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Where can I learn about the different use cases for substrates?

Discussion in 'General Chit-Chat' started by WhatsYourSign?, Jan 18, 2019.

  1. WhatsYourSign?

    WhatsYourSign? Member

    Jul 13, 2018
    Half of my posts on here are typically met with loud roar from people complaining that I shouldn't be in the business because I don't know everything about the business.

    But I purchased the company and I wasn't born an expert, so it's worth taking the grief to tap into the collective industry experience here at Signs101!

    With that said - are there any resources where I can more about the different substrates available and when I should use them? There are a lot of different options available and I want to be sure I'm making the right recommendations when selling signs.

    Thanks in advance for any help! I look forward to hearing why I shouldn't be in the business if I don't know all these things already ;)
    • Like Like x 1
  2. Dan360

    Dan360 Member

    Dec 23, 2014
    Ontario, Canada
    Most manufacturers have charts explaining the different applications of their products. Mostly it just comes with experience though. The majority of your jobs will be done with materials you are comfortable with, so try a couple out before you settle on one.

    You will get the odd request here and there. If you haven't had a similar one in the past then this forum is a great place to ask opinions of people who have done similar projects. Anything you run into, I'm sure there are multiple users here that have done it. It's pretty rare to come across a problem that someone hasn't solved before.

    Patience is your friend in this case.
    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. Solventinkjet

    Solventinkjet DIY Printer Fixing Guide

    Aug 2, 2011
    Denver, CO
    Didn't you know? Everyone in this industry knows everything already and never had to learn. It was downloaded into our brains at birth!

    All jokes aside, your neighborhood vinyl and substrate dealer is your best bet. As a dealer we have an incentive to educate our customers. The more products you can make the more supplies we can sell you. Any dealer worth their salt will be happy to give you some information. Also as stated above, manufacturers have charts you can get usually from your dealer that will tell you exactly what each material is used for etc.
    • Like Like x 4
    • Agree Agree x 1
  4. Johnny Best

    Johnny Best Very Active Member

    Dec 9, 2015
    buffalo ny
    Just drive around and when you see a sign you like get out and take a pic and post it on here and asked how it was made.
    Also there are Sign trade mags out there to subscribe that could help. SignCraft comes to mind.
    Good luck in the sign business, glad to see more people who want to learn getting into it.
    • Like Like x 1
    • Informative Informative x 1
  5. Billct2

    Billct2 Major Contributor

    Mar 12, 2005
    New England
    Like they said, the sales/manufactures reps are a good source, combined with online research. It does take a while to get a feel for what works best in different situations and often there isn't only one good solution. That being said, we are also in a time of constant new and improved products sometimes they are, sometimes not. I always remember when aluminum faced plywood was introduced at the miracle product replacing all the prep need for MDO. The product was said to be the perfect replacement for exterior MDO signs with a 5 year warranty. We tried it and liked it....
    Then after a few years we had a complaint about signs failing... newer signs, not the older ones we had done. So I looked and yep they were bubbling and delaminating. I called my rep and was told the material was only warrantied for 1 year...At some point they had changed it.
    The problem with materials failing is you have to prove when you bought it, and that you fabricated according to manufacturers instructions. Then they will give you a new panel. Which is may one tenth of the cost of the project.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  6. Gino

    Gino Premium Subscriber

    Jun 7, 2006
    I don't think people are upset you are in the sign business, just that after buying an already established business, you have no one on your staff to ask any questions. You tend to bounce all over the place asking some of the most basic and simplest questions. You're all over the place and don't seem to be focused.

    So, with that being said, why not tell us what you and your shop are capable of doing and maybe we could help you understand what you already have, instead of asking questions about nothing. That meaning.... most of your questions or inquiries have been about day dreams and how to this or that or where to get this or that. Have you gotten anything on any of the threads you started ??

    Like already mentioned, many of your questions can be ,earned just talking with your sales reps or distributors.... as long as they know what they're talking about. Believe me, I've asked questions to distributors and reps, only to get some of the most idiotic comebacks. So, ya hafta be careful on that level, too.
  7. Texas_Signmaker

    Texas_Signmaker Very Active Signmaker

    Oct 21, 2016
    Frisco, TX
    Drive around and look... Signs are all over the place for the public to see. I'm constantly looking at signs along my routes and seeing how they are constructed, designed and installed.
  8. shoresigns

    shoresigns Very Active Member

    Nov 1, 2011
    Vancouver, BC
    Here's a quick rundown of our standard substrates that we use for 95% of our work:

    Foamcore 3/16"

    Indoor signs, mostly disposable/one-time use

    Coroplast 3/16"
    Everything outdoor and temporary. Lawn signs, real estate signs, construction site signs, event signs, etc. Large signs sometimes done in 3/8" (10mm)

    PVC 1–6mm
    Small interior signs, sometimes exterior. Sometimes we use 12mm (1/2") for rectangular outdoor signs that need extra depth, like a projecting sign on a hanging bracket.

    Aluminum composite 1/8"
    Most common material for permanent outdoor signs. Retail, construction, everything.

    Aluminum .080"
    Traffic and safety signs that need to last as long as possible.

    Acrylic and polycarbonate 3/16"
    Transparent/translucent signs including backlit

    MDO plywood
    Never for anything, ever. PVC costs only slightly more, is similar in density and strength, doesn't rot, and doesn't require painting/weatherproofing.
    • Informative Informative x 4
    • Like Like x 2
  9. Sandman

    Sandman Member

    Jul 2, 2005
    Crystal Falls, MI
    Subscribe to SignCraft Magazine. My first 2 - 3 years in the sign business I learned a ton of stuff from this high quality magazine.
    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
  10. signmania

    signmania Owner

    May 1, 2010
    Cedar Rapids, Iowa
    All the sign magazines have some tips, but SignCraft is the best from my prospective. I learned so much years ago when I started, I found a guy selling the entire collection from the first issue and bought them. I picked up tips from the early magazines, even with the new material technologies. Most of the design tips are even more applicable today, especially after the advent of people banging out lifeless signs on their computers.

    One material not mentioned above--1/4-1/2" ACM (aluminum composite material) with a corrugated plastic core. It's stiffer than the 1/8" solid core ACM and lighter weight. Pricier however.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  11. jwilde

    jwilde Member

    Sep 12, 2016
    Muskegon, MI
    "All the drive around and look at signs comments."

    I have a problems with this... Signs interest me, that's why I do it. I'm in a store, I'm on vacation... it doesn't matter I'm looking at signage; how it is made and what materials are used or what/how the hardware holding it was fabricated. It doesn't matter if it's a small POS sign or a custom fabricated illuminated sign. Designs, spacing, title case or all caps... If it looks good, why... If it doesn't, why...

    There's usually no one way to do any of this... Budgets, designs, placement, competition and more budgets dictate what to use a lot of the time. I've done lobby signs out of gator and I've done halo illuminated acrylic letters...
  12. WhiskeyDreamer

    WhiskeyDreamer Professional Snow Ninja

    Aug 6, 2007
    I can't tell you of any great resources out there, but I can tell you how I learned. I came into a sign shop doing weeding and app. I asked questions about materials and listened to the responses. When we got a new material in, I asked for the spec sheet so I could read up on it. Once I became more involved with the shop and how things are managed and ordered, I became the point of contact for salesmen, so I'd get educated on new materials that way. I read through SignCraft and Sign Builders. I listen to people on here when materials new to me are suggested. Basically, I apprenticed to an old hand letterer and learned as I came up through the business. I've been here 18 years and I don't know everything, but I know a helluva lot more than I did when I started.
    • Like Like x 2
  13. equippaint

    equippaint Very Active Member

    Oct 10, 2014
    Id like to know how people select what they use when there are multiple suitable materials for the same application in basic vinyl signs.
    What would make you choose acm over .063 aluminum? Or PVC over acm? .080 aluminum was mentioned for traffic signs as long term, a 4x8 sheet is also not that much more cost wise than acm or even .063 so what would be the determining factor here? There's talk about the corrugated aluminum panels, why not just use .080?
    To answer my own question, I cant shear .080 and prefer acm because its punches, shears and is easy to round the corners. I hate it because its hard to get it with good edges.
    All the .063 we get lately always seems to have a bow in it like the uncoiler didn't flatten it out good enough. Im curious about what others think though. Especially with PVC.
  14. Texas_Signmaker

    Texas_Signmaker Very Active Signmaker

    Oct 21, 2016
    Frisco, TX
    I don't care for the corrugated ACM sheets...that stuff is more expensive and dents easily. For things that I need more oomph-to... I'll get the 6mm solid core ACM. That stuff replaces MDO.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  15. Just drive around and when you see a sign you like get out and take a pic and post it on here and asked how it was made.
  16. Phil Swanson

    Phil Swanson Premium Subscriber

    Feb 27, 2006
    I have been in the same boat ( and sometimes still am). I started hand lettering in the mid 80's. For 20 years I worked full time at a heavy equipment dealer and did my lettering part time. 95% of my lettering was trucks aand heavy equipment.

    Now 30 years later, I've moved to the Adirondack's, NOBODY letters their heavy equipment, and trucks only when they have to. Banners and signs are a bigger part of my work now and I have very little experience with substrates. Just getting supplies is a hassle, I have to drive 50 miles to meet the delivery truck!

    Some people can't resist telling you everything that you're doing wrong and make you feel like the village idiot, instead of answering your questions and trying to help.
    ( thank God they're not teachers )

    This is one reason I have been reluctant to use this forum so your not alone....Sign Craft magazine is helpful.

    One other thing that you can try is to invest in buying a small amount of each substrate to actually see what they are made of, how heavy, thickness, ect.

    Good luck, read on, and don'tdon't be discouraged by the people with negative attitudes!
    Many of us have had to learn on our own, one job at a time.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. fresh

    fresh Very Active Member

    May 16, 2011
    Nobody has mentioned going to a trade show? Go to a trade show and ask all the vendors about their materials. Get samples. Nobody taught me anything, I do a lot of investigating. I don't think it took too long to learn what and when to use different materials.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  18. shoresigns

    shoresigns Very Active Member

    Nov 1, 2011
    Vancouver, BC
    We usually order pre-cut blanks of .080" aluminum for traffic/safety signs, and we use acm for less-critical signs (retail, parking signs, etc.) and when we need custom sizes. We don't have a shear, so cutting acm with a knife vs. cutting .080" with a saw is a lot less work.

    Also we almost never use .063" aluminum for anything. It bends too easily for any but the smallest sign sizes.
  19. Dan360

    Dan360 Member

    Dec 23, 2014
    Ontario, Canada
    We do a lot of .040 for local plants/factories. They typically get screwed or glued to something rigid so they don't need the extra rigidity .080 provides. We mainly use that for signs getting mounted to a pole, or it is specced for different reasons. We also do a lot of ACM mainly because it's so versatile and easy to work with.

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