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Consider the statistics for outdoor advertising alone: In 2006, outdoor advertisers spent $6.8 billion, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. That's up 8 percent from 2005. The biggest spenders? Local service businesses, restaurants, public transportation, hotels and resorts, retail and financial businesses, and real estate agencies. Sure, that's not all banners, but banners add fuel to the outdoor advertising fire.

The good news is there's plenty of opportunity for shops to peddle message-toting banners. Mom and Pop signs shops may take an old-fashioned, hands-on approach to applying vinyl graphics to banner blinks, while larger operations boasting next-generation wide-format digital printers may rely on their high-tech equipment to get the job done. Whatever the technique, signmakers of all sizes can blend the art and science of applying custom graphics to these full-color promotional signs.

Before you can cash in on the opportunities, though, you need to select the right materials and equipment to create promotional banners. Armed with the proper tools you can apply the vinyl graphics to banners that transform blank blinks into strategic communications vehicles that put money in your pocket.

Selecting your vinyl

Before we talk about the high-tech approaches, let's get back to basics. When it comes to applying vinyl graphics to banners, not just any media will suffice. Banner applications demand an intermediate calendared vinyl. Calendared vinyl starts out as a solid and is melted and formed into a sheet, whereas cast vinyl starts out as liquid. The end result is that calendared vinyl has a memory of being something else. Cast vinyl's memory is not as strong. Practically speaking, that means calendared vinyl will shrink a bit.

"It's alright to use a lower grade vinyl for banners," says Craig Campbell, marketing coordinator for digital products at Oracal, a vinyl media manufacturer based in Jacksonville, Fla. "You don't need to use a premium cast vinyl. The banners usually have a short life space, and calendared vinyl keeps the cost down in what has become a price-competitive market."

From an application standpoint, if your customer plans to change out the graphics frequently, such as updating an event date or location on the banner, Campbell recommends a removable vinyl rather than a permanent vinyl for those specific areas of the banner. Another consideration is matte versus glossy media. Campbell says matte vinyl works better indoors because it keeps the glare down.

Readying to apply the graphics

Applying graphics to vinyl banners starts with having the right tools. You'll need a vinyl or felt squeegee that's about four inches in width, pre-mask, measuring tape, Isopropyl alcohol, a razor knife, an air release tool and a designated area in which to apply the graphic.

Some of those tools are for the all-important tasks of preparing the surface. A dirty surface can make it difficult for the graphic to adhere to the banner material. Even if you do get it on, it won't stay on for the long-term. Even though banners are typically short-term applications, you still don't want to offer your customers anything but the best possible product. You can clean the surface with Isopropyl alcohol. Just make sure it is completely dry before you begin the actual application.

One of the most common mistakes in applying vinyl graphics to banners is not applying to a flat surface. "We tape our banners to the table using two-inch masking tape because the banner has a tendency to curl and wrinkle" says David Wysong, Sales Manager at Adnormous Graphics, a vinyl graphics supplier in Atlanta, GA. "The masking tape stretches the banner out and puts some pressure on it. Then we lay down the graphics, typically using the double-hinge method, which is running the three-inch tape down the center and dividing the job in half."

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