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Cut Vinyl vs. Printing

Discussion in 'General Signmaking Topics' started by Breezy85, Oct 12, 2018.

  1. Breezy85

    Breezy85 Member

    May 23, 2018
    Hey folks. I have a question and want to get some other opinions on this.

    What's the longevity comparison of regular cut vinyl on a sign versus printing/laminating?

    I've been working at a place for a few months that does lots of cut vinyl, multiple colors for signs instead of printing. It drives me crazy because some of the stuff is very intricate and a pain in the rear end to compile it all together onto the sign. Some colors, I get because you can't print metallic colors or other specialized vinyl colors. But for basic stuff, it's rather annoying. Then when I accidentally have a screwed up letter or something because it was so intricate that I need the designer to recut it, there's more material being used rather than having it printed so I'm not weeding it. I've previously spent a good half of my day working on one order because it was 6 signs, 3 different color vinyls.

    Nobody listens to me when I tell them it would save labor time if it was printed. They'll either say, "no it's not better," or "it looks better," or "it lasts longer." So I'd like to turn to you guys for some input, because I'm contemplating going to the boss about ways to save on production/labor time and get the same quality on the signs.
  2. Solventinkjet

    Solventinkjet DIY Printer Fixing Guide

    Aug 2, 2011
    Denver, CO
    When I started in the sign industry the shop I worked at did everything in cut vinyl. 2" x 3" decals all the way to 5' x 25' banners. I spent my entire day weeding and applying. The second we got a printer that could print with outdoor durable inks, we switched to printing everything. Yes, cut vinyl can achieve much more vibrant colors and in some cases is a better choice for that reason. But printing is superior in my opinion. Those 6, 3 color signs that took you half a day would be done in an hour at most with a printer roll to roll printer. With a UV flatbed those signs could be made in 15 minutes. The labor savings are worth it and you can always go back to cut vinyl for certain jobs that require it. Also, you can't print a bitmap image or gradient with cut vinyl. That severely limits your design possibilities.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. particleman

    particleman Member

    Feb 1, 2008
    Doing cut vinyl and overlays is our last resort. We use a gerber edge for any multiple color specialty work even. We print everything possible. Digital printers now can do good enough quality and colors for most people so you are just wasting time and money if could have otherwise printed it.
  4. clarizeyale

    clarizeyale Member

    Aug 25, 2016
    SF Bay Area
    We limit cut vinyl to single color signs (such as vehicle lettering, window lettering, etc). there are exceptions, like you said, with metallic, mirrored, or specific cut vinyl colors but anything more than 2-3 colors, we print.

    When I first started, we would do everything roll to roll printing, laminate, then mount on said sign. This took SO LONG. we would do foamboard signs, alumacore signs, PVC signs, you name it. This became really problematic and stressful once we started getting jobs with tight timeline demands/next day/last minute crap. My boss then invested in a UV printer. The type of printing we do requires high quality signs which the UV printer does but at like... 20-30-40 minutes per side per board. This EXTREMELY cut down our production by hours and/or days compared to printing directly onto vinyl and mounting onto boards.

    Needs have since increased and we switched to the R1000 which is even MOREEEE faster. lowest quality at 8 minutes per side per board and it looks as good, if not, BETTER than the indoor quality of the UV print. We literally got 3 conferences (or was it 4? or 5... I don't remember anymore), 1 gala, and a whole bunch of vendor/wayfinding signs (I swear we were making like 300+ boards/signs of varying sizes) done in LESS THAN A WEEK.

    yea.. I think printing on your signs > cut vinyl on a sign. I think it depends on longevity and durability as well as use of signs but this is our current experience... also, our customers love them! I think if you can deliver both fast and great quality, the amount of business you receive will increase.

    I was told that the FB550 would be better for those looking to maker more simple signs. We need more higher quality look as well as speed due to our customers hence the switch to the R1000

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 18, 2018
  5. Breezy85

    Breezy85 Member

    May 23, 2018
    Thanks for your input guys! Our shop has a Epson large format printer, a HP flatbed printer, and a Zund for routing and large quantity cutting.

    At the last shop I worked at, I was (as some of you may remember) the only employee. I did design and production (with help from the owner when needed). Anything simple, single color, like vehicle lettering or window graphics. I only had forest green, navy blue, black, red, and white cut vinyl. Unless there was a specific need for any other type vinyl like translucent or other specific colors, we ordered it upon the need. Anything else complex or 2+ colors was printed then laminated if it was going outside.

    Now at the place I'm at, we do simple cut vinyl as well. But looooots of cut vinyl, multiple colors. Like I said, some orders take me hours to complete because I have to weed it, tape it then apply it. Not to mention when there were cutting issues with the plotter and the backing paper was sticking to the vinyl (getting a headache just thinking about it).

    Still open for anyone else with feedback.
  6. rossmosh

    rossmosh Active Member

    Oct 9, 2014
    New Jersey
    Theoretically, this is a simple question. Figure out how expensive it is to make a sign from start to finish both methods. Include labor costs. Whichever is cheaper should win. Obviously you should do a like for like comparison, as close as possible. To do a proper cost analysis you need to take into consideration waste AND error. For example, if you screw up a digital print vs if you screw up a cut vinyl sign, what's your cost.

    Now in reality, it can be a bit more complicated. Some people just like straight vinyl. Every day people pay good money for something knowing it's down to preference, not what's best or most efficient. The other thing to take into consideration is, demand. If your whole argument is based on time, well, if you print the signs and it saves you time and there's no demand to fill the time, you just cut your hours from 40 to 20. The other element of demand is, are the printers doing other jobs? If you have two printers and they work 10 hour days, there might not be capacity to do these other signs you want to push to them. That's where using the plotter could be argued as being more effective.
  7. Fine Designs

    Fine Designs New Member

    Aug 28, 2013
    Mesa Arizona
    Rather a job is cut vinyl or printed it all comes down to the material used as far and how long it will last. As far as time thats another story. It all depends on the said job. Some projects we do in cut vinyl because it makes more sense other it makes more sense "time wise" to do it in print. Its always nice to print a 50 color design in one shot!
  8. ewded

    ewded Active Member

    Aug 28, 2017
    One thing you need to take in consideration with printed vinyl is that if you use eco solvent printer you need to have a small white border around the image if you need to cut it to shape OR you need to let it outgas for 24-48h otherwise if your trim line is right on the printed parts (bleed area) the edges will curl up pretty bad. They say with latex you don't need to wait, but i have no experience.
  9. unclebun

    unclebun Very Active Member

    We do a lot of jobs with both printing and with cut vinyl. The choice of media depends on the application and the desired results. If you are having all kinds of problems with mistakes weeding or it takes you a long time, I suggest you improve your skills rather than complaining about the jobs. Longevity goes to cut vinyl, hands down. Ink just cannot hold up to the durability of cut vinyl materials. We use Avery vinyls, and even the mid-grade 750 series will outlast laminated prints outdoors in the light. The cast vinyls will go 9-10 years or more.

    You cannot beat cut vinyl for lettering office/store doors and windows with business name, hours, etc. And using cut vinyl will prevent you from one of the gravest design offenses that has become so commonplace with over-reliance on printers: outlining dark letters used on dark substrates with a white outline. Contrary to belief, this does not enhance readability and it does not look good.

    Likewise, for commercial vehicle lettering or putting names or license numbers on boats, you cannot beat cut vinyl for speed, convenience, and longevity. That little white outline around everything never matches the color of the white fiberglass or the paint on a truck. You always see it. And printing because you can add a soft shadow to a boat name is even worse. You end up with these amorphous blobs of excess white vinyl around the bottom of the name. We do boat license numbers for the customer while they wait. A one color license is designed, cut, weeded, and handed to the customer in less than 5 minutes. Two color in less than 8 minutes, including preassembly of the colors. And it's done using a much less expensive, more durable machine than a printer, which requires no expensive inks and far less (no) maintenance.

    Granted, being able to do cut vinyl means stocking lots of colors. But that's why we charge for being a sign professional. It includes the cost of maintaining inventory.

    When do we use the printer? To get custom color backgrounds on signs, rather than custom mixing paint and painting the boards. To reproduce photos or other artwork which cannot be done in cut vinyl. When a design uses multiple colors of outlines. When we're making small decals (stickers). And so on.

    Each medium has reasons to use it, and good sign professionals will choose them accordingly.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  10. particleman

    particleman Member

    Feb 1, 2008
    White outline isn't needed for latex.

    The other benefit is that we can print on air release vinyl which makes for an easier installation. We have products out there from 7+ years. Of course the quality of vinyl and laminate you use needs to match your durability requirements.
  11. ewded

    ewded Active Member

    Aug 28, 2017
    Air release vinyl is available for solvent printers too - oracal calls it rapid air vinyl (wait, how did we end up on a Latex vs Solvent theme?)
  12. Billct2

    Billct2 Major Contributor

    Mar 12, 2005
    New England
    Like has been said, depends on the job. Cut vinyl usually lasts much longer that printed for exterior applications. I can't believe that I now sell cut vinyl as the "old fashioned" method.
  13. kcollinsdesign

    kcollinsdesign Active Member

    Apr 22, 2007
    Normal, Illinois
    Cut vinyl will last at least twice as long as printed vinyl when used outdoors on a sign. You will be lucky to get even 5 years with printed graphics.

    That said, I prefer painted graphics. I have well-prepared polycarbonate faces with Lacryl painted graphics that still look fine after twenty years.

    Please keep in mind I gave up fabricating years ago, so all I worry about is using the appropriate technology, vendor reliability, and cost. I don't have a bunch of expensive machines and all the extra employees it takes to run them. Painted pan-formed polycarbonate faces (ready to install) cost me $10 - $11 sq. ft. plus shipping, so it makes no sense to specify cut vinyl. Translucent printing costs about $2 sq. ft., and my face decorator will apply the graphic on the second surface, before the final backing coat of Lacryl (much more durable and UV proof than first surface mounted graphics AND looks the same in both daylight and backlit conditions).

    Printed PWP translucent graphics plus .177 while polycarbonate comes to about $11 sq. ft., plus you have to install the graphic. This will last 3 - 5 years before the vinyl is shot, where the painted face will last at least four times as long. Unless you need to keep people busy... why? I guess an argument can be made for planned obsolescence, but that kind of thinking tends to irritate clients.

    You will be at a competitive disadvantage if you try to prepare backlit sign faces in-house unless you have an efficient painting work flow that includes explosion proof back lighting and a large, safe spray booth. You will need enough business to justify the expense, a fabrication location that complies with local codes and ventilation requirements, probably a vacuum forming machine, and some sort of conveyance system for the efficient handling of materials. I would guess that you would need to be doing $200k - $300k annually in plastic face decoration before considering the investment.
  14. bannertime

    bannertime Very Active Member

    Sep 8, 2016
    Yup, we actually label it "Classic Vinyl" and it's a premium now.

    We stick to using cut vinyl on low quantity 1-3 color signs or vehicle and window lettering. I absolutely hate when I see a sign get burned out when it could have easily been cut vinyl instead of printed. One customer brought proofs in for a 1 color vehicle lettering job that was going to be a full wrap with printed letters. Not even contour cut, but a full white wrap with blue letters! Wtf.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. equippaint

    equippaint Very Active Member

    Oct 10, 2014
    Someone had just enough to buy a printer but not a cutter to go with it.

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