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Sign Materials and Substrate Definitions

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Knowing your basic sign substrates when exploring sign options will help ensure that you not only are getting the right sign for the environment and use, but will help you be able to accurately compare quotes. Sign manufacturers have multiple options for numerous applications, some better than others, and can dramatically change the numbers you see on your quote. Always be sure your sign company is using the right material for your specific application.  The following article offers an overview of common sign material and substrate types Artisan Signs & Graphics frequently offers its client base.

A material in sign making refers to the physical surface the ink is applied to. Nearly all materials used in sign making have a specific inkset or laminate to use in order to maximize longevity. Materials are matched to the substrate as well, which include a range of longevity from 1 to 10 years. Specialty vinyls and laminates are used for textured surfaces, vehicle graphics, window overlays, and many other applications.

Corrugated Plastic / coro
Referred to in the industry as “Corex” or “Coro,” this material is predominately used for temporary and promotional signage. It’s ideal for lawn signs such as election signs, sales, directional signage, real estate signs, or site signs for new building projects.

PVC Polyvinyl chloride Smooth Plastic
A PVC “Foam” that is lightweight yet rigid and durable, it is ideal for medium-term signs for use both indoors and outdoors. It’s commonly used for menu boards, point of purchase, and tradeshow directionals. Other brand names for this PVC product are Sintra, Kapabloc, Foamacell.

DiBond (ACM)
Dibond is an aluminum composite material made of two sheets of .012 aluminum with a solid polyethylene plastic core. This material is ideal for mid-to-long term outdoor signs as it is not prone to warping in high heat. Great for use in Post & Rail signs or wall signs.

A composite material made of two sheets of .012 aluminum with a corrugated plastic core, Alumalite is used for long-term lawn signs, building signs, fence- or post-mounted signs, sales kiosks, and more. This is a very rigid product that can be used between two 4×4 posts and not bend with the wind. Because it is as strong as MDO & fiberboard, but it’s plastic & aluminum, it will not degrade in the weather.

MDO Wood
MDO has an exterior-use, long-term grade plywood core, with a moisture-proof smooth surface. Plastic edgecap is optional. It’s perfect for construction site signs, real-estate signs, billboards, double post signs and more. generally print a sheet of vinyl to cover one or both faces (single or double sided), which provides an additional layer of protection for the painted faces.

This solid aluminum sheet features a smooth, baked enamel surface and is sold in a variety of gauges. Aluminum is ideal for long- to permanent-use signs such as traffic, parking lot, park, and reusable real-estate signs. White baked enamel faces come in .080, .063, and .040 thicknesses. Raw aluminum faces may be used if the sign needs to be made reflective by sheeting out with engineer grade reflective vinyl before printing.

Acrylic & Plexiglass
These are versatile substrates used for a large variety of applications. Available in multiple translucence levels and thicknesses, they’re perfect for modern lobby displays, backlit signs of all types, 3D lettering, and more. Acrylic and Plexiglass are used frequently in healthclubs & offices.

Foamcore & Gator Foam / Gator Plast
Foamcore is a soft, inexpensive paper product with a wood-fiber veneer. GatorPlast is an extruded, rigid, lightweight polystyrene foam board bonded between two layers of ultra thin polystyrene veneer. These are typically used for medium term office displays, kiosks, POP, exhibits, custom shaped signs, easel signs, and temporary signs.

FRP Fiberboard
Fiberglass Reinforced Plywood Fiberboard can be used in place of MDO wood where larger than a 4×8 substrate is needed. The fiberglass faces provide long-lasting outdoor durability. Fiberboard can be fabricated to almost any size, as long as there is a truck big enough to transport it!

Polystyrene / Styrene
High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) offers a consistent, easily printed matte surface for either one or two sided printing applications. This polystyrene product, available in HIPS sheet or rollstock form, is especially suitable for digital printing of displays, POP graphics, signs, translights, tags and cards. It can also be contour cut.

Lexan / Polycarbonate
Lexan / Polycarbonate comes in translucent white or clear for use in sign faces on backlit signs. It is 3/16″ thick and can be cut to many sizes up to 100″ x length of sign.


Artisan Graphics has been a locally owned and operated company servicing the greater Charlotte, Lake Norman and Triad areas since 1993. Artisan’s focus has always been on branding companies through in-house manufacturing and printing of logos on all types of products, from large outdoor signage to paper printing to apparel decorating, such as screenprint and embroidery.