Adhesive Vinyl…What’s the difference?

Would you believe there are more flavors of adhesive vinyl than Baskin Robbins? It’s true especially if you count all the different colors but for this post we are going to discuss plain old white vinyl we use for printing.

First off, before we dive into this we want to separate the vinyl from the printing process. Laminated vinyl that is digitally printed with high quality outdoor inks like HP latex inks will give you approximately 5 years of good image quality before fading. That is according to most ink manufacturers, regardless of the vinyl type. We often hear about a certain type of vinyl is 8 or 10 years. That doesn’t have anything to do with how long a printed image will last. Please understand that the vinyl and the fading of the printed image are separate things.

Now to simplify things we will start out with the 2 primary types of vinyl, calendered and cast vinyl.

CALENDERED VINYL: I¬†sometimes describe calendered vinyl as a large blob of plastic that you flatten with a rolling pin to make it super thin. Over time this plastic wants to be a blob again and the result is shrinking. This shrinking is why decals made of calendered vinyl lift and eventually curl up and completely fall off the surface. So why use calendered? The primary reason would be cost because it is less expensive to manufacture but there are some vinyl such as Oracal’s 3165 material which is rated for 5 years. Most printed and laminated graphics are not going to last much more than 5 years until they start to fade so it may be likely that graphics will be replaced in this time frame so in some instances calendered vinyl might fit the bill. There are also calendered vinyl options that are 3 year and 1 year so you need to be informed about the longevity and what is the best fit for your project.

CAST VINYL: Cast vinyl is made up of similar materials as calendered vinyl but is manufactured in a process where the material starts out as a liquid and dries in a mold. Cast vinyl does not shrink over time so it is a better fit for long term graphics. Also cast vinyl is designed to stretch and be worked around curves so if you are wrapping a car or going over rivets cast vinyl is the best material for the job.

As a consumer of graphics it will be more important to understand these types of vinyl more than the brand. 3M, Avery, Oracal and Mactac all make cast vinyl for long term graphics as well as calendered vinyl.

Here is a chart from an article by Sign Industry magazine showing expected life and best uses for the different vinyl types. (