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Why I hate vinyl, part I

06 Dec 2009

I hate vinyl lettering.

Vinyl, the adhesive-backed and ready-to-apply custom-cut kind, is ubiquitous on racing cars, sailboats, and museum exhibits. (Even in interior design, for the Dwell and ikea crowd, vinyl decals are the hot new thing—Ferm, much?)

There are benefits to using vinyl, I’ll admit. They’d be:
1. Vinyl letters are easy to apply and easy to remove, making them convenient for short-term, temporary exhibits. Just about anyone can put them up.
2. Vinyl is cheap; for small runs it’s much less expensive than silkscreen because of silkscreen’s initial set-up costs.
3. Vinyl can be applied to most any type of surface, and even wrapped around curves. You could put a graphic on, say, a corrugated metal fence. (Actually, to be honest, I don’t know for certain if putting vinyl straight onto galvanized steel is recommended by The Pros. You might have to paint the steel first…consult the manufacturer or do some research on your own if you feel moved to give it a try.)

But I’m not condoning the use of vinyl in exhibits, or on your bedroom wall.
This post is about how much I hate vinyl, after all. Some aesthetic reasons:

1. Vinyl is reflective. (If you’re going for that look, feel free to disregard this reason.) Vinyl does come in matte finishes, just as it comes in different types based on what it’s being used for or where it’s meant to be applied. But that basic, shiny vinyl? How base, how tacky. This medium ruins perfectly good design.

2. Vinyl is easily damaged. People like to pick at things, and if given the chance (if they think no one is looking), they will pick and scratch at exhibit graphics. This of course applies to all graphics, not just the vinyl ones, but vinyl does makes for an especially appealing target. If you’re applying the vinyl to glass an easy way around this would be to apply it to the second surface (inside). If you’re applying the vinyl to a wall, anywhere around eye level, good luck.

3. Vinyl will shrink and peel. It can only live on a wall for a finite amount of time while an exhibit might stay up for years and years and years. If the vinyl escapes being scratched off, how long before it starts to peel off the wall? I’ve seen varying claims about the lifespan of vinyl letters; the average run seems to be five years.

4. Vinyl comes in only so many colors—no Pantone 3985 for you!—and only one color per pattern. (You can print four color process onto vinyl, to create a sticker, but that’s not what I’m talking about here, which is the type of vinyl lettering that is meant to look painted-on.) You can add colors easily enough—multiple sheets of vinyl—but you will see the outline of the bottom vinyl layer through the top layer in any place where they overlap.

And there are the environmental and health concerns about vinyl.
That means this sound-off is to be continued…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 08 Dec 2009 10:17 pm

    I am the guy who picks the vinyl lettering when nobody is watching, even at my friends’ art shows… but only if the wine isn’t free (however, this is seldom the case).

  2. 08 Dec 2009 11:52 pm

    Helpful, Eric.

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