Is Your Business Flex-ible?

If you haven’t explored flexible face signage, then you could be missing out on yet another way to build your business.

Discover the benefits of flexible-face signage and add another service to your growing sign shop.


Flexible-face is not exactly the new kid in town. Sign makers have been using flexible-faces for everything from banners to billboards for the past three decades.

Flexible-face, or flexible plastic in layman’s terms, was developed as an alternative to rigid-faced substrates like acrylic, plastic and polycarbonates and is getting more and more popular in the marketplace. Most of the signs you see in stadiums and sports arenas are flexible, as are most high-rise freeway signs.

Flexible-face materials generally have polyvinylchloride (PVC) surfaces that attach to a scrim of woven polyester or nylon and can be created either by casting or by extruding the fabric using a heat process that binds the vinyl and the scrim.

Like adhesive-backed film, flexible-face materials come in variety of thicknesses, tear-strengths and UV-resistant options and can be created to work with different decorative processes, like digital imaging, silk screen inks and painting. And they come in an array of colors, both pigmented and eradicable.

Indeed, flexible-faces are an especially flexible option for customers and sign makers alike. Still, some smaller shops are shying away from flex, assuming only major players can profit by selling fabric. But industry experts say the little guy can make big bucks if he understands when it is an appropriate solution and how to talk up its benefits to customers.

Knowing When to Use Flexible Faces 
Besides the fact that flexible-faces are often less expensive than rigid plastics, one of the primary benefits is that it is not breakable like rigid signs, says Paul O’Rourke, national sales manager in charge of distribution for Cooley Sign and Digital Products. Flexible-face signs are designed to withstand 110 to 140 mile per hour wind loads and are ideal for pile-on highway signs that sit 100 feet in the air.

“Flexible-face signage is a much safer alternative to rigid faces, especially in regions with high winds and storms like South Florida,” he says. “If there’s a sign blow out, rigid materials can shatter and become flying projectiles. No one is going to get hurt with flexible materials. Using flexible faces can even lower insurance rates.”

Flex is also appropriate for signs with faces larger than 10 feet by 10 feet because making these signs with rigid faces would require sign builders to allow a seam in the polycarbonate that many customers find unattractive. But that same attribute makes flexible-faces less ideal for signs that are low to the ground, like monument signs.

“People can just walk right up with a knife and cut open a flexible face sign that sits low to the ground,” says Chris Reber, sales manager for Illuminated Image, an Angola, Ind.-based wholesaler of custom designed sign and awning materials and systems. “Small signs are generally better suited to polycarbonate because you can use a thinner piece of plastic and the cost is comparable to flexible face material and may be easier to install in a small cabinet.”

Reber says flexible faces also retain their shape better than polycarbonates. “When polycarbonates are not installed with a hanging bar they may not retain their shape,” he says. “If polycarbonates are installed with all the weight on the bottom, then the plastic will tend to bow a little bit. With flexible-face, if the sign is not tight enough then you just torque down on the clips. You can actually stretch the material tighter and tighter.”

Material Advantages
Another advantage to flexible-face fabric is its brightness. Experts say you can get brighter whites with fabric than with rigid plastics ­ if you use premium materials. The industry has come a long way in the development of flexible media over the past three decades. 3M’s Panaflex and Cooley’s Cooley-Brite are among the most popular brands. Signoflex, Awnoflex, Ultralon IV from Ultraflex Systems and Arlon-Signtech Ltd.’s Flexface are also good quality brands.

3M’s Panaflex Enhanced Image Sign Facing Series 945GPS is a flexible material with built-in dirt resistance on its smooth, semi-gloss surface. The polyester scrim embedded between white-pigmented vinyl creates a durable substrate for creating attractive signs and awnings. 3M’s 946GPS Series is available in a variety of colors with a smooth, gloss appearance that eliminates processing steps and reduces production costs. This scrimless material is well-suited for large areas of solid colors. Both substrates can be attached to a variety of frameworks and decorated with 3M films. The built in graphic protection system (GPS) makes cleaning and maintenance easy.

Cooley Sign has several brands of flexible-face media. Its most recent product is the Cooley-Brite Back-In-Black selective light-blocking flexible sign substrate. The substrate is manufactured with a white face and black back, and is designed to be eradicated from the backside. Pressure sensitive vinyl, matching the design of the eradication, can then be applied to the face. During the day, the completed sign will show the pressure sensitive vinyl against the white face. At night, when the sign is backlit, the black back prevents the light source from lighting the full white face and lights only the area where the eradication has taken place. The Coolthane Enhanced Protection System, a clear, protective layer, makes the material more flexible and durable than many other options.

Ultralon IV is unique in that it is the only back-lit substrate made in seamless widths from 3’6” to 16’4”. It is also the only product that can be decorated with self-adhesive translucent films, spray, paints, silk screen inks, heat transfer paint or solvent-based inkjet inks. The product has a seven-year warranty.

One of flexible-face’s most well-known advantages is its ability to stand up against vandalism. Signoflex’s flexible signage system, for example, is designed and tested for perfect rebound after vehicle impact up to 90 kilometers per hour.

Arlon’s Flexface FX is made of premium cast vinyl for internally illuminated signs, awnings and canopies. It is specially formulated for a bright-white surface, superior dimensional stability and excellent strength. The material even includes a proprietary coating designed for extended durability and easy vinyl decoration.

A Designer’s Dream
O’Rourke notes another clear-cut advantage for your shop ­ flexibility in applying graphics. He says whether the sign is screen printed, inkjet printed or painted, flexible faces gives designers more room for creativity than rigid material. This benefit also translates to customers who are guaranteed consistent colors.

“Flexibility is key. Image is the number one issue in our industry,” O’Rourke says. “You can portray and project that image far easier with flexible than you can with rigid materials. Computerization allows you to provide consistent graphics for large end users regionally and nationally because the computer can dictate the graphics from any location.”

Marketing Flex
What are the obstacles to marketing flex? Reber says the best way to market flex-face is to just tell the truth about the product. So the next time a customer comes in looking for a sign cabinet, take the time to listen to him and then explain the advantages and disadvantages of both systems.

“Flexible-face and rigid each have their own merits, so you don’t necessarily have to sell one against the other,” Reber says. “You would be foolish to sell a really large polycarbonate face that’s sitting 100 feet in the air because you are not doing your customer any good. You are charging them more money for a product that might blow out. Once you know what each merit is, it sells itself.”

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