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trouble with a CNC cut gator foam product

Discussion in 'Dimensional Signs' started by iSign, Mar 1, 2011.

  1. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    fortunately I am a much bigger fan of HDU, but it is pricey, and there are lots of cheaper foam letters on buildings around here, so a few years back, before I got my CNC, I sold a few sets of Gator Foam (Gator Board?) letters.

    One of the jobs had a real stylized font, with a heavy slant & the resulting letters were about 20" x 20" with some sharp points, and skinny sections... a somewhat unstable result prone to warping I now see...

    I can add pics later, but I'm at home still on my laptop, and wanting to at least get the conversation started. I did one Gator job on my own CNC, using a version of the product that has a white surface on both sides, that has a plastic-y quality... but the job in question was subbed out & produced on a gator product that had a brown kraft paper finish. Both the company that cut the foam, and the employee I had back then reassured me they had used this product outdoors numerous times.

    Well, the main reason I was up on the roof looking at this job last week, is because one letter is delaminating at the top, revealing the top 2 inches of white foam, as the surface has begun to peel away & droop down over itself.

    Among other things, what I saw up on that roof, is that half a dozen neighbors of this business have cheap foam letters that are holding up just fine. They are all smaller, and lighter in color, and much older... and they are holding up.

    Mine are painted red, with rattle can enamel, sprayed in several light coats, to prevent the paint eating the foam (per the suggestion of the employee who did so many similar jobs back in Boston) and then after the red outline & edge color was painted, black vinyl covers 90% of the letter, leaving only the red outline. Also I should note that I used a minimum of double face tape & silicone adhesive, because I thought of the weight of the letter as the only force to contend with.

    Well, maybe the dark colors (and resulting heat) are partly why my large letters are failing, and the other letters on the building are not... maybe the choice of paint was wrong? There is also warpage in my large letters, and the corners are pulling away from the building in some cases, so the amount of adhesive could also be a factor...

    In any case, it looks like I will have to entirely re-do the job. On new bids, I have been specifying HDU because it is more durable, and I trust it... but I also wonder if I am throwing a way too expensive material at a job that a much cheaper material can be made to work.

    I've seen the other "cheap" foam letters that have worked for many years, with much of the edges being eroded away by time, birds, or weather... yet the faces are still intact & the clients still happy... so for future low budget clients, or for my own desire to use a sufficient product, but not an overly pricey product... and for the most affordable solution to a free repair...


    ...what can anyone teach me about low cost foam letters, painting, mounting, and preventing against warpage or delamination?
     
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  2. Gino

    Gino Premium Subscriber

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    Personally, we only use Gator products inside. We do quite a few of them with no problems.

    I've also been told over the years and at trade shows that you can use Gator outside, but I've also heard lotsa horror stories, so I've never done it through our shop. I've used HDU for outside with success and lotsa outdoor guaranteed products outdoors, but not Gator. To me it's like the A V E R Y discussions. Some say yes and others are adamant about it not working. Like so many things, I guess you go this route until you are faced with the horrible problem and then become a believer. Not until you learn by your own mistakes will things like this ever mean anything.

    I would imagine if you had used an epoxy paint on them, you could do it, but I've never heard of using any brand of rattle can paint for ANY jobs outside other than touching up a black real estate frame.
     
  3. Marlene

    Marlene Major Contributor

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    Durafoam (closed cell) can be used outside. I don't make my own but have purchased cut dimensional letters from Polyplastic Forms. we have some out there that we have painted using Latex paint that are still OK. the birds and such do a number on them but other than that, they are OK.
     
  4. Billct2

    Billct2 Major Contributor

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    I also do a lot of gatorfoam letters, but never outside. And it's really not that cheap when compared to dibond or even acrylic, if you count the time spent finishing it.
    I wouldn't use anything but latex on gatorfoam, and I think that may have something to do with the failure. As you noted, "hot" paints eat the foam, and even though you were cautious it may have done enough damage to "release" the cardboard face from the foam center.
    The material I have seen used the most outside is actually an insulation panel and that may be what the others have used.
     
  5. dman0427

    dman0427 Member

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    Years ago Gatorfoam was durable enough to be used outside. Not so anymore. About 6-8 years ago, or so, it seems they changed the product. The faces would start curling and delaminating from the foam core... so no more exterior applications for us using gatorfoam.

    There is a market for the cheaper foam letters. They will last as long as the water based paint used to coat them (usually about 5 years or so) Then they will need a fresh coat of paint to keep their original luster. If they are maintained properly they can last quite a long time. Even the eps foam.
     
  6. dman0427

    dman0427 Member

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    I haven't witnessed birds doing anything to letters (if there's no nest in them).
    I think its the elements that wear them down over time after the lifespan of the paint has expired.
    But yeah, if a bird does a certain "number 2" on them, it can eat right through the paint and foam if left alone.
     
  7. Sticky Signs

    Sticky Signs Very Active Member

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    I wouldn't use foam outside but if I had to, I'd start with a foam paint primer (specifically for foam). Than paint the finish color and than apply the vinyl. Sounds like it's a combo of spray paint affecting the foam/laminate and the vinyl adding tension to the surface is causing the failure.
    My 2 cents
     
  8. jmb474

    jmb474 Member

    We do quite a few gatorfoam signs out here. We prime them and then apply several coats of latex paint.
     
  9. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    thanks for all the replies so far...
    by the way, I don't think I mentioned this, but it was installed about 2-1/2 years ago and just started failing this month!
     
  10. MikePro

    MikePro Major Contributor

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    its not recommended to use outdoors because the face of gaterfoam is essentially cardboard and will absorb moisture and eventually rot/break down.

    however, if you're sealing the product with a good coat of primer/paint, then I see no reason why it can't be an economical alternative to outdoor lettering... just as long as your client knows what they're getting and not to expect much in terms of longterm-quality.
     
  11. Si Allen

    Si Allen Very Active Member

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    Doug ... Big Box store's foam insulation, cut with a jig saw and coated with 3 coats of gloss latex holds up for many years!

    If 1 inch or thicker ... add some "bird off" spikes on the top edges.

    I know of many that a friends shop did that outlasted the businesses!
     
  12. wes70

    wes70 Very Active Member

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    Yep, what Si said. Also, you can apply a hardcoat epoxy to make the letters more durable.

    I think it was Bill Debekker that suggested an economical hard coating using a water-based flooring epoxy.
     
  13. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    thanks Si, and Wes... hmmm... and Bill D?
    I wonder what exact product he used... hopefully he will chime in..

    (damn HD doesn't carry the Owen's Corning "Foamular" product that I've wanted to get here in Maui, even though they carry it in most stores on the mainland)
     
  14. iSign

    iSign Major Contributor

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    Thanks Wes! (& Bill)
     
  15. bcxprint

    bcxprint New Member

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    Thought I might chime in here even though this is an old thread

    I am in Glendale, AZ and run a small sign shop here. I currently cut EPS foam I purchase from a local manufacturer. I can request heavy compressed foam in 2 pound weights. AFter I cut the foam using my CNC hotwire foam cutter, I then coat the foam in a 2 part epoxy resin I purchase from a local supplier as well. I also use a product called Styroplast which can be sprayed on if the temp is warm enough. It uses quite a bit of material when sprayed and its not cheap so I do that on jobs I have quoted enough on. At any rate, the epoxy resin cures to a super hard and smooth surface. It protects the foam so well, that I can use any kind of paint I choose on it, including auto high solvent paints and the like. Once those kind of finishes are applied, obviously they are good to go for a decade at least. I have been doing this process about 5 years now and have yet to redo any job I have sold. My business has grown quite a bit and am converting new customers to foam everyday. My prices are about 60% cheaper then the local metal channel letter guys which is not making them so happy :rock-n-roll: lol.... I even started cutting out the backs and installing led lights for indoor applications now! Its really got alot of growth still in it so I am very happy with my choice of materials and my business while never will be a huge shop, I can say it's so far become exactly what I had hoped for. If anyone is searching for a supplier of these letters, I sell them cash and carry and am working on a website to take orders for the trade so contact me via my email bannerxpress@yahoo.com or 602-435-6722 and I can set you up.
    thanks
     
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