Design Basics for Banners

By adding a little creative flair to your banners, you can differentiate the banners that you produce from the more commonplace banners that your competitors produce.  One of the objectives of any good sign design is attracting attention.  Any sign competes daily with the myriad of visual images that bombard the consumer. For any design to stand out against a background of visual clutter, it must be distinctive.

Make Your Message Short & Sweet. The first principle of good banner design is simplicity. Don’t use eight words, when four will do. This principle also applies when designing any sign, outdoor advertising and fleet graphics.

Typography. Many of the exotic and ornate typefaces project an upscale, elegant look, but just are aren’t legible.  In selecting a typestyle, it’s best to stick with a simple, sans serif font.    One test you can apply to any signage copy is: can the viewer read the message as they drive by the sign or banner?

Many designers hate using sans serif fonts, such as Helvetica. They feel that using the commonplace type style is unimaginative.  Like it or not, these typefaces are more readable from a distance than the more decorative serif fonts. Like any other sign, viewing time is only matter of seconds.  So control your artistic urges when selecting type styles, and select a style that does the best job in transmitting your message.

Limit the Number of Elements. Pictorials, logos and fancy borders can be aesthetically appealing, but too much of a good thing can distract the viewer’s attention from what you are trying to communicate.  In designing a banner, or any sign for that matter, you should emphasize a primary message, such as a store special.

In viewing interior banners, consumers can see the graphics at a shorter viewing distance and  have more time to read the copy.  In these cases, your message can be a little more detailed – but don’t overdo it.  For secondary copy, confine your message to very short bullet points.

White Space. Allow for enough white space or open area of the design to provide for an uncluttered look and to improve readability. Fight the urge to fill every inch of design space with graphics. Any design needs white space, which is the empty area of the sign that does not have text or graphic elements.  By surrounding key copy and design elements with white space, your will draw your viewer’s eyes to your primary message. Signs that are cluttered, are more difficult to read and less aesthetically pleasing.

Bigger Banners are Better. Sell your customer on idea that bigger banners are more noticeable, more readable and generate more store traffic. Bigger banners also mean higher revenues for your shop.

When you see an attractive banner design, take a picture of it for future reference when designing your own banners. A portfolio can also be a useful selling tool.

Color Combinations. Some color combinations are more readable than others. Years ago, 3M funded a study of the most effective color combinations. The most readable color combinations include: black on yellow, yellow on black, white on black, and blue on white.

Colors Communicate. Brighter colors usually attract attention.  Instead of black block letters on a white background, try something different. Vinyl banner are available in a variety of colors. That’s certainly not your only option. Sign makers, such as Butch “SuperFrog”Anton of SuperFrog Signs & Graphics in Moorhead,MN, often paint the background color.

“Instead of selling a plain white banner,” Anton says, “we add value to the signage, when we add color. By doing that we can charge an additional $30 for the banner.” To paint the backgrounds of vinyl banners, Anton uses Ronan Aquacote water-based paints, applying the paint with a foam roller.

“We roll a thin coat of paint on the vinyl banner. The quality of this paint is so good that it covers completely in one coat. We can normally paint a 4’ x 8’ banner in ten minutes,” Anton says.

By directing high-volume pedestal fans on the painted material, the banners are dry to the touch in about 30 minutes. The banners are then ready for vinyl application.

After two hours though the paint is “bulletproof” according to Anton, meaning that it’s hard enough that you won’t pull any paint when you reposition pressure sensitive vinyl or remove application tape. If you do tear up a little paint, it’s pretty easy to touch up your work.

Ideally, you should wait a day before rolling painted vinyl banners. The waiting time is certainly much less than using solvent-based paints or lettering enamels.

“With the water-based paints, I can paint the banner, dry it, decorate it with vinyl, and ship it within a day,” Anton says.  “For customers that need their banners right away, that’s important because in the sign industry, the name of the game is service. And you can always charge a little more, when you can provide a little extra that your competitors can provide.”

In painting lettering and graphics on an awning fabric, such as Sunbrella,  Anton recommends using a professional grade vinyl paint mask, such as RTape’s ProGrade™ film or a cast vinyl film.  The texture of some of the awning fabrics is very coarse, so the paint can easily bleed under the paint mask.  To overcome this, Anton first burnishes the paint mask well to the substrate using heat and a rivet brush and then paints a color that matches the color of the awning material.  This first coat of paint seals the edges of the paint mask.  Any paint that bleeds under the paint mask will not be noticeable.  After the first coat dries, Anton then paints the color for the lettering and removes the masking.  Using this trick, edges of the painted graphics will be crisp and clean.

Anton says that you can also use ProGrade™ paint mask when working with  eradicable vinyl banner materials, such as Cooley-Brite®. Eradicable signface materials are translucent substrates with a colored coating.  After a vinyl paint mask stencil is cut and weeded, the vinyl film is transferred and  applied to the awning material.   A specially-formulated solvent is then wiped over the areas of the awning material not covered by the paint mask to dissolve the colored coating. The exposed areas are wiped clean until only the white background remains.  After the color is eradicated or wiped off the substrate, the paint mask stencil is removed.  In working with eradication fluids, Anton recommends working in a well-ventilated areas and wearing chemical gloves. You should also test all of your raw materials for compatibility, before using the products on an actual job.

A variety of different paints can be used to decorate vinyl banners, before applying graphics. Although sign enamels can be used, many sign makers prefer water-based paints, because they dry faster.

“Not all paints are compatible with all vinyl banner materials,” says Anton. “When you mix a number of raw materials together, some complex chemistry takes place. The banner substrate, paint, vinyl and clear coat or laminate must all be compatible or problems occur.”


Before painting, screen printing, digital printing or decorating a banner substrate with pressure sensitive vinyl, take the time to read all of the manufacturers’ technical information that you can get your hands on.