Material Matters: Choosing the Right Signage Substrate

It seems like a basic decision.  Which material(s) will you use for your next in-store marketing program?  The wide variety of options is convenient, but can complicate the selection process.  Those who are uncertain about the decision are wise to seek advice from the signage vendor.

Although it seems simple, your substrate selection can affect your program results, budget, and brand identity.  Under-engineering or using short-term materials for a lengthy promotion can degrade the look of the brand. On the other hand, using permanent materials for a one-month promotion is bad for your budget. The key is to identify the material that best meets your needs for durability, longevity, appearance, and budget.  Below is a basic application guide for four of the most common in-store materials.

Solid Bleached Sulfate (SBS) Paperboard

SBS paperboard is a thick paper-based material that is made purely from bleached chemical pulp.  It is available in many weights and is appropriate for temporary indoor hanging banners, framed signage, price point signs, and more.

Ideal weight depends on the hanging fixture and intended length of use.  However, 12-pt (twelve-point) is common for a one-month hanging banner program.  SBS banners can be finished with a hem at the top and bottom.  Hemmed banners, which are attractive and inexpensive, are a great window option between major campaigns.

Signage for large frame fixtures may require greater thickness and rigidity.  However, a styrene backer board and/or PETG liner can also fulfill this need.

You may hear the terms “stoplight” and “blockout” associated with SBS board.  They reference an optional characteristic that prevents light from passing through the graphic.  It creates opacity and prevents the image on the backside from showing through.  This is great for graphics that hang overhead or in direct sunlight.


Vinyl offers a durable, weather resistant option that can be used outdoors or inside.  It is available in many weights and is appropriate for grand openings, special promotions, sponsorship events, tradeshows, and more.

Many vinyl banners have an outside hem and hanging grommets.  There are also options with a fabric reinforcing layer for added durability and stretch resistance.  Discuss your needs with your vendor to determine the best finishing choice.

Vinyl, which can be reused, is a great option for those who routinely use the same artwork.  Maximize the banner’s life (and your budget) by properly caring for the material.  Clean with a soft damp cloth.  Use mild soap (no solvents) on soiled areas and rinse clean.  Dry completely with a soft cloth, roll with the image on the outside, and store in a cool dry place.  Allow the banner to lay flat for several hours before hanging again.  Folding can cause permanent creases and should be avoided.

“Blockout” is an option for vinyl.  Consider it for graphics hanging overhead or in direct sunlight.


Styrene signage is made of a polystyrene material.  Popular applications include framed signage, way finding signage, hanging signage, menu signs, and more.  Styrene is reusable and appropriate for long-term indoor use and limited outdoor use.  I specify “limited outdoor use”, because certain compositions can be brittle in cold weather and may yellow with exposure to sunlight.

Styrene is available in a variety of thicknesses.  It can be as thin as SBS paperboard, but is more rigid, durable, and tear resistant.  Its rigidity makes it ideal for framed signage.  At Boutique Vision, we recommend using a 30-mil styrene with our aluminum frames up to 36”x48”.  Although styrene is more expensive than SBS, it eliminates the need for a backer board and PETG liner, which can cost approximately $50.

Once again, you must evaluate your needs.  Are your framed graphics for long-term use or will you update frequently?  If you update graphics often, it may be worth investing in the liner and backer board and using SBS signage.  However, if your graphics are permanent or long-term, it may be less expensive to upgrade to styrene and omit the liner and backer.

Last, styrene, much like vinyl, can be reused with the proper care and maintenance.  Dust with a dry soft cloth, roll with the graphics facing out, and store in a packing tube.

Static Cling

Static Cling signs, also known as window clings, use static electricity to stick to the window surface.  They apply to the inside, remove cleanly without residue, and are completely repositionable.  Their most common purpose is to promote sales, new arrivals, and special events.

The material comes in clear or white.  Die-cut shapes are available.

Window clings can be reused if properly maintained.  Simply remove the cling, reapply to the liner, roll, and store.

Today’s intent was to cover the most common choices and provide a basis for evaluation.  Your project may require something different, such as foam board or corrugated.  Consider your goals, requirements, and limitations to identify the best possible option(s).


Fast Facts:  Material Characteristics
Material Environment Life Expectancy Price Applications
SBS Paperboard Indoor 6 Weeks $ Hanging, Framed, etc.
Vinyl Indoor/Outdoor 3-12 Months $$ Hanging banners
Styrene Indoor/Outdoor 3-12 Months $$$ Hanging, framed, etc.
Static Cling Indoor 6 Months $$$ Window graphics



Contributed by Melissa Molyneaux, the marketing director for, a website that provides printed signage, shopping bags and in-store marketing materials to independent retailers. The site’s mission is to provide the benefits of custom merchandising, without high volume requirements or agency expenses. Boutique Vision is fully owned by InnoMark Communications, a provider of custom visual mercha
ndising solutions for major retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) clients. Molyneaux may be reached at, or 855-889-5362.

Photo Details: The Luxottica window, photographed by Boutique Vision, shows a hanging SBS banner.  The red banner is printed on SBS and was hung with AnoGotcha Plus hanging fixtures (available on SBS is an excellent material for this application, particularly when the use is temporary.


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