Everyone likes having an edge – aka, an advantage – whether it’s in business, in sports, or life in general. Having an advantage, even a slight one, can often mean the difference between being a front runner or ending up at the back of the pack.
Banners can benefit from having an edge as well. An edge finish – aka hem – will provide your banner with increased durability and a more pleasing appearance, whether the banner is fabric, mesh, or vinyl.
Here, in this edition of “Signage 101,” we’ll take a look at the basics of edges for banners: the tools used to hem/edge, how we tackle banner edging here at Signs.com, other banner options (including no edge at all), and we’ll finish up this primer with some notes on grommets and pole pockets.
Sewn Edge for Fabric & Mesh Banners
If it’s a fabric or mesh banner you’re creating, a sewn – aka “stitched” – edge or hem is the way to go. The stitching reinforces the edges of the banner to add to its robustness while also generating a clean, professional aesthetic.
It’s worth emphasizing here just how much a banner’s durability can benefit from the addition of a good edge. The edge gives a supporting structure to the banner – and, so, more strength – enabling it to better withstand any challenging conditions. Yes, vinyl will, by its very nature, hold up better than fabric in stressful environments, but you’d be surprised how much a fabric banner will benefit from a skillfully done edge. Plus, a sewn edge will typically last the lifespan of the banner itself.
Keep in mind that sewing a banner intended for commercial use requires some “industrial-strength” tools and materials – well beyond the needle and thread your mother probably used when darning your favorite childhood sweater or injured teddy bear. Let’s take a look at some of these.
The primary tool to produce a stitched edge: the sewing machine. As noted above, however, this is a brawnier version of the home or craft version you’ll find at your local Walmart. Industrial sewing machines typically have a higher percentage of metal parts (vs. plastic) than their consumer cousins, plus they boast larger motors, can achieve higher speeds, and tend to be more maintenance free. Importantly, they can take on the heavy-duty repetitive tasks required of them while still producing nicely finished seams. As you might guess, there are industry- and task-specific industrial sewing machines. And some operations make use of a serger – this is a version of an industrial sewing machine that also cuts the fabric as it stitches.
Of course, every sewing machine needs a needle. For industrial purposes such as banner sewing, the needle must be strong enough to accommodate heavyweight threads and materials, as well as the aforementioned speeds and stress of repetition. Made from high-quality metals, these needles come in sizes ranging from approximately 0.35 to 2mm thick, with most being in the 0.50 to 1mm range. Just like with sewing machines, there are needles designed for specific applications and industries – such as book bindings, car seats and airbags, and shoe manufacturing (think about how sturdy a needle must be in order to process a shoe sole!).
Last, but certainly not least, there’s the seam thread itself. It’s important that the thread not only be strong but will also hold up to whatever might be thrown its way. Without getting too deep into “thread tech” here, threads can be made from either natural fibers or synthetic fibers (or a combination of these); they are then spun into the final product using a variety of construction methods.
For example, a twisted multifilament polyester thread – which is what we utilize here at Signs.com – is made by twisting together continuous filaments of polyester into a bundle. The filaments are then layered together to make the thread, which is colored, stretched, heat-set, and given a bonded finish. Our multifilament polyester thread is heavy-duty (tex 90) and is both UV- and abrasion-resistant; it’s been designed for long-term use.
Welded Edge for Vinyl Banners
Heat welding an edge provides you with the strongest option for vinyl banners, which are typically used for exterior applications (but can be used indoors, too). A welded edge not only prevents any fraying, but it also ensures that the banner maintains its shape and helps prevent any stretching that might occur.
Of course, many people hear “weld” and can’t help but think of metal arc welding – complete with an acetylene cutting torch and full helmet. Or maybe you’ve simply seen the opening scene from Flashdance one too many times.
But welding vinyl banner material is quite different. For vinyl (or other plastics), welding options can range from hot air welding and impulse welding to radio frequency (RF) sealing and more. Generally, the technology being utilized has to do with which weld type is necessary for a particular combination of materials and applications.
We use hot wedge welding for our banner seams/edging at Signs.com. Basically, the process breaks down like so: Using a hot wedge welder machine, we position the heated wedge (with a temperature ranging from 700F to 920F) at the weld point to provide the heat, softening the material. The vinyl is then pulled across the heated wedge and pressure is applied. This combination of very precise heat, speed, and pressure joins the vinyl (or other material) to produce a weld that’s extremely strong, consistent, and, importantly, ensures that the banner doesn’t fray or tear if demanding conditions should arise. The result: a smooth, finished edge that nicely complements your vinyl banner.
At Signs.com, our welded edges are free; there’s no additional cost to edge your banner. However, while we do offer a welded edge for our 13-oz. vinyl banners, we don’t offer this option on our 18-oz. vinyl banners – the resulting thickness of the vinyl material would produce a very thick edge, and would lessen the banner’s overall visual appeal. So, for our 18-oz. vinyl banners, we offer a flush cut (see below).
Flush Cut and Other Options
You can also choose to not have any hem or edge finish on a banner – this is referred to as a “flush cut.” Here, the banner is cut to the same size as the design.
Flush-cut banners typically work fine if you’re not going to hang or otherwise suspend your banner. In this case, because there won’t be all that much stress on the edges, it’s unlikely the banner would experience any edge fraying. So, if your intention is to simply lay your banner flat on a table or other surface, or perhaps if the banner is to be inserted into a frame, stand, or system, then a flush-cut banner can work quite nicely.
Also, if it’s a heavyweight 18-oz. banner you’re producing, you don’t really need an edge finish or hem. In fact, as we noted above, flush-cut is the only available option for an 18-oz. banner here at Signs.com, whether the banner is single-sided or double-sided. Why? Because the vinyl’s thickness would result in an overly thick edge if a hem was added, weakening your banner’s overall aesthetic; plus, it’s important to note, the 18-oz. material is unlikely to fray when flush cut. You can, of course, add grommets and/or pole pockets to our 18-oz. banners (as well as to our 13-oz. banners). As with a welded hem, producing a flush cut on your banner is free of charge here at Signs.com, and can be changed as needed on our design tool during the design process.
We sometimes get asked about other options when it comes to adding an edge finish to a banner – alternatives such as tapes, glues, and chemicals.
Industrial-strength tapes are available and some of these tapes, when used correctly, can approximate a weld. But be wary of tapes that are intended for short-use or non-industrial applications – these can peel under harsh conditions, limiting the adhesion. So, depending upon the type of tape used, it’s unlikely to hold up quite as long as a weld.
The same goes for glues and chemicals: Industrial-strength varieties can essentially mimic a weld, enabling the faces of the vinyl to fuse together. But they can also be messy when applied, which isn’t great for the banner’s appearance. In addition, the glues or chemicals must be designed for PVC vinyl; otherwise, you won’t get a good bond to the surface and the adhesion will be lost over time.
In our opinion, a well-sewn, stitched edge or a professional welded edge will provide a banner with superior overall performance.
Fence Banners, Grommets, and Pole Pockets
Now, a few words are probably in order here regarding fence banners, grommets, and pole pockets.
Fence banners: Our custom fence banners (aka fence wraps, screens, or coverings) are available in either 9-oz. vinyl mesh or 13-oz. solid vinyl versions. Most commonly placed on chain-linked fences, they can also be applied to any other type of fence or wall, and they’re primarily used for outdoor applications such as construction sites, schools, sporting sites and events, and concerts.
Just as with standard banners, the high-quality finished edges on our custom fence banners are produced by either sewing (mesh) or welding (solid vinyl). However, you also can add an optional reinforced edge on our custom fence banners – we sew an additional layer of nylon webbing material along the banner’s outer edges, which adds considerable strength to the banner edge and helps protect the banner from tearing in windy conditions or other severe weather. The webbing is folded into the hem, so from both the sides and front the result is a very clean finished product This option is available on both mesh and 13-oz. vinyl banners.
Grommets: Inserted into the material of the banner, grommets are 3/8-inch metal rings that are brass in color and enable you to use ropes, clips, or zip ties to hang your banner, attach it to a fence, etc. Our automatic grommet machine can cut a hole in just about any material (even aluminum sign board and Kevlar!), and we use it to make grommets available on our fabric banners, mesh banners, and vinyl banners (13-oz. as well as 18-oz.). For our fence banners, it’s important to point out, we use a larger and heavier-duty grommet especially designed to go through the extra-strength webbing (our standard grommets won’t handle the extra thickness that this webbing adds to the banner).
For all of our banners, we can add grommets every 12-18 inches, every 18-24 inches, every 2-3 feet, or in the banner’s four corners. Keep in mind that if you choose to have grommets inserted into your banner, you cannot also add pole pockets (see below). Grommets are free on fabric, mesh, and vinyl banners at Signs.com. Looking for more information about grommets? Check out our in-depth Signage 101 blog, Grommets and Your Sign.
Pole pockets: As the term indicates, sewn pole pockets allow you to insert poles into your banner to display it – enabling you to take your message mobile. Made of the same material as the banner, the 3-inch pole pockets are sewn using industrial-strength thread (see above) and can be added to the top and bottom of the banner.
We offer optional pole pockets on both our 13-oz. and 18-oz. banners. Compatible with single-sided as well as double-sided banners, pole pockets will leave a flush-cut edge. And as noted earlier, if you choose to have pole pockets, we cannot also add grommets to the same banner.
Basking in Banners
One of the most versatile sign types, banners can be utilized in countless ways – to advertise your business, announce a grand opening, promote a new product at a trade show, celebrate a holiday, direct people to the farmers market, trumpet the arrival of a newborn, proclaim your support for first responders, and much more.
For whatever purpose you’re producing your custom banner, rest assured that here at Signs.com we can answer any questions you have regarding your edge finish. Plus, we can help you out with any other signage concerns or challenges you might be facing.