By Digital Output staff
The signage industry is no stranger to PVC board. Sheets of extruded or expanded polyvinyl chloride (PVC) were used long before digital printing, fabricated by sign crafters with traditional tools like CNC routers and circular saw blades and then handprinted or even screenprinted.
This material is known for its durability, which enables it to withstand hard fabrication practices like those mentioned prior as well as being hammered, nailed, screwed, or stapled during the install into its final location. As such, it comes as no surprise that PVC is highly adaptable to digital printing practices, particularly UV LED flatbeds as the curing technology in these devices prevents warping of the material.
Pair its durability with PVC board manufacturers’ advancements in bright white points and excellent ink adhesion and this product is timeless in the sign industry.
Above: 3A Composites offers SINTRA expanded PVC board.
PVC board is a popular material option. Top applications include trade show and exhibit signage, point of purchase (POP) and retail signage, wayfinding, menu boards, and safety/instructional signage.
“This lightweight, durable material is the go-to option for sign crafters from many backgrounds. In addition to a printable surface, it can be fabricated to create a variety of objects such as self-standing POP displays. As an example, PVC can be pre-printed and cut, shipped in bulk to retail stores, and easily assembled on site for eye-catching displays,” explains Mike Sherrod, market development manager, Vycom.
For printed PVC, Chuck Kunze, director, product management and marketing, 3A Composites USA, believes leading applications include interior and exterior signage, wayfinding/directional signage, POP/point of sale displays, retail fixtures, dimensional displays, exhibits, and kiosks.
“PVC can be printed, routed, die cut, and offered in custom colors and sizes for specialty products,,” says Marcy Menoni, VP of sales, Kommerling USA, Inc.
Beyond traditional PVC, speciality materials with photoluminescence attributes are popular ways to meet safety code regulations.
“Photoluminescent signage is required by building codes inside of high-rise construction emergency staircases, which are enforced by local building and fire inspectors. Nationwide standards enforce tough luminance requirements for emergency signage in passenger trains, exit signs in all kinds of structures, on board passenger ships, and other life safety applications, each with their respective stringent luminance requirements,” notes Marina Batzke, GM, American Permalight, Inc.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence how and where signage is used. While the need for graphics in traditional environments such as trade shows are virtually non-existent, what rises in their place are both informational and practical signage solutions that dictate important safety information or serve the purpose of a protective barrier.
Sherrod admits to witnessing an “uptick in safety and information signage production, from simple reminders to more elaborate policy graphics to temporary wayfinding for patrons to navigate the new normal in areas that require outdoor-only services such as restaurants.”
An example of a digitally printable rigid substrate used as a protective barrier in retail, hospitality, and office environments is Vycom’s Clear PVC.
According to Palram Americas’ website, “architects, designers, contractors, and facility managers across the country are working on both temporary and permanent solutions to help facilitate social distancing in the post-COVID-19 world. To do this, workers create environments within businesses and public facilities where it’s easy to maintain germ-free contact surfaces and other high-touch areas. They are also reshaping facility interiors to allow for safe distancing between people.”
To assist in this, Palram created a downloadable Concepts Guide with examples of post-COVID-19 interior layouts available on its website. The guide compares Palram’s PVC solutions by attributes such as impact resistance, flammability, and opacity to find the ideal material for an application from advertising signage to directions, rules, and new hours.
“An application resulting from COVID-19 is buy-online-pickup-in-store directional and informational signage. In this application, PVC sheets can be either direct printed by the PSP or used as a backer substrate with a vinyl or adhesive covering,” points out Anthony Martin, senior regional account manager, Palram Americas.
PVC excels in these types of applications. “It offers innate chemical resistance prosperities, which allow barriers to stand up to frequent cleaning and disinfecting with common commercial and household products that may cause other clear plastics to crack and become cloudy,” shares Sherrod.
Mark Robinson, sales manager, Brett Martin Plastic Sheets, notes PVC board is used for hygienic partitions in temporary hospitals; COVID signage in retail, factories, and offices; and as worktop and counter covers. “Even sanitation stations and printed partitions in the hospitality sector double as protective barriers, with printed advertising or menu boards.”
“We’ve seen an increase in the use of PVC as temporary barriers inside of commercial businesses in order to facilitate social distancing guidelines. The demand for PVC as a reliable substrate has remained strong due to its durability, versatility in application, and ability to be cleaned and disinfected easily,” agrees Kunze.
Fiercely Standing Out
Manufacturers of PVC board look to stand out from the competition using such characteristics as price, performance, and recyclability.
3A Composites credits itself as offering the original expanded PVC board, SINTRA. It offers a premium, bright white surface to generate high-quality printing results in addition to superior durability and rigidity.
Part of the 3A SINTRA lineup is SINTRA ECLIPSE, which is a black SINTRA with a bright white Type 1 PVC facer laminated to one side. It is designed to provide enhanced printing capabilities with black PVC, eliminating the need for laminating or flood coating before printing.
American Permalight’s photoluminescent rigid PVC is available in five different luminance durations. There are a multitude of codes and standards out there and the company’s team of professionals are armed with the knowledge to consult on code compliance for any and all jobs.
Asking questions such as intended application, geographic location, and project-specific requirements leads American Permalight’s experts to recommend the appropriately certified and adequately priced photoluminescent rigid PVC.
Brett Martin promotes its focus on sustainability with the Foamalux Xtra. It is manufactured from recycled foam PVC recovered from production and post-consumer signage waste, containing up to 80 percent recycled content. Foamalux Xtra comprises of a black core, sandwiched between one or two surfaces of virgin white PVC.
Kommerling KömaTex free-foam PVC sheets exhibit a highly regular, fine-celled foam structure and a good surface strength. The closed, matte, fine textured, and high-quality surface presents an excellent substrate for printing, painting, and laminating and is easy to process. It is 100 percent recyclable.
Palram’s newest product is PALBOARD 3D, a co-extruded multilayer PVC sheet. It combines two surfaces of solid PVC with a black or white dense foam core. The company also announced PALBOARD 2D, a multilayer sheet with a white, solid PVC layer on one side with black foam PVC on the other. Palram PALIGHT foam PVC and PALBOARD sheet are recyclable under recycling #3 for PVC.
Vycom differentiates its Celtec PVC portfolio from its competitors with its quality construction. The surface is designed to promote superior ink adhesion as well as reduce chipping and cracking, all to ensure an increased yield of sellable prints. The company’s Celtec Vivid White offers a bright white point to deliver vibrant color and cooler tones, making it ideal for color-critical applications.
The Vycom Celtec product family—including Vivid White, DigiLite, Woodgrain, and Thick Gauge—is the most complete in range of thicknesses, finishes, and textures for extruded PVC sheets available from a single manufacturer of 100 percent U.S.-made products, according to Sherrod. In addition, all Celtec materials are 100 percent recyclable.
Recyclability is more than a buzzword; but a necessary consideration for many a PSP and its customer when choosing a PVC board for a project. There are ongoing requests on how to handle used signage as well as scrap. Inventive ideas on how to upcycle used PVC materials and scrap as well as recycling programs are options.
American PERMALIGHT encourages customers to get creative by using any leftover pieces and imprinting them with a safety message, such as exit or push, and the company’s contact information. The PSP can use these handy giveaways to alert customers that the sign company is also printing photoluminescent signage.
“Rest assured, while customers might misplace a paper printed business card, customers keep the brightly glowing exit or push sign either on their desk or apply it to an exit door leading outside. So the customer keeps getting reminded of the sign company that handed out a giveaway as a helpful sign,” suggests Batzke.
Back in Fall 2019, Vycom announced an initiative to take used PVC board and place it back into the recycling stream. Referred to as the Recycling Take-Back Program, it intends to capture and recycle printed and unprinted PVC sheets, as well as scraps and drops from finishing and fabricating.
“As part of The AZEK Company, Vycom can leverage the need to incorporate more recycled materials into building products including TimberTech decking and AZEK Exteriors trim boards. These internal applications enable us to utilize a variety of scrap and divert materials that would previously end up in landfills,” notes Sherrod.
The Recycling Take-Back Program is intended for users of PVC and PE products—in coordination with authorized distributors for drop-off and collection—to recycle used signage and scrap. Vycom hopes to work with show management and event services when another trade show is held to coordinate a pilot recycling program where special bins are provided to exhibitors to drop off scrap or unwanted printed PVC.
Kunze sees a growing demand from print providers for some type of take-back program for PVC boards. “While there are many factors that add to the complexity of recycling PVC, we are in the process of developing a program that will make it easier for our customers to have a recycling/re-use option for used signage and scrap, which will allow for an extended material lifecycle and reduced environmental impact.”
In the U.K., Brett Martin is working with its distributors on a number of intiatives to close the loop and recover post-consumer printed foam PVC for use in its Foam Xtra and Foamalux black recycled grade foam PVC board. Brett Martin recycles over 94 percent of post-production waste with the remainder sent to other recyclers.
Similarily, Kommerling is focused on upholding sustainable practices in house. “Internally we recycle all scrap produced in house and we are developing new products for the industrial sector that will have an excess of 50 percent recycled material in the sheet,” continues Menoni.
The Future of PVC Board
While PVC board is still utilized in the applications it was originally intended for, macro forces have led to its use in new applications such as informational safety signage and protective barriers. The substrate’s durability coupled with ease of cleaning and ability to be printed to directly make it an ideal option for these applications.
As manufacturers grow their product lines they also make a point to address the recyclability issues arising from the increased scrap and used signage with no place to go. Take-back programs are one way to combat this and we look forward to seeing how they fall into place in the future.
Dec2020, Digital Output