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In the sign industry we commonly refer to the material that the sign is made out of as the substrate. Examples include, wood, vinyl banners, aluminum, coroplast, etc. But what many customers do not realize is that they can purchase vinyl lettering or vinyl decals and apply them directly to typical substrates themselves. Translation - saving money by buying blank substrates inexpensively at local hardware stores such as Home Depot and Lowes and avoiding the prices sign companies need to charge to apply the material. Although you do pay tax by buying locally on the substrate, you can save tax on the vinyl by ordering over the internet.
What are vinyl letters and/or vinyl decals? They are letters (or images) that come prespaced according to customer specifications as words, phrases, or sentences on pre masking tape. The lettering is self adhesive and by removing the paper backing, they can be applied directly to almost any substrate, car, boat, truck, windows, snowmobiles, jet skis, vans, store fronts, etc. Make sure the surface is extremely clean and free of dust or lint. Once the lettering or decal has been aligned, simply rub over the masking covering the vinyl and then remove it. The result will be perfectly spaced lettering or a decal designed as ordered with a professional look. Most sign companies will allow you to purchase multiple lines of vinyl lettering with the spacing between the lines defined by you. You can also usually obtain a combination of vinyl lettering and images on one decal.
Another tack you may wish to consider is to have the entire sign printed on vinyl made to fit the substrate you prepurchased (with a small bleed of additional vinyl to wrap around the sides). We must caution you that this is a bit trickier to apply than vinyl lettering, but problems can be overcome with care and some suggestions. When applying the vinyl to the substrate, remove the paper backing about two inches at a time, align, and then press or roll it on the surface. We recommend a roller for the application (roller applicator). Once the first part is properly aligned and applied, remove another two inches of the backing and proceed in this manner with the rest of the sign. Another trick is to moisten the substrate so you can move the vinyl if you accidentally align it improperly when first applied. The water prevents it from adhering permanently for a few seconds.
When you apply vinyl, it is inevitable that you will run into the "bubble" problem. Tiny bubbles of captured air will form under the vinyl. Usually these can be worked out with the roller but in some circumstances, they will remain. A blow dryer (not too hot) can be used to heat the vinyl up so that the air can be rolled out easier. Under some circumstances if the bubble is large, the vinyl can be heated and the bubble punctured with a pin (careful here - only a tiny hole is needed). Be careful not to heat the vinyl too much because it can permanently deform it.
Recently, a new product has been introduced which enables the vinyl to be adjusted if it is pressed on but incorrectly aligned. The adhesive does not seal permanently for a few hours after it is applied. The material is a bit more expensive but well worth it if you are inexperienced. Don't feel bad. I know many sign companies that are now going to the easy stick vinyl to avoid large overhead costs caused by mistakes with the old permanent seal vinyl.
Article written by: Tony Nagy
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