Choosing what type of material to use for large format printing depends mainly on what type of event the banner will be used for. Some of the main considerations are whether it will be used for an indoor or outdoor event, and whether the use will be short-term or long-term. In the case of short-term events you can always use cheaper material if budget is a concern. But if quality matters because it will be used for a high profile event or over and over again, vinyl is usually one of your best choices.
Why Vinyl Works
Vinyl is very durable and has a professional, shiny look. Whether the event is inside or out, it's easy for two people to hang and take down because it's not very heavy. A sign made of wood or metal may be so heavy it could require more than two people to hang and poses safety risks as well. Due to its lighter weight, vinyl also provides you various different ways to hang the banner, either with rope, nylon or wire. Vinyl can also have a velcro attachment, which allows you to use a lightweight foamcore, gator, or stoplight backing. Vinyl can also be rolled up and carried even by one person, reducing the amount of set up and tear down time, as well as easy transport and storage.
The flexibility and ease of use of vinyl is why it's so popular. Grommets - reinforced holes near a banner's edges - allow rope or other hanging material to be used. Vinyl banners can also be hung on a pole pocket, which works well for flags, especially at outdoor sporting events. The vinyl material contains sturdy threading that makes the material resistant to wind and tearing, which again makes it ideal for outdoor jobs. Since vinyl has a shiny presentation, lettering can be read easily from far away.
Almost any flat material can be used as a substrate backing for a sign. One option is foamcore, which is soft and useful for short-term purposes but can dent easily. Gator is a stronger material that lasts a bit longer and doesn't dent easily, but still requires care because the corners can wear out over time. Poly backing has a hard surface and is very durable, giving it a long lifespan. Stoplight backing also has a long lifespan and is easy to roll due to its thin backing, but typically needs to be used in conjunction with floor guard laminate.
Trade show banners sometimes are made on a canvas with a matte finish, which helps graphics stand out from a distance. Other backings include magnetic materials for placing on cars, clear acrylic for lobby signs, and EZ stick vinyl, which is useful for removable or reoccurring advertising. Corrugated plastic is common for political campaign signs while aluminum is more common for real estate yard signs. Wood is a good choice if you are trying to convey a natural look, though it's less versatile.
Lamination can be done for large-format printing but it's usually not necessary when solvent inks are used, unless you expect the sign to be handled frequently or use it over a long period of time. Two popular laminates are gloss and luster finishes. Depending on the surface material, reflective lighting angles and the color of the banner, gloss can illuminate designs. A luster finish presents a soft feel with sophisticated color saturation.