By Cassandra Balentine
Banner graphics are a staple. The durable materials are used for everything from indoor point of purchase (POP) display graphics to outdoor banners hung on buildings, in stadiums, and town squares.
These materials date back before digital printing and served hand sign painters over 20 years ago, says Dan Dix, business manager, digital media, Herculite Products. “There hasn’t been much change, other than more efficient lamination processes and the use of higher quality raw materials,” he suggests.
While the general makeup of exterior-grade banner remains the same, consistent product print service providers (PSPs) rely on, considerations such as cost per square foot, weight, and features such as double-sided printability and eco-friendliness are cause for consideration of this stalwart solution. This article focuses on exterior-grade banner material, which includes both PVC and polyester products.
Banner material is available in a range of different weights and denier that determine durability.
“The main advantages are banner material is a cost-effective choice and based upon the material can be used for a variety of applications and time frames from a weekend to more than a year,” comments Terry Amerine, director of marketing, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.
Exterior-grade banner materials are long-lasting, non-degradation substrates that assist inks in retaining colorfastness and image quality, says Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag seemee US, Inc. “These products implement coating technologies, for instance, that keep the substrate from yellowing or forming mold, as well as resisting cracking from cold temperatures.”
“There are more options than ever before in ensuring the right product is available for the desired application to impress you, your customers, and their customers,” agrees Jeff Nonte, print media program manager, Top Value Fabrics.
As new print systems are introduced into the market, banner manufacturers are quick to adapt to making compatible films, comments Stephanie Kline, operations manager – marketing, Arlon Graphics, LLC.
Quality and durability are always a consideration. Matching the media to the project maximizes profitability and customers’ quality needs.
For indoor POP applications, people generally view banners up close, meaning quality is a top concern. Dix notes that these materials tend to have a smoother surface due to lower strength polyester scrim used in the construction.
“With banner material, it is always strength or smoothness,” he comments. “Indoor banner material is smoother and outdoor banner material is not as smooth as it is stronger,” he states.
Outdoor applications are typically viewed from further away, but must be able to withstand the elements in any condition that may occur, including extreme heat, cold, and wind, to name just a few.
This is where durability becomes an essential element of the media selection process for any PSP. “The most important quality of exterior-grade banner products is superior durability. This type of material is specially designed to last longer when used in outdoor environments, providing greater resistance to the elements and cracking or facing from UV exposure,” shares Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables – Roland DGA Corporation.
“Most traffic and pedestrians don’t pay attention to their changing environment. The visual contact is either absent or very short with a poor quality banner,” says Gautier Peers, territory sales manager, Dickson Coatings, a Glen Raven Company. “Optimized print quality makes the banner stand out in its environment and catch people’s attention.”
In terms of durability, Peers points out that a damaged banner presents a negative image of the advertiser in question. In which case, a PSP would want to ensure that the correct material is used to avoid media failure in conjunction with outdoor elements.
More for Your Dollar
Cost plays a part in which material is used and when. Based on specific attributes, banner materials range from a fraction of a dollar to $2.00 per square foot.
“Banner printing is an extremely competitive market and has been for many years. As a result, the prices have remained relatively low with little movement,” says Amerine.
Cost per square foot on exterior-grade banner materials ranges depending on the type of product. “The vast majority of PVC-coated fabrics come with a higher cost than shorter term calendared or laminated banner substrates. PVC-coated media can be twice the cost, but in most cases, offer higher tensile and tear strength as well as a much longer lifespan in exterior elements. PVC-coated products are also typically edge-curl free versus their laminate counterparts,” explains Tischer.
Ted Isbell, graphic product specialist, Piedmont Plastics, admits that banner is one of the lower cost materials per square foot, but prices have inched up over the last few years.
“Banner is still one of the most versatile and cost-effective products used in the graphics market. Factors like finish, weave, denier—thickness of thread that makes the scrim, size, geography, and shipping costs all play a significant role in the cost,” he adds. Isbell cites a normal price on 13 oz. frontlit typically in the range of 16 to 20 cents a square foot when buying a single roll, but year over year; cost has increased three to five percent.
Bruce Walker, apps tech, Sihl Inc., suggests that the cost has fluctuated and that very basic and “good enough” products have flooded the market and caused a challenge to the education and awareness of what it takes to produce and provide high-quality banner material products. “This challenge was exasperated by the world financial crisis. Fortunately, intelligence and awareness throughout the market is on the rise again,” he comments.
According to Hunter, from a pricing standpoint, the cost of exterior-grade banner material is gradually decreasing, making it affordable for the average PSP looking to use it.
Peers believes that the price of banner material is lowered by intense competition from Asian products.
Sharon Roland, advertising, promotion, and publicity manager, Fisher Textiles, argues that in terms of cost, the U.S. market has become more competitive with imports, which has reintroduced American-made products into the limelight because of lower costs.
Specialty features, such as eco-friendliness and banner weight also factor into manufacturing costs and therefore pricing for the PSP.
Outdoor banner materials often range in price due to the product design, from short-term, one-sided usage to long-term, double-sided usage. Dix points out that domestic materials tend to be higher in price due to domestic manufacturing costs, superior quality, and higher labor costs.
“Imports lose price to compete and as domestic products are always higher priced, quality is how the U.S.-made products contend,” says Dix.
Banner specifications, such as smoothness, opacity, and range of compatibility directly affect performance ability for the designated applications.
In terms of breakthroughs for this market, Jaimie Mask, product manager, LexJet Corporation, describes them as subtle as opposed to significant.
Isbell agrees, “I don’t see big breakthroughs in this side of the business, but I do see improvements in processes and manufacturing that continue to enhance the number of products available to us in our market.”
For example, Kline notes that black back banner materials allow for lighter weight banners with higher opacity.
“Black back gives a clean and finished look on the back and allows more pop on the print side because of its opacity,” concurs Roland.
According to Gary York, wide format specialist, Agfa Graphics, one of the things that is becoming more popular is PVC/polyester banner material used both indoors and outdoors.
“This material is becoming more popular for indoor retractable stands and four-point banner stands and they lay totally flat. At half the price, they are far less expensive than lay flat banner materials and are becoming more popular for that,” explains York.
Tina Forbes, graphic design and color management, Coveris Advanced Coatings, suggests that exterior-grade banner materials do not necessarily require overlamination like they used to, “which saves print providers time and proves to be more economical.”
Dix says the number one benefit of exterior-grade banner material is its outdoor-rated life and cold cracking rate, which enables the product to last in severe outdoor conditions, such as winds and cold temperatures. The second most important feature of the material is the printability of the surface, he adds.
Mask notes that blockout banner material is increasingly popular with PSPs, particularly for interior display applications where light shining behind the graphics can be an issue.
“Options are also bountiful with mesh, as various hole formulations and air permeability percents are offered depending on exterior application,” shares Tischer. “Due to this, exterior visual advertising does not have much in the way of limitations today.”
Both heavier and lighter weight banner materials exist. Popular weights include eight, ten, and 13 oz., however the durability, strength, and printability of banner materials are not directly correlated to weight, say many manufacturers and suppliers.
“There is a misconception about thickness and strength,” comments Peers. “The mechanical strength of both coated and laminated fabrics depends mainly on the base cloth,” he explains. For example, with coated fabrics, the thickness of the coating provides better durability as it protects the polyester base cloth from moisture and micro-organisms. “However, with laminated fabrics, the thickness isn’t as relevant as there is always a gap between the base cloths and PVC films,” he adds.
“The weight, denier, and construction determine durability, strength, and longevity of the product for a particular application,” says Nonte. He adds that it is critical to take a number of factors into consideration when recommending the ideal weight and product configuration, including the appropriate size, conditions, installation, and campaign duration of the application.
Isbell recommends eight and ten oz. substrates used for interior applications, unless the banner material is supported by a structure of some kind. “Those products that are lighter in weight typically have a lighter scrim and do not usually feature the tear strength required in unsupported applications.”
Tischer notes that the billboard market generally calls for lighter weight banners, such as six to ten oz. in order to save on shipping, as well as improve efficiency and ease of installation.
Jolene Meese, GM, Snyder Manufacturing Inc., suggests that heavier weight banner products are used in applications where a longer lifespan is required. “The lighter weight material is used for short-term applications where cost is one of the key factors.”
13 oz. banners are popular for both indoor and outdoor applications, and provide versatility. “This weight offers a good balance between performance and price. Just beware that strength is largely determined by the scrim of the banner and not just the weight. In the 13 oz. market, we typically see denier from 500 to 1,000 denier. This is a big difference. Think of it this way, if you were rock climbing, would you want a thin rope or thick rope holding you, given that they were the same material and makeup?” asks Isbell.
Amerine advises choosing weight based on the end application. “Lighter weight material is typically used for indoor or short-term applications. The most popular material weight is 13 oz. as it can be used for longer term outdoor applications, but can also will work well indoors in most scenarios.”
Kline points to the recent ability of manufacturers to fabricate lower weight banner material that still maintains the same opacity and durability of the heavier 13 oz. banner.
Tischer adds that heavier weight products come into play for other banner, POP, and display applications.
Dix says that 18 oz. banner materials are common outdoor for pole and street banners. “This material usually uses a stronger scrim with a higher tear and tensile, giving the material a higher weight. Also, as the 18 oz. outdoor banner is usually offered in a double-sided printable product, a blockout layer is added, which also increases the weight,” he explains.
“There are some outdoor banner materials at higher weights than 18 oz. available in the market, but they aren’t common. As long as the tear and tensile is used for strength rating, the actual weight of the banner material is secondary,” states Dix.
Heavier materials, such as 20 oz., tend to be used when extreme durability or environment conditions are a factor, points out Amerine. “Truck sides are a common application for heavier material,” he suggests.
Peers offers that heavier PVC fabrics are easier to weld, however the complete opposite may occur with poor-quality PVC banners as they lack the right amount of plasticizers to be properly welded.
Application performance considerations aside, it is important to note that thickness rather than weight is a concern when it comes to overall printability. “Weight class refers back to the original industry that uses this exact terminology,” explains Walker.
He goes on to share how quite literally, banner material originally came from uses such as a tarp that covered a truck covered with potatoes and dirt. The weight was needed for assuming the strength as well as how much weight was added to a load or structure—like in the potato truck example.
“The paper industry uses the pound standard typically, while for graphics, digital printing, and fine art, thickness is the most important way to categorize media because if it is too thick, it could cause lots of problems, such as printhead strikes. Weight does not entirely determine thickness,” continues Walker.
Strength and Stability
While perhaps not as exciting as a wall wrap or fine tuned as fine art reproductions, banner graphics are a core component of a PSP’s service offering, used both indoors and outdoors for applications ranging from traditional banner signs to flag pole graphics, billboards, and even building coverings. In regards to exterior-grade banner material, some of the toughest products are used to withstand the elements.
Today’s newest products, however, are able to offer more than durability and protection. Recent introductions provide dual usage both indoors and outdoors while simultaneously ensuring a product will hold up well in its intended environment. Other features such as black back give these materials a feeling of lightness and opacity.
Tear, tensile, cold crack, and printability are all important to banner material’s functionality. Depending on the application’s final environment, recommendations for smoothness over strength, thickness versus strength, or durability over cost are all considerations for choosing the correct exterior-grade media.
Apr2015, Digital Output