Vinyl is probably the most versatile plastic material in the world.

It is a plastic made from the combination of ethylene (found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in salt). When these substances are combined, it becomes polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin, or as it is better known – vinyl. It is then further processed to be more flexible, harder, semi-liquid, transparent or colored, thick or thin.

Vinyl was first invented in 1920 by scientists who wanted to develop a material that would help make everyday objects easier to manufacture, more durable and less expensive than existing products. Today, vinyl is the second most manufactured and sold plastic resin in the world.

Although the most common use of vinyl is in construction (such as vinyl flooring), there are hundreds of other applications, especially in the sign industry, where vinyl products include vinyl stickers, vinyl graphics, banners, vehicle graphics and Floor stickers.

Vinyl is a very strong and durable plastic material that can be manufactured in a variety of colors and properties. It is resistant to moisture and humidity.

Sign makers can choose from hundreds or even thousands of different vinyl materials. It is crucial to choose the right one for the job, as this will improve the final quality of the application and increase productivity. While the choice of vinyl can be overwhelming at times, basically all vinyls fall into 3 categories: monomeric calendered vinyl, polymeric calendered vinyl, and cast vinyl.

Monomer Calendered Vinyl
Monomer vinyl films typically have a bond life of between 1 and 3 years and are the cheapest of vinyl films.

Due to their limited duration, these films are not suitable for demanding exterior applications such as vehicle graphics or dashboard signage. This is because vinyl is not as stable as its polymer and casting cousins. Vinyl degrades in a number of ways. It shrinks, peels, curls around the edges, and eventually peels off like old paint.

You will often see this degradation when examining vehicle graphics applied with the wrong (monomeric) vinyl. Around the edge of the vinyl, you’ll see a dirty black outline. This is where the vinyl surface shrinks, leaving a sticky edge. This edge then attracts dirt and grime, which ends up in an ugly black outline.

Typical uses for monomer vinyl include short-term use stickers, short-term exhibition graphics, and short-term use (1 to 3 years) window stickers.

Polymer Calendered Vinyl
Polymeric vinyls are often the ideal intermediate between unstable monomeric vinyl films and expensive cast films. They are generally affordable (only a little more expensive than monomers) and can provide up to 5-6 years of durability and bond life.

Polymeric vinyl has polymers added to reduce shrinkage. Manufacturers have been improving their polymer vinyls, and the lifespan of these vinyls is on the rise. However, while these vinyls have improved significantly over time, they still fall short of the stability and durability of cast films. The cast will be detailed later.

Compared to monomeric vinyl, polymer films have a longer lifespan, are more stable, and are more suitable for outdoor applications. However, they do not perform well on irregular surfaces such as rivets and corrugated surfaces. Polymer is fine for flat surfaces, but casting is more of a need for anything other than flat surfaces.

As such, polymers are suitable for long-term window decals, vehicle graphic slabs, premium stickers, dashboards, safety signs, general exterior vinyl graphics.

cast vinyl
Cast vinyl films are the most expensive vinyl films. However, for below-cost reasons, it’s a price worth paying. They often improve the quality of their work and increase their productivity, factors that lead to repeat business in the long run. Since labor costs are always the biggest cost for sign manufacturers, choosing the right material for the job shouldn’t be just a matter of cost.

Monomeric (and to a lesser extent polymeric) vinyls start life as a dough and hope to return to a “dough-like” state, whereas cast films start life as a liquid. During production, this liquid spreads into an extremely thin layer. They don’t have a “memory” like calendered vinyl (i.e. they don’t want to go back to any pre-life form or shape) so can be shaped into new shapes by a sign maker. They are also very stable and shrinkage cannot be detected by the naked eye. This makes cast vinyl premium films.

Because cast vinyl is thinner, they are easier to cut, weed, form, pack and apply. Apply a layer of ductile film to the rivets and they will eventually “fail” and return to their flat position. Apply a layer of cast film and it takes the shape of a rivet and adapts to its new form.

Therefore, cast vinyl is the recommended choice for most exterior applications. They are essential for vehicle wrapping and vehicle graphics that require vinyl entry and exit panels. Castings are also sometimes selected for interior applications that require a certain color, as the swatches available for cast vinyl are very wide.

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