents. Together, they have the same effect on the vinyl substrate, penetrating its surface to allow the ink to soak in and set up.
Tip: While eco-solvent inks have biodegradable ingredients, be wary of promoting your banners as eco-friendly, to avoid accusations of greenwashing. Look for a certification to ensure your ink and printer have significant environmental benefits.
Water-based latex inks
Water-based latex inks form a tight bond with the surface and are much less harmful than traditional latex inks. These types of inks are similar to indoor latex paint formulations.
Water-based latex inks have the following benefits:
- They come in a wide variety of colors.
- They form a strong bond with the vinyl surface.
- Because they’re water-based, they are safer and present no danger of fire or explosion.
- They aren’t dangerous to the printing personnel.
- They don’t require curing.
- You can extend the output’s usable life by adding a protective top coat.
The primary downside of water-based latex inks is that they don’t weather nearly as well as solvent inks. While solvent banners and posters might last years, latex-printed items’ lifetimes are measured in weeks or months without a protective top coat.
Wide-format printers to consider for vinyl printing
The type of ink process you prefer will inform your wide-format printer selection. Here are a couple of examples.
Roland TrueVIS SG3 series
Roland’s TrueVIS SG3 series is an example of a printer that works with eco-solvent ink formations. This large-format inkjet printer and cutter is available in 30-inch and 54-inch models. It uses the company’s ECO-UV family of ink formulations, available in four colors: black, cyan, magenta and yellow.
The TrueVIS’ incredible print output with True Rich Color 3 improves brand reproduction. It provides ultravivid color, with supersmooth transitions for signs, stickers, labels, vehicle wraps, apparel and other graphics at a very low ink cost per square foot.
This printer series was designed to handle business printing at a reasonable price. The 30-inch model costs $13,495, and the 54-inch model is $15,495.
HP Latex 365
HP’s Latex 365 is a prime example of the water-based latex ink genre. The device can print on media up to 64 inches wide and lay down images with resolutions of up to 1,200 dpi. The print engine’s 2,112 nozzles create dots as small as 6 picoliters (trillionths of a liter) of ink.
The Latex 365 works with ink cartridges that spray black, cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta and yellow. The printer also has a special latex optimizer coating that can sharpen the output and make it more weather resistant.
Because there’s no curing step to slow it down, the Latex 365 can pump out banners, posters and other items at a rate of 250 square feet per hour, according to HP. That translates to more than 40 24 x 36-inch D-size prints.
The device costs $17,000 and doesn’t need special ventilation or a drying apparatus.
Tip: If you need a more traditional printer for your business, learn what’s involved in choosing a multifunction printer and copier.
What printing process should I use?
The printing process you select for your signage depends on how long your company wants the printed items to be out in the open. A factory banner or window sign meant to remain in place for years should be made using solvent-based ink, or else you might find yourself reprinting and replacing it several times.
On the other hand, if your signage is for a short-lived film festival, sporting event or theatrical opening, it’s probably easier, quicker and less expensive to make the items with latex-based ink.
What to remember before printing on vinyl
A new printed sign or banner can be an excellent addition to your business location while serving as a part of your marketing strategy. It’s essential to understand the role your signage plays in your branding.
Before you start printing, consider who will see your design. Think about your demographics, ensuring your branding is on point for your target audience. The ultimate goal is to drive traffic to your location and boost sales while building a strong visual brand that will withstand the test of time along with your signage.
Brian Nadel contributed to the writing and research in this article.