Thursday, 18 Apr 2019 14:48 GMT

Extreme Materials

When completing any sign job, various environmental factors must be taken into consideration. Carys Evans lists some of the substrates available which can stand the test of time

Standing the test of time

Signage is everywhere. Commonly found on businesses and lining high streets, used as wayfinding systems in schools, town centres and hospitals. Signage is used by the coast, and in extremely hot environments too. In order to do its job, a sign must be able to stand strong in any environment.

This doesn’t just apply to permanent, stationary signage. According to the Transportation Advertising Council, advertising on a single vehicle garners between 30,000 and 70,000 impressions daily. With vehicles being exposed to the elements, more or less 24/7, it really is important to choose the right substrate for the job.

So, when planning to make sure that a sign installation stands the test of time, there is no point in spending valuable time and money on structural fixtures and fittings that will remain strong in adverse and extreme conditions, if the material used to create the sign does not.

The right substrates

“When it comes to printing large-scale graphics, sometimes half the battle is choosing the appropriate substrate,” says Graphics Art Mag. “When assisting your customer in choosing a substrate for their next large-format project. Keep in mind that there are hundreds – if not thousands – of other options available on the market. Choosing the best substrates will come down to the intended application, and ultimately, what your client is trying to achieve with his or her finished product,” the publication continues.

Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), also known as polymetal is made of two sheets of aluminium with a solid polyethylene core. This substrate is light-weight compared to solid aluminium and is easily cut and routed for custom dimensions and shapes.

Coroplast is a corrugated plastic made using an extruded polypropylene sheet and is lightweight and cost-effective. The material is great for temporary outdoor signage as it is completely waterproof and resistant to hot and cold weather. It can last up to one to two years outside. PVC on the other hand is a poor choice for outdoor signage as it warps in heat and sunlight.

High Density Urethane (HDU) foam is a unique substrate used for store front signs that has a hand carved/dimensional appearance. This substrate is completely waterproof and lasts for ten or more years and is available in a variety of textures.

Colorado sign firm, Stone House Signs offers LxSign - a substrate which boasts a life expectancy of over 15 years, promising to stay ‘glare-free and colour bright’. The text is printed onto the back of the substrate and protected by the front, so it is never exposed to the elements.

Weighing only 1/2lb per sq ft, LxSign can withstand more than 200ft lbs of impact, with tensile strength of 9,000 pound force per square inch (PSI). The firm states: “A proprietary surface treatment on the face side provides protection against ultra-violet radiation yellowing for at least five years. It is heat and cold resistant, withstanding exposure to extreme temperatures from -30 degrees to 250 degrees with no deterioration of the molecular structure of the material and no change in appearance, shape or performance.”

The sign firm, which began as a one-man hand painted sign business, also produces porcelain signs which have an outdoor life expectancy of up to thirty years. A porcelain sign has extreme chemical resistance, and is unaffected by most acids, chemicals and solvents. Porcelain is resistant to scratches and even resists a steel blade. It can withstand temperatures as high as 1000°F and low as -200°F.

“Porcelain enamel has a surface with the hardness of glass combined with the strength and rigidity of steel. It provides a multitude of advantages to give it one of the longest service lives of any of our substrates,” says the firm.

Take special care

Research reported by Carlisle-based door handle firm, More Handles, shows that corrosion of exposed steel on the coast can be 400 – 500 times greater than the same steel placed in the desert. Whilst marine corrosion is effective up to several miles from the sea, the destructiveness of salt spray is significantly greater near the ocean. 

More Handles states on its website: “Remember that stainless steel is not always ‘stainless’. Stainless steel is available in several different grades. It should be noted that none of them are rust-free, they are only rust-resistant in varying degrees. The most common grades of stainless steel used in architectural ironmongery are grade 201, grade 304, and grade 316. Grades 201 and 304 should never be used externally, as they will certainly rust. Grade 316 can be used outside in most situations, however when used in a coastal environment, surface rust may occur.”

Dibond is a substrate which offers an aluminium surface but with added dimension. Dibond’s plastic core gives added depth without added weight. This core is ten times stronger than 0.40 aluminium and has a high tolerance for cold and hot weather temperature extremes. Because of aluminium’s natural rust and weather-resistance, Dibond signs will stand up to the elements. Additionally, the solid plastic core gives Dibond signs added rigidity and durability, so it won’t easily bend or warp, like PVC.

When installing signage in coastal areas, sign firms need to ensure they are using marine-grade substrates that can stand the test of time

When installing signage in coastal areas, sign firms need to ensure they are using marine-grade substrates that can stand the test of time because aluminium composite material de-laminates by the coast due to the salt water spray. Dibond provide a specific ‘coastal Dibond’ designed to protect from coastal erosion.

Sam Armstrong, founder of educational programme Make it Happen, educates and trains anyone involved in the process of making signs, including how to advise clients of the best material for their project. Armstrong says: “The British Sign and Graphic Association [now ISA UK powered BSGA] specifies that if a product is within 20 miles from the coast, 316 grade brushed or polished steel should be used. Because end-users rarely clean signs and want them to look perfect forever, it is beneficial for suppliers and manufacturers to make clients aware of the erosion the signage will endure if it is not protected.

This also applied for signage that will be exposed to any weather, sunshine means UV damage, snowy weather means potential damage from gritters and salt. Leicester-based sign firm, SignFab paints to protect from coastal areas meaning all its signage is protected. Not all firms do this, so it is beneficial for sign fabricators to check with clients whether the sign is to be installed near the coast to avoid returns and rejection when the sign is inevitably damaged due to exposure of the elements.”

Armstrong also identifies providing special durable materials as a simple way to get ahead of competition. Not all firms will offer such products, and by exploring the best substrates for extreme jobs, sign firms are providing a unique and sought-after service. Armstrong says: “Providing fire-rated composites for example, are a way for firms to differentiate themselves in the market by offering products which offer more than the standard. It is more expensive to do this but will generate more revenue.”

Preparation is key

Indasol is a specialist supplier to the sign industry of technical tapes, adhesives. The firm focuses on providing the right product for each application and offers free samples, site visits and technical advice to ensure customers get the right substrate for the job.

A sign created by Indasol for Longleat Safari Park, using SIGNBLOCK

Martin Sadler, group director of Indasol, says: “A typical extreme application for one of our products would be for example a large sign being installed at height that required specialist fixing that may be exposed to the elements.

“We would tackle this two ways. Firstly, we would establish the materials being bonded and the end environment (surfaces to be bonded to) they would be exposed to. We would then advise on the correct bonding tape or adhesive, then we would ensure the correct surface penetration was done (cleaning, abrading, priming). All Indasol’s materials are suitable for working with high levels of stress and weight loading.”

As an alternative to its range of signage products, Indasol offers SIGNBLOCK, a different solution to traditionally heavy materials. With the option to 3D rout the product into whatever shape is desired, SIGNBLOCK can be finished to look like many materials such as stone or wood.

Indasol offers a range of technical tapes and adhesives which have been tested to destruction for extreme applications

Indasol’s range of materials has been specially designed for use in extreme applications. “We have tapes and adhesives that can cope with extremely low and high temperatures, and can even pass through powder coating,” says Sadler.

Due to the unpredictable nature of working with extreme applications, it can be difficult for sign firms to know exactly how durable a material needs to be to successfully complete a job

Due to the unpredictable nature of working with extreme applications, it can be difficult for sign firms to know exactly how durable a material needs to be to successfully complete a job. To help with this, Indasol tests all its products to destruction in order to refer to data sheets which give failure points and advises accordingly.

“We at Indasol pride ourselves on having the right product for the job. If we are involved early in the design stages, we can assist in specifying the right product to tackle each application. We are happy to provide free of charge samples and advice on all bonding applications,” Sadler concludes.


Soyang Europe is a supplier of digitally printable media for a variety of industries including the wide-format and super-wide outdoor, retail point-of-sale, point of purchase, flag and signage sectors. The firm’s extensive portfolio is distributed from its 70,000sq ft Lancashire distribution centre which holds stock of in excess of 1.5 million sq m of material.

Soyang Europe’s AlumiGraphics Grip is an outdoor wall and floor graphics solution

Soyang Europe provides solutions for extreme applications with materials such as its BILD printable flooring. BILD is a 100% solid polyvinyl printable flooring, that is both lightweight and recyclable. The ‘extreme material’ specialists also offer Rip-Stop – banner materials designed to withstand wild and windy environments. The ripstop construction knitted base fabric which makes up the banner material is smooth and tear-resistant which is printable via UV, latex, solvent and eco-solvent techniques. Available In widths up to 5m, the material is well suited to those requiring grand-format sizes.

“The most obvious situation where sign firms would require extreme materials would be for outdoor applications,” explains David Hunter, sales manager at Soyang Europe. “Particularly when something is going to be subjected to high winds, extensive UV exposure and/or excessive rainfall. How a material will cope against the elements is an important consideration to make.”

O Factoid: Originally invented in 1965, Dibond is so strong it is commonly used in commercial building architecture.O

Soyang Europe’s AlumiGraphic material is a printable, foil-based substrate that conforms to almost any surface without leaving a residue – an ideal choice for outdoor applications as it adheres to brick, concrete and tarmac. Conforming to the surface texture, the material can be removed without a trace if needed. The material takes on the texture of the surface it is applied to, appearing as a painted image which is unaffected by changes in temperature or moisture levels.

The AlumiGraphics material is a printable, foil-based substrate

The Grip element provides a non-slip grip surface to prevent slipping in wet conditions. The material is printable with UV, latex and solvent ink technologies which means suppliers can offer the product without needing to invest in additional hardware.

The most important thing to be aware of is what the law specifies for materials used in public spaces

“A profoundly important issue to discuss around extreme applications it that of the importance of Fire Rating,” says Hunter. “The most important thing to be aware of is what the law specifies for materials used in public spaces.”

With textiles being used widely in public environments, display fabrics being fire retardant is of the utmost importance. Soyang Europe provides a Fibreglass backlit banner which has a Class 0 rating – the highest rating achievable. The material’s textured, glossy surface is ideal for lightboxes and Hunter says it is a good choice for applications such as the London Underground.

“Media needs to be compliant with the requirements of BS5867 type B, which is generally accepted in the UK as NFP92 503 and DIN4102 B1 are across Europe. Put simply, this means the material has been rated as ‘difficult to ignite and sustain burning’ making it a safe option for use in public spaces. It’s really important to know that the material being used for public space applications is safe when exposed to the extreme condition of fire,” Hunter concludes.