Choosing the right materials and printing technology are two of the three keys to achieving soft signage success. Proper finishing techniques are also vital to ensure the success of your banner graphics. “Finishing” refers to various ways in which the edges of the banner are trimmed, folded, sewn, welded or otherwise treated to arrive at the final graphic. The finishing and installation methods chosen affect how the banner will be seen by your target audience.
There are a variety of ways that banners can be displayed – hanging by rope or zip ties through grommets around the perimeter, using a dowel or pole through a pocket at the top of the banner, attaching hook & loop fasteners (Velcro®) to the back, or using a silicone bead edge inserted into an aluminum channel frame. Let’s look at each of these options and the required finishing.
Rope or Zip Ties and Grommets
The most popular way to hang a banner is using rope or zip ties through grommets around the perimeter. If the banner will be outdoors or have any tension applied to the grommets, you’ll want to reinforce the perimeter of the banner with a hem. Much like the legs on a pair of pants – hemming folds the material back on itself, reinforces the edges and at the same time provides a smooth finished look. The three most popular methods for hemming edges are to use double-sided adhesive tape (for short term use), sew the hem with thread or heat weld the edge.
A sewn hem uses a single- or double-stitched edge run through an industrial sewing machine. Providing a great deal of strength, a sewn hem also enhances aesthetics and basic functionality. In heat welding one inch of the vinyl banner material is folded over and welded to the backside of the banner, forming a clean seal where the weld is as strong as the material.
For a long term outdoor application; reinforcing the hem where grommets are installed is recommended. This is done by heat welding nylon webbing into the hem of the banner. The webbing helps prevent grommets from pulling out of the banner when under heavy tension. Other techniques to consider for banners displayed outdoors are wind slits, which allow air to pass through part of the banner, thus relieving some of the tension from wind, and corner gussets, which spread the force applied to corners across a larger portion of the banner.
Dowels & Pole Pockets
When installing soft signage, from light posts to hanging banners from the ceiling, pole pockets provide the perfect solution. A section, often 3″ to 4″, of the top edge of the banner is folded over to the back and then sewn or welded to create a “pocket.” A pole or dowel is then inserted, providing a rigid, sturdy banner top ready to be hung. Pole pockets with dowels along the bottom are a great way to make sure that the banner hangs straight and taut.
Hemming alert: when designing your artwork, take into account where the hem and any stitching will appear. Having the hem or stitching run through your client’s logo or text is a no go. Make sure your print provider matches the thread color with the colors in your banner design, so you don’t end up with light colored thread on a dark colored banner.
Hook & Loop and Silicone Edge Graphics
If a banner is going to be changed out frequently or is being hung on a wall that doesn’t allow for rope attachment, hook & loop fastener – commonly referred to as Velcro – is a great solution for traditional vinyl banners and for dye sublimated fabric graphics.
The newest method for displaying fabric graphics is to sew a silicone strip around the edge of the graphic and then insert the strip into the channel of an aluminum frame. The natural stretch of the fabric and the silicone allow the graphic to be tensioned completely flat upon installation. Unlike a sewn hem or pole pocket in a vinyl banner, the sew line in silicone edge graphics (SEG) is hidden within the channel frame providing a more polished appearance.
At the end of the day, poorly finished hems, torn grommets and bunched edges are indications of soft signage gone wrong. To achieve true success in your soft signage campaign it’s not how you start but how you finish!