Know your substrate options

By signcraft

Posted on Friday, March 11th, 2022

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It takes creativity to decipher what a customer really wants or needs, creativity to come up with a design, and creativity to make it happen within their budget. And it takes creativity to take the best advantage of the variety of substrates available for sign making today.

Not too long ago the choices for sign substrates and materials for cutout graphics were relatively limited. Now you’ve got plenty to choose from—and plenty to learn about and experiment with. Creative sign people have always been looking for products that make great-looking signs yet fit the durability requirements and budget limitations of the project.

It pays off. Knowing what substrate has the right characteristics for the job at hand lets you tell the customer with confidence what performance they can expect from the sign you can make for them. It may also let you offer a finished product at a better price, or give you a selling point of improved durability. Educating yourself about what’s available and a little experimenting with products is what makes you a knowledgeable professional.

Don’t assume that your choices are limited to what you’ve used in the past—or what your supplier carries. They may be willing to add a product if you plan to use it on a regular basis. Take a look at how these sign pros are using some of these materials, and take a minute to visit the websites of the manufacturers on the source list.

Cut vinyl graphics on a background of Burgundy Oracal 651 film on a 3-by-6 ft. panel of 6mm Alumalite aluminum composite material.  Braun Bleamer, Jet Signs, Palmerton, Pennsylvania

Letters are 30-lb HDU board finished with Matthews metallic copper and clearcoat with metal flake added.  The 3-ft.-wide main panel is a 1-in. Extira Treated Exterior Panel, cut out and painted with black DiBond ACM panels applied top and bottom.  The center panel is 1/2-in. Extira with CNC-carved prismatic letters and the black shadow/outline incise carved with a flat bottom recess bit.  John Ralph, Quail Run Signs, Hamilton, Virginia

Hand-lettered with Ronan Aquacoat paint on a 4-by-4-ft. panel of overlaid plywood.  Ornaments are carved HDU board finished with gold leaf.  The client liked the colors so well that he used them as a color scheme and repainted the building. Russ Mills, Russ Mills Signs, Pineville, Kentucky

The logo type is 1/2-in. waterjet cut aluminum, horizontally brushed and satin clear-coated.  It is stud mounted through he 13-by-24-in. laser cut acrylic panel on 3/16-in. standoffs.  The background graphics are a reverse print on 3M IJ40 film, with a white film laminate behind, and are installed subsurface.  The 1/2-in. acrylic spacer raises the panel off the brick wall.  The sign is stud mounted with silicone to the brick wall with 3-in.-long 3/16-in. aluminum studs, which Jim prefers because they’re easy to bend and cut in the field.  The standoff discs are brushed aluminum with a rubber washer under them.  Jim Jackson, Artcraft Sign Co., Raleigh NC

How about copper for the background and steel sheet for the letters? Sign maker unknown, Blue Ridge, Georgia

CNC-cut 3/4-in. PVC letters on 72-by-88-in. panels of 6mm aluminum composite material; Express is prismatic carved and mounted on 1/4-in PVC board outline panel.  Logo panel is CNC-carved 1-in. high density urethane board. Everything is finished with Matthews acrylic polyurethane paint Address panel is cast vinyl film on an ACM panel.  Bob Stephens, Skywatch Signs, Zephyrhills, Florida

Printed graphics with UV laminate on a 4-by-8-ft. panel of 3/4-in. PVC board, mounted on 6-by-6-in. treated posts with white vinyl sleeves and post caps.  Braun Bleamer, Jet Signs, Palmerton, Pennsylvania

Clearcoated 3/8-in. aluminum letters from Gemini Inc. on 14-by-23-ft. monument made of plywood covered with foam panels then coated with acrylic stucco.  RT Signs, Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada

Cut-out layers of overlaid plywood finished with Ronan Aquacoat paint and exterior acrylic latex paint.  The sign is 4-by-5-ft/ overall.  Russ Mills, Russ Mills Signs, Pineville, Kentucky

The lion’s head was CNC-routed in four layers.  The base layer is PVC board, with three layers of HDU board over that.  The 28-by-60-in. sign face and the letters are 1/2-in. PVC board.  The secondary copy was hand lettered.  The lion’s whiskers are copper wire.  Chris Lovelady, Vital Signs LLC, Thomasville, Georgia

Digital print and cut vinyl lettering on 2-by-8-ft. prefinished black 6mm Alumalite aluminum composite material.  Pinstripe is hand painted.  Erik Dickson, Eric Designs, Rumford, Maine

Graphics were printed on Oracal 3551, laminated with Oracal 290 overlaminate, then applied to a 4-ft.-tall panel of 6mm aluminum composite material. RT Signs, Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada

16-by-24-in. sandblasted Western Red Cedar panel. RT Signs, Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada

Vinyl lettering and a cartoon illustration on a 4-by-5-ft. panel of overlaid plywood finish with exterior acrylic latex paint. The cartoon illustration is from John Deaton’s Russ Mills, Russ Mills Signs, Pineville, Kentucky

Various thicknesses of PVC and acrylic raised and applied components, all painted with Matthews Paints  on a 4-ft.-wide 3mm Brushed Silver DiBond aluminum composite material panel. The copper tube crossbars and post caps on this high-end site sign were sprayed with Matthews Braco Clear to prevent tarnishing. John Ralph, Quail Run Signs, Hamilton, Virginia

This appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of SignCraft.



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