By Thomas Tetreault
Part 1 of 2
Traditional vinyl banners are an important part of the print shop. They are used indoors and out, in a number of environments for a variety of purposes. The finishing aspect of a vinyl banner can be challenging, but it is usually necessary. Whether sewn, welded, or taped—the final product needs to look complete. Depending on a print shop’s expertise as well as cost limitations, these are all viable options.
Finishing options for vinyl banners range from simple to complex; automatic or manual. Welding, sewing, and banner tape each offer advantages as well as disadvantages.
Ken Huber, manager, plastic welding products, Leister Technologies, admits that all three of these finishing techniques are used in print shops, however he believes “welding is the strongest method of the three and important in use of banners that will endure the elements.”
There are various levels of welding, from ultrasonic to radio frequency (RF). “Using an RF machine means getting a banner that is longer lasting as well as a nicer finish,” explains Annelie Wester, marketing and area manager, Forsstrom High Frequency AB.
“We see welding continuing to gain traction in the market as it eliminates the cost of consumables and provides a quick efficient method for fabricating, parameter hems, pole pockets, and pocket signs,” shares Chase Pender, marketing manager, Supply55, Inc.
Like welding, sewing historically required specialized equipment and a skilled operator—however automation is changing the game. “Automation has been on print shops’ wish list for a few years now. First the demand came because it was hard to find skilled seamstresses and get a consistent quality of finishing, then demand came to increase productivity, and now since the pandemic hit, there is a labor shortage and shops are finding it difficult to hire employees at all. Automation solves these problems because anyone can easily use the equipment with minimal training and production output is increased with a consistent quality,” adds Christina Lefebvre, area sales manager, North America, Matic.
When it comes to sewing, Steven L. Kaplan, president, S. Kaplan Sewing Machine Co., Inc., points out that there is no material that cannot be hemmed with a sewing machine. “Sewn hems are among the strongest ways to finish a banner for the long term. Generally, these hems are double needle, which means two rows or parallel stitching approximately a half-inch apart.”
Rick Hatton, business development manager – sign and graphics, Budnick Converting, Inc., notes that practices like hemming can be both time consuming and expensive, which is where banner tape comes into play.
“Tape is still the most commonly used method of finishing vinyl banners. It is cheap and readily available without the need for equipment in any shop,” says Lefebvre.
Taking the three methods—sewing, welding, and banner tape—and comparing strictly on cost of entry, it’s easy to see banner tape as the least expensive. However, cost of labor needs to be taken into account, in addition to the number of banners being processed through production.
Manual taping or grommeting with a hand press is inexpensive. “That will cost a few hundred dollars entry cost and is limited to volumes of one at a time or tens because it is the most labor intensive at 15 to 20 minutes per banner,” suggests Hatton.
According Huber, while the lowest cost of all the methods is banner tape—because the only cost is the consumable, the tape—it is important to consider the cost of labor. “If you were going to make 100 4×8-foot banners you should look to invest in a long-term solution that is faster and doesn’t require a consumable tape.”
“With sewing and welding consider the cost of buying the equipment, and for non-automated machinery, also the cost of a skilled seamstress or welder operator. When you take into account automation, like a conveyor belt driven sewing machine, or a welder that would automatically fold pockets and hems, the production volume would be much higher than taping banners manually. Therefore the cost per print, or cost per banner, would drastically go down,” adds Lefebvre.
Another consideration, certain welders may allow for multiple-up banner finishing at a time. Lefebvre points to an example of welding three, 3×6-foot banners simultaneously on a 20-foot welder. This would be a considerable savings in regards to labor, which makes up for the cost of entry of the device.
Checking on Trends
Affected by both macro and micro influences, finishing techniques for vinyl banners continue to advance. An overarching trend involves bringing the capability in house instead of outsourcing. More specifically it seems welding has experienced the most notable growing pains.
“The biggest trend over the last few years has been to outsource banner production and finishing, but we see that swinging back due to the pandemic to more in-house production as people want to have complete control and total lowest cost,” explains Hatton.
Kaplan experienced this first hand. “Many of our customers tell us that using their own sewing machine can pay for itself very quickly, perhaps in one or two larger jobs, particularly if they were subcontracting sewing to an outside party. The significant advantage comes in having the machine in house going forward and being able to hem banners when you need to on both small and large orders.”
Welding specifically has experienced change, as Lefebvre notes increased interest in impulse welding over RF or ultrasonic as print shops look to increase production volumes. “Impulse welding allows you to weld multiple banners at the same time, side by side.”
In addition, Huber notices when it comes to the material used for the banner there’s a transition from vinyl. “PVC alternative to typical banner material is starting to be explored more,” he says.
“We see more of RF weldable non-PVC material such as material from the company Kavalan. The demand came from the market looking for a more environmental friendly product,” agrees Wester.
The actual process of welding is considered sustainable in the sense that consumables are eliminated from the workflow. This in addition to low cost of entry and ease of use is what Pender credits to welding’s continued forward movement in the market.
Sewing, welding, and banner tape are all excellent alternatives for finishing vinyl banners. When to use which technique is based on a number of factors like cost and more importantly if the number of banner jobs filtering through a print shop can justify the expense of a a higher end device.
The next article in this two-part series looks at new features on sewing machines and welders; as well as updates to banner tape and other noteworthy announcements from vendors in the space.
Jan2022, Digital Output