What potential pitfalls should I be aware of?

Unfortunately there are a few, of which some are listed here.

Design

A considerable amount of the value of a sign lies in its effective design, not in the materials it is made from - in fact, a poorly designed sign can inadvertently turn potential customers away from your business rather than attract them to it.

Poor design can detract from the message your sign is attempting to convey. Using an inexperienced sign company may mean that you are not getting full value from your sign for this reason.

Sign Vinyls

One of the key components of a modern sign is the self adhesive vinyl film (vinyl) which the lettering and logos are computer cut from, or the digitally printed graphics are printed to.

 

There is a vast difference in the quality of sign vinyl which ranges from very cheap material designed for short term interior use (monomeric film) through to mid term exterior grade film (polymeric) and on through to high end long term outdoor conformable films (cast).

 

The cost difference between these films is very significant, in the order of hundreds of percent, but when the sign is new, the different films appear exactly the same to the untrained eye. It is not until the sign has been exposed to the weather for a year or two that the inferior films properties begin to show, with shrinkage, curling, and overall failure of the sign.

 

Unfortunately, because of the fact that there is such a significant difference in cost between the lower grade and long term grades, and that the difference between the two is not immediately apparent, there are some unscrupulous operators who will deliberately use low grade film on a permanent sign in order to “save you money” (and, of course, win the job).

Lamination

These days a significant number of signs are wholly or partly produced by a process called large format digital printing. This process has revolutionised the industry, and allows the use of designs on one-off signs which were simply not possible a few years ago. The process involves inkjet printing either directly to the sign substrate, or on to an intermediate self adhesive film which is then applied to the substrate. While the ink is waterproof and fade resistant, it is (as you can imagine) a very thin film of ink which is applied. As a result, it will fail due to weathering and/or abrasion in three or so years. The life can be (and should be) extended considerably (to over five years) on permanent signs, by overlaminating the printed graphics, either with a clear protectant self adhesive film, or by coating the printed surface with a purpose designed clear coat system. Both of these processes add considerably to the total cost of the sign, and yet if they are not done, it is not apparent to the untrained eye (until the sign starts failing three or so years after being installed). -check that your price includes overlaminating.

Colour Management

Digital printing uses a method called “process colour”, where all the colours in the sign are made up from four process colours, cyan, magenta, yellow and black. A company with little knowledge or experience in this area can struggle to obtain accurate colour matching, and variations between jobs will be apparent. If corporate colour accuracy is important to you (and it should be), ensure you are getting the best colour matching possible.

Brand Integrity

Consistent branding is a critical part of how your business is perceived, whether it is a multinational or a SME. Corporate colour matching, correct use of corporate fonts, high quality logo reproduction, and professional layout techniques are all important aspects of sign making that quality sign makers put a great deal of emphasis on. Always ensure that you see proofs of your proposed signage before production begins, and that the supplied proof complies with all aspects of your brand guidelines.

Application

Vinyl and print application is a difficult process which requires skilled people using specialised techniques, particularly on difficult, complex surfaces such as vehicles. Bubbles, wrinkles, visible cut lines, lifting edges, etc should not be seen on a completed vehicle application, and are not considered acceptable by a professional sign company. Ensure that the company you are using has extensive application experience, particularly if your job requires complex application.

Installation

Sign installation is an often overlooked aspect of a signage project, but is nevertheless an important consideration. There are a lot of variables to take into account, and a great deal of experience is required to successfully complete an installation in a safe, aesthetically pleasing manner which will continue to look good over the expected life of the sign. A sound knowledge of correct fixing options including mechanical fasteners, glues, and VHB tapes, coupled with an awareness of building cladding materials and methods is necessary. In addition, sign installation often requires working at heights, using ladders, scaffold towers, and elevated work platforms such as cherry pickers and scissor lifts. Correct health and safety practices are of critical importance in these circumstances, and so using a professional sign company is a wise choice – bear in mind that you may be held liable if a subcontractors employee is injured whilst working on your project. Ask your prospective contractor if they are Site Safe members, or have other similar safety accreditation, and also whether they carry current public liability insurance, should something go wrong.

Staff Training

Sign Making is a trade. There is an apprenticeship system whereby young people are employed and through a documented and systemised process are trained in all facets of the sign industry, from design, through to material knowledge, production techniques, installation, and of course safe work practices.  However, unlike other trades, such as plumbing, electrical, and now building, there is no legal necessity for a person working in the sign making field to be qualified.

Literally anyone can buy some cheap equipment and start a business calling themselves “sign writers” or “sign makers”, with no training or experience whatsoever (and, unfortunately, they do).

That is not to say that there are not some very, very good sign-makers out there who are not trade qualified, because there are a lot. However, be aware of making the assumption that because someone is in the business of making signs, that they know what they are doing – they may well not!

Concept Sign and Display Ltd, 111 Nelson St, Petone, Wellington

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