Is That A Sheet Of Paint?


While people see various examples of signage everywhere around them, they often do not necessarily know how these things are produced. This was never more clear to me than when a gentleman approached me while I was applying wrap vinyl to a canal boat and asked “Is that a sheet of paint?”

The question initially struck me as quite funny, as self adhesive vinyls are such a common part of the signage world that it is easy to forget that the average person has probably never seen any such material in a larger form than a roll of “sticky back plastic” on Blue Peter, or perhaps in a stationary shop. Of course I didn’t laugh at this man, I explained what it was and what we were doing, and he listened with fascination - “Gosh, isn’t it clever the things people come up with!” was his reply.

Self-Adhesive vinyl comes in a wide variety of types for different purpose. To an experience sign maker the basic uses and applications of each type is likely to be fair obvious, but the differences are not always obvious to those with no prior knowledge. So here are some basic terms used to describe vinyl graphics and what those terms mean.

Monomeric / Polymeric

These are terms that refer to the basic chemical structure of the vinyl. You have probably heard Mono and Poly used as prefixes on other words so you can probably already guess that Mono refers to one and Poly means several or many. “Meric” refers to the body size of the molecules used in the plastic. Monomeric vinyls tend to have lower molecule sizes and polymeric has larger. But what does that all mean? In basic, monomeric vinyls have a structure that is more likely to cause graphics to shrink over time, and can be more brittle, so more likely to rip or break than polymeric vinyls. You might now be wondering, “So why does anyone use monomeric vinyl at all?” The answer is fairly easy to guess - price. Monomeric vinyls are cheaper to produce, so tend to be the cheapest vinyls on the market. At Butler Signs we are committed to delivering excellent quality products, therefore we would only use a monomeric vinyl for a temporary sign - such as graphics for an event.

Calendared / Cast

These are terms that explain how the vinyl is made. Calendared vinyl is made by producing a lump of vinyl which is made into a flat sheet by passing it through rollers which stretch it while flattening it out. Cast vinyl is produced as a large flat sheet when the vinyl is initially produced. Calendared vinyl is more likely to shrink back slightly over time than cast, however as long as it is polymeric the shrink back should be minimal. When producing large vehicle graphics that are to be fitted over significant recesses in the bodywork we will always use cast vinyl to make sure that your graphics last as long as you have the vehicle. Most signage companies will use cheaper calendared vinyl to save money, but this is what often leads to unsightly lifting graphics on areas with a lot of recesses. Cast vinyl is often referred to as wrapping (or just wrap) vinyl because of it’s highly conformable properties.


This one is fairly self explanatory, it is vinyl which reflect lights, however there are different grades of reflective vinyl too. Engineering grade is some of the lowest level reflective vinyl - this is often used in non-critical road signage (such as parking or way finding signs) and can be used on vehicles, however it does not meet Chapter 8 requirements fo highway maintenance vehicles. The next level up is called High Intensity Prismatic (or HIP) reflective. This is used on more important traffic signs and also used on traffic cones and can be used in making a vehicle Chapter 8 compliant. There is one grade higher too, Diamond Grade reflective, which gives approximately 60% higher reflection of light than HIP reflective. This is the grade typically used by emergency service vehicles and even gives a good level of reflection in daylight.


Yes, self adhesive vinyl, even in grades suitable for vehicles, is available in a wide range of textures. There are so many different textured available that pretty much any texture you could name. Personally I have used wood effect (which was used to wrap the inside wall of a walk in cold room!), snakeskin effect, leather effect and brushed aluminium effect.

High / Low Tack

The strength of glue on vinyl can vary greatly-while standard vinyl glues tend to be perfect for the majority of jobs, high tack might be required for areas that are subjected to high pressure cleaning and low tack may be required for temporary displays or to protect the surface it is being applied to.

There are an awful lot more speciality vinyls I could mention but this should at least cover the basics that you might need to consider when talking signage. Ultimately it’s worth remembering that we can find solutions for just about any needs, so any signage project you have it’s always worth getting in touch and one of our team can help you with their dedicated knowledge.

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