What materials do you use to make banners? What manufacturing methods do you use?
Whatever a banner is made out of is called the 'substrate'; banners can be made from various kinds of fabrics (satin, polyester, nylon, organza, cotton -- we once made a banner out of hemp for a client) and vinyls. The substrate we'll use to make the banner often depends on where it will be displayed, the life expectancy of the banner, and the look of the finished banner.
What follows is an explanation of the various manufacturing methods we use at Ace Banner.
Sewn fabric banners are manufactured by a method called appliqué. One fabric, the appliqué, is stenciled with the desired design and is then placed on top of another fabric, the base. The lines of the design or the lettering are then stitched so that the appliqué and the base fabric are joined. Excess fabric is then cut away by skilled cutters until only the desired image is left on the base fabric. This process requires that every element or letter on the finished banner be sewn and then cut away. It is time consuming and requires great skill. The advantages of appliqué is that it can be (depending on the design of the banner or flag) a more economical way of producing a single, high-quality fabric banner. When we hire a new tailor, we find that only about 1 out of 10 can meet our quality requirements.
Printed banners are not run through a printing press! Our banners are silk screen printed. Before a banner can be printed a silk screen must be made. A silk screen is similar to a picture frame of wood or metal which has fabric stretched across it. This frame is placed over the banner to be printed and special inks are "pushed" through the mesh of the screen fabric by pulling a squeegee with ink in front of it from one end of the screen to the other. The desired image is obtained by blocking areas of the screen so that the ink cannot pass through to the banner beneath the screen. This process must be followed for each printed color. The advantage of silk-screening is that large quantities of a flag or banner design can become more economical if the design is silk-screened. Also, very detailed line-art can be reproduced using this method.
Dye-sublimation is one the techniques we use in digital banner-making. Images are created on a computer in various ways. We take the final designs and process them on our large format system which digitally prints the images in reverse, on paper. This paper image is then layered over the fabric and then passed through a special heat press, which reaches over 400 degrees. Under the high heat and pressure the special inks 'sublimate', which means that they convert from a solid directly into a gas. This means that they skip the liquid phase of matter. This is the same phenomenon you see when dry ice evaporate into the air. When the inks sublimate they work their way into the target fabric on a molecular level, leaving behind an image that is weather-resistant. This process allows us to produce large photographic images even if only one copy is needed.
This form of printing requires specialized large format printing machines that use solvent inks to digitally print any image to vinyl-based substrates. Solvent inks are ideally suited for printing banners because the inks are slightly acidic to vinyl. This means that when the ink hits the surface of the vinyl it 'eats' into the material a few molecules down. This helps the banner resist scratching and the effects of prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Bringing It All Together
Because Ace Banner performs all these various methods at our factory, we can combine any of them together to achieve your banner design. For example, if your design required a small area to be photographic, but the rest of the banner could be appliquéd, we could easily dye-sublimate the needed area, and sew it directly into place on the larger sewn banner.