Understanding Printed Vinyl Signs

different types of vinyl signs including a reflective pedestrian sign, a sports park entrance sign, a street name sign, and a landmark location sign

At Signature Streetscapes, we manufacture a diverse product line of rigid printed vinyl signs. There are many types of printed signs choose from – ranging from MUTCD standard road and traffic signs to community entrance signs

Aside from the custom design of your sign, here are the primary steps and basic material choices you need to make when ordering a printed vinyl sign.

Choose Base Material

There are two types of base material to choose from for rigid printed vinyl signs:

Standard Solid Aluminum Sign Blank

Standard solid aluminum sign blanks are manufactured in the USA. They are 0.080” thick, traffic grade, alodine treated bare aluminum alloy: 5052-H38. The blanks come in pre-cut sizes with pre-drilled holes and radius corners in accordance with the Federal Standard Highway Signs Manual. Standard Solid Aluminum Sign Blanks are most commonly used for Speed Limit Signs, Stop Signs, Yield signs, and Parking Signs, but can also be used for any custom sign application.  

MaxMetal Aluminum

MaxMetal is an aluminum composite material composed of two, pre-painted .15mm aluminum panels bonded to a solid polyethylene core. It is lighter in weight yet thicker than both MDO and solid aluminum panels, plus it resists scratching and denting better than wood panels. It can be cut into any shape or custom size up to 4’ x 8’. MaxMetal substrate is often used for communities that require custom shapes or large-scale signage. 

examples of maxmetal and standard blanks used for vinyl signs

Comparing Sign Blank Substrates: Maxmetal vs Standard Blanks for Printed Vinyl Signs

When comparing standard aluminum vinyl printed sign backs to those made with MaxMetal aluminum, there are several key differences to consider:


Standard aluminum signs typically consist of a solid aluminum sheet, while MaxMetal aluminum signs are composed of a solid polyethylene core sandwiched between two thin aluminum sheets. This construction gives MaxMetal signs added strength and rigidity while remaining lightweight.

Rigidity and Durability

MaxMetal aluminum signs offer enhanced rigidity and durability compared to standard aluminum signs. The polyethylene core in MaxMetal provides increased strength and resistance to bending or warping, making it a suitable choice for larger signs or installations in high-wind areas.


MaxMetal aluminum signs are lighter than solid aluminum signs of the same thickness. This makes them easier to handle, transport, and install, especially in large-scale applications where weight reduction is desirable.

Vinyl Application

Both standard aluminum and MaxMetal aluminum signs can have graphics printed on vinyl applied to them. With the use of a Rollsroller it is an easy task to apply the vinyl to both substrates, though the larger-sized MaxMetal custom vinyl signs may require more than one person for the task.


MaxMetal aluminum signs may have a slightly higher upfront cost compared to standard aluminum signs. This is due to the customization of the shape, all custom vinyl signs are cut on a CNC router. The cost of labor and the CNC equipment investment affects the final cost of the MaxMetal signs.

Specific Requirements Should Make Final Decision

Ultimately, the choice between standard aluminum and MaxMetal aluminum for vinyl printed sign backs depends on the specific requirements of your project. If you need a lightweight sign, particularly for large, outdoor use or double-sided signs, MaxMetal aluminum would be a suitable option. However, for smaller or more cost-sensitive projects where weight is less of a concern and the size and corner radius fit, standard aluminum may be a viable choice.

Choose Vinyl Material

rolls of reflective vinyl material used to make traffic signs

Once you have chosen a substrate that accommodates your custom sign project (Standard Sign Blank vs MaxMetal) a design is printed onto adhesive vinyl sheeting, then applied to the sign blank. The world is your oyster in terms of what you want to be printed on your custom vinyl sign. The durable materials available for your design to be printed on are just as diverse in types, vibrant colors, and styles so it best accommodates your sign requirements. Our printed vinyl materials are high quality and can accommodate custom Pantone colors, highly detailed logos, and even photos!

Deciding on which high-quality vinyl sign material to use may depend on the environment in which your sign will exist, and how well it will need to be viewed at different times of the day. For example, street signs on certain roads require a certain level of reflectivity. We recommend reflective vinyl materials for traffic and street name signs. If you have an indoor or outdoor display that is only open during the day, then a non-reflective vinyl material would be a more suitable option.

Learn more about reflective vinyl options as well as the non-reflective vinyl substrate for the best choice for your printed sign.

REFLECTIVE : 3M HIP High-Intensity Prismatic

examples of the two types of reflective vinyl material used in making printed vinyl signs

The HIP vinyl meets middle-grade performance standards and ASTM D4956 Type IV. It is highly durable and has a reflective performance warranted for up to 10 years by the manufacturer. This type of vinyl is used for reflective traffic and road signs including Stop Signs, Street Name Signs, High Visibility Entrances, and Community Signs.

REFLECTIVE: DG - Diamond Grade™ DG3

DG3 vinyl meets ASTM D4956 Type XI. The Diamond Grade Vinyl reflects almost twice the amount of light back to its source as High-Intensity Prismatic Sheeting. Its superior reflective performance is warranted for up to 12 years. Common applications for this material include, but are not limited to: Pedestrian Signs, School Crossing Signs, and Intersection Signage.

The main difference between 3M HIP High-Intensity Prismatic (HIP) and REFLECTIVE: DG - Diamond Grade™ DG3 is the specific reflective technology used and their respective performance characteristics. Here's an overview of the differences:

Reflective Technology

Both 3M HIP and Diamond Grade™ DG3 are highly reflective materials, but they utilize different technologies.

  • HIP stands for High-Intensity Prismatic. This technology uses a combination of micro prisms and retroreflective elements to achieve high visibility and light reflection. The micro prisms help enhance visibility at wide viewing angles, while the retroreflective elements redirect light back to the source.

  • DG3 is a reflective technology developed by 3M known as Full-Cube Prismatic. It uses a combination of full-cube micro prisms to achieve superior retro-reflectivity. The full-cube prisms offer enhanced brightness and reflectivity, especially in low-light or nighttime conditions.


Both materials provide excellent retro-reflectivity, meaning they reflect light back to their source, increasing visibility. However, the specific performance may vary.

  • HIP offers a high level of retro-reflectivity, making it suitable for various traffic control, roadway, and highway applications. It provides good visibility under normal driving conditions.

  • DG3 is known for its exceptional retro-reflectivity, surpassing many other reflective materials. It is often used for high-risk traffic control, demanding roadway, and high-visibility safety applications. DG3 provides outstanding visibility under low-light or nighttime conditions, enhancing safety for drivers.

Viewing Angle Performance

The performance of the two materials may differ when viewed from different angles.

  • HIP is designed to provide good visibility over a wide range of viewing angles. It offers reliable performance when viewed from various perspectives, ensuring visibility for drivers and pedestrians approaching from different directions.

  • DG3 is engineered to provide excellent visibility at both wide and narrow viewing angles. It maintains high reflectivity even when viewed from extreme angles, enhancing safety in critical situations.


Both 3M HIP and Diamond Grade™ DG3 are used in a variety of applications where high visibility is crucial. However, the specific recommended applications may differ based on their performance characteristics.

  • HIP is a high-quality vinyl commonly used for traffic signs, road name signs, parking signs, and other traffic control applications. It is suitable for situations where good visibility and recognition are important.

  • DG3 is often used for high-visibility applications such as high-use intersection signs, school zone signage, construction zone signage, emergency vehicle markings, and other critical roadway or transportation applications. It is ideal for situations where superior reflectivity and visibility are essential.

When choosing between 3M HIP High-Intensity Prismatic and DG - Diamond Grade™ DG3 reflective vinyl, consider the specific requirements of your project, such as the intended application, lighting conditions, and performance expectations. Consult the technical specifications and recommendations from the manufacturers to ensure the best choice for your specific needs.

NON-REFLECTIVE: Oracle® 651 Intermediate Calendered Vinyl Film

detail of design printed on non-reflective vinyl

The non-reflective vinyl material we use for custom printed signs is a 2.5 Mil, calendered PVC Oracle 651 Vinyl. It has a 3-6 year durable gloss finish. Most commonly used for signs that are viewed during the day such as business signs, building signs, community signage, directional wayfinding signs, and other signs with a custom design. 

Here are more details about this specific non-reflective vinyl film:


Oracle 651 vinyl film is made from calendered PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Calendered vinyl is manufactured through a process where the material is pressed and rolled into thin sheets. This type of vinyl is more economical compared to cast vinyl but offers good durability and versatility.


As the name suggests, Oracle 651 Intermediate Calendered Vinyl Film is non-reflective. It does not have any special reflective properties and is primarily designed for solid color or non-reflective graphic applications. If you require reflective characteristics, you would need to consider other vinyl options.


This vinyl film features a pressure-sensitive adhesive backing. This adhesive allows for easy application and bonding to a variety of surfaces, including flat or slightly curved surfaces. It offers good initial tack and adheres well to a range of substrates, such as glass, metal, plastic, and painted surfaces.


Vinyl film is known for its durability, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. It has excellent resistance to water, UV exposure, and harsh weather conditions, allowing it to maintain its color and integrity over time. This vinyl film is designed to withstand normal wear and tear, making it long-lasting for most signage and graphic applications.

Printing Abilities

Signature Streetscapes stocks white non-reflective vinyl with the ability to print full-color designs. If you have branding that needs a PMS color match we are able to match it closely. Our large format printers allow for a detailed and clean print.


Vinyl film is commonly used in a variety of applications, including signage, vehicle graphics, window graphics, banners, decals, craft projects, and more. Its versatility and durability make it suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. However, note that due to its calendered construction, it may not conform as well to highly curved or complex surfaces compared to more flexible vinyl options.


example of faded stop sign without protective overlay filmexample of vibrant reflective stop sign with protective overlay film applied

All of our printed signs have a protective overlay applied to them. This material helps to increase the sign's lifespan and helps prevent fading and ink bleeding over time.

3M ™ Series Electrocut Film

3m ™ Electrocut ™ Film is a transparent acrylic film with pressure-sensitive adhesive for the application of reflective sheeting (HIP & DG3) This material is highly transparent and gives equal or better retroreflective performance than sheetings screened with transparent inks. 

Applying a clear protective overlay, such as the 3M Series Electrocut Film, to vinyl printed signs offers several benefits and serves as a protective measure. Here are some reasons to consider using a clear protective overlay on vinyl printed signs:

Protection against UV Exposure

The clear overlay acts as a barrier, shielding the underlying vinyl graphics from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays can cause fading, discoloration, and degradation of the printed graphics over time. The protective overlay helps preserve the colors and integrity of the graphics, extending their lifespan.

Resistance to Scratches and Abrasion

Vinyl graphics on signs are susceptible to scratches, scuffs, and general wear and tear, especially in high-traffic or outdoor environments. Applying a clear protective overlay adds an additional layer of durability and resistance, safeguarding the graphics from surface damage. This is particularly important for signs that may be displayed outdoors in inclement weather or in a spot where it might be damaged by surroundings.

Chemical and Stain Resistance

Vinyl graphics on signs may be exposed to various chemicals, pollutants, or substances that can cause staining or damage. The clear protective overlay provides resistance against chemicals, including cleaning agents, graffiti, and environmental pollutants. It simplifies the cleaning process and helps maintain the visual appearance of the sign.

Easy Maintenance and Cleaning:

A clear protective overlay makes the vinyl sign easier to clean and maintain. The smooth surface of the overlay allows dirt, dust, and other contaminants to be wiped off more effortlessly, reducing the need for extensive cleaning or potentially damaging cleaning techniques.

Longevity and Cost-Effectiveness:

By adding a protective overlay, you can help prolong the lifespan of the vinyl graphics on the sign. This reduces the need for frequent replacement or reprinting, saving costs in the long run.

As you can see, a lot goes into making custom vinyl signs -- from choosing the base and vinyl sheeting, design and printing, and finally adding the protective clear overlay. You can rely on us to help you make the best choices for your vinyl signs, ensure your project lives up to your expectations, and receives the admiration you deserve. Contact us for a quote on your custom printed sign project or shop our standard traffic and road signs.


About Olivia Hill

photo of author, olivia hill, art director at Signature Streetscapes

Olivia Hill has worked in the sign manufacturing industry for over 6 years. In the early parts of her career she worked as a design engineer and transitioned to art director within the last 2 years. She attended Grand Valley State University and obtained her degree in Fine Arts/Illustration, with a certification in metal-smithing and CAD. Olivia brings a slew of talents to the table to help customers bring a wide variety of projects to life.