When it comes to sign printing, you have options. A lot of options. So many options that it may even be a bit overwhelming if you don’t usually spend all day thinking about sign materials and printing. But lucky for you, that is precisely how we spend our days. And in an effort to make the printing process easier for you, the reprographics experts at Coastal Creative are here to describe and compare some of the most common sign materials so that you don’t have to.
All signs more or less do the same thing: inform onlookers. But despite their singular function, there are huge variations in sign materials. These differences depend just as much on intention and they do on environmental factors. Is the sign going to be displayed in doors or outside? Is it a permanent fixture, or does it need to be portable? Is this a temporary or long term display? How much exposure will this sign have to the elements?
If you are on the market for a custom sign, undoubtedly you have already asked yourself some of these questions among others. Based on the common questions we receive from customers about sign materials, we have evaluated and compared six of the most common sign materials for your reference.
Comparison of Sign Materials at a Glance
There is no “best” sign material for every project. Finding the perfect sign material will always depend upon your needs, budget and intention. The following table will give you a quick overview the central differences between six of the the most common sign materials. Here is a brief evaluation according to cost, weight, durability, core, exterior, finish, and appropriateness for outdoor use.
Cost Weight Durability Exterior Finish Outdoor Use?
|Gator Board||$$||Very Light||***||Wood Veneer||Glossy||No|
|Foam Board||$||Ultra Light||**||Paper||Matte||No|
|Ultra Board||$$||Very Light||***||Plastic||Glossy||No|
|Sintra Board||$$||Light||*****||PVC||Low Gloss||Yes|
|Coroplast||$||Ultra Light||****||Plastic Sheeting||Low Gloss||Yes|
Still have questions about these different sign materials? Need a more in-depth explanation of each material? Here we will profile these six sign materials, their common uses, and how they compare against the others.
Best Materials for Indoor Signs
Common uses of Gator Board:
- Permanent indoor signs
- Backing for wet materials like stucco or paper clay
- Long term poster and photo mounting
What is Gator Board?
Gator board is a rigid and lightweight display material that has a dense inner foam core and a wood-fiber veneer exterior. This combination of impact-absorbent interior and rigid exterior gives gator board a great deal of structural integrity. Further desirable features of gator board include the facts that it is water resistant, scratch and dent resistant, and will not easily break or warp or under pressure. The wood veneer makes for highly attractive and vivid full-color prints that are long-lasting and durable to boot.
Gator board and ultra board can look very similar, but ultra board tends to have a bit more of a plastic-y sheen to it. Both have a foam core, but the exterior paneling on these materials is different. One fool proof way to tell the difference between the gator board and ultra board is to apply pressure at both ends of a sheet: ultra board will bend slightly, but gator board will remain rigid. This warp- and bend- resistance makes gator board better suited for projects that require a rigid structural foundation. But because ultra board bends, it is actually the stronger of the two materials, as gator board will reach its breaking point sooner than ultra board.
Gator board vs foam core is one of the most common questions we get about sign materials, and both materials offer their own unique benefits. Gator board will have a glossier finish than the matte finish of foam core, which may or may not be desirable depending on the lighting in your intended place of display. Foam core does not resist denting like gator board, and could easily be punctured with a finger nail. Foam core is a bit more lightweight than gator board, but gator board will stand up better to wear and tear. We recommend foam core for one single use projects, like a class presentation, or for temporary displays that will not need to be moved after set up. Gator board works for these sorts of projects as well, but has extra durability. If you plan on using this sign or print to present more than once, gator board is the better choice.
While both materials can be painted, the smooth wooden veneer of gator board makes for a better canvas. Sintra board has a bit of a texture to it (think PVC piping), which makes it less ideal for painting. However Sintra board is by far the tougher of the two materials, and you would be hard pressed to dent or break sintra board with your bare hands. Gator board should not be used for permanent outdoor displays as it will quickly degrade with exposure to the elements, but sintra board can weather rain, snow, and sun. Sintra board also tends to both weigh and cost a bit more than gator board.
Coroplast is super cheap, light weight, and weather resistant, making it ideal for temporary outdoor displays or projects that require mass distribution (like campaign signage). Gator board is a more attractive, long term option than coroplast for indoor displays. While it is also light weight, gatorboard will warp with exposure to the elements, and is only dent- and scratch-resistant for light usage. Gator board is also more rigid than coroplast, which can bend and fold when pressure is applied.
Common uses of Foam Core:
- Project and research displays, like for meetings or class presentations
- Temporary poster or photo mounting
- Aisle markers
- Framed displays
What is Foam Core?
Foam core is a rigid, inexpensive, and super light weight display material. As per its name, it has a dense foam core sandwiched between two layers of thick matte paper. Because it is so low-cost, foam core is a great option for temporary displays and presentations. Being so light weight, it is very easy to transport. The matte finish also makes it ideal for presentations or photo mounting as the surface will not cause glare. If you plan on framing your display, foam core is a good option due to its attractive matte surface, light weight, and inexpensiveness.
Both of these materials make for great short term signage and displays as they are both lightweight and inexpensive. The difference depends on where the signs will be displayed. Coroplast is the best choice for outdoor displays as it can hold up well against the elements. Foam core, on the other hand, has a paper coating that will quickly disintegrate when exposed to rain or strong sunlight. Foam core tends to be more visually attractive and thus works better than coroplast when it comes to presentations or as a photo backing.
Foam core is the cheaper, short-term option between these two indoor signage materials. Ultra board costs a bit more, but it will hold up against basic wear and tear better. Ultra board can also bend when pressure is applied, making it much sturdier than foam core, which could easily be snapped over your thigh. If you intend for your project to travel and withstand many uses, ultra board will last longer. Ultra board also works well for freestanding or hanging signage. Foam core is better suited for a onetime use, and generally requires mounting or an easel.
Common uses of Ultra Board:
- Permanent aisle markers
- Indoor retail ads and signage
- Celebrity cut-outs
What is Ultra Board?
Ultra board is a heavy-duty, all-plastic panel used for vivid prints and high-use displays. Like foam core and gator board, ultra board also has a rigid and dense foam interior. The difference is that its outsides are made of moisture resistant sheets of polystyrene plastic. This plastic coating makes ultra board incredibly resistant to scratches, dents, and other wear and tear. The coating is also a flexible plastic, which allows ultra board to bend ever so slightly. This flexibility makes it some of the strongest material available for indoor signs. Ultra board is a great choice for signs that need to be freestanding or hung from the ceiling.
Both ultra board and sintra board are coated in tough plastic, but sintra board has a plastic interior as well. For this reason, sintra board is a lot stronger and slightly heavier. Ultra board will last for a long time indoors, but the materials will degrade with prolonged exposure to the elements. Sintra board, however, could withstand even severe weather conditions. If attractiveness is your main worry, we recommend ultra board over sintra board. While both can be printed with vibrant colors, the base color of sintra board tends to be a bit gray, which can dull your print ever so slightly in comparison to ultra board.
Ultra board is more expensive than coroplast, but its appearance is more refined and better suited for indoor display than coroplast is. Coroplast is great for temporary outdoor displays, but it doesn’t have the same polished look that makes ultra board great for permanent indoor signage. Ultra board is also more rigid than coroplast, which can be folded and creased with enough pressure.
Best Materials for Outdoor Signs
Common uses of Sintra Board:
- Permanent outdoor signage
- Display construction
- Long term real estate and yard signs
What is Sintra Board?
Sintra board is a rigid paneling made from polyvinyl chloride, commonly referred to as PVC. Though it can be dyed and printed with any color, sintra sign material is generally an off-white color with a low-gloss matte finish. With a PVC interior and exterior, sintra board is some of the sturdiest, most weather-proof sign material available making it ideal for permanent outdoor display. Sintra board is probably the best material for outdoor signs that need to endure heavy exposure to the elements. Sintra sheets withstand bending, warping, and breakage better than other sign materials detailed here.
Sintra board is significantly tougher than gator board, and also far more durable against the elements, making it the better outdoor sign board material. Gator board should not be used for permanent outdoor signage, but sintra sign material will last for many years even in harsh conditions. But for indoor displays, the wooden veneer of gator board is aesthetically more pleasing than the PVC material used in sintra board.
Coroplast is often a translucent, where sintra sheets are completely opaque. Due to its corrugated plastic interior, coroplast is incredibly light weight. However coroplast will fade and show its age after too long outdoors, and can bend and warp under pressure. Sintra board is heavier, but being completely solid, it is a tough material that will not degrade with outdoor exposure. It can also endure heavy pressure without warping.
If you are interested in a neutral-colored plastic sign, sintra board is an excellent and durable choice. Equally durable is dibond, but the appearance is completely different. The aluminum coating of dibond has an unmistakable metallic sheen. Dibond is also much easier to cut, where sintra board is a bit tougher to make intricate shapes out of. This makes dibond better suited for stencils and lettering than sintra sign material.
Common uses of Coroplast:
- Short term real estate and yard signs
- Temporary outdoor signage
What is Coroplast?
Coroplast is the name of the most popular manufacturer of corrugated plastic. Corrugated plastic is essentially plastic cardboard. The zig-zagged plastic interior is sandwiched between two smooth sheets of plastic that serve as the exterior. Coroplast is inexpensive, ultra light weight, and is also resistant to the elements. This combination makes it a popular choice for temporary outdoor signs, mail carriers, and other creations that need to be both durable and cheap. Coroplast will not look its best forever when displayed out doors, but it can certainly endure several months of rain and sunshine. If you need to distribute your signs far and wide, lightweight, inexpensive coroplast is a great choice.
Coroplast will degrade with heavy usage, but it is far more durable than foam core. Foam core could easily be snapped over your knee and is prone to dents and scratches. None of these issues are a concern with coroplast, but the translucent plastic material does not always look great for presentations or displays that require a higher degree of polish. For gentle indoor use, foam core is the more attractive choice for about the same price.
While both materials can be used outdoors, they are vastly different in appearance and effect. Dibond will last for years and is best suited for shop signs and mounted company logos, though it is often used for high-end real estate signage. Coroplast does best as a short term sign solution, like for construction sites, election signs, or for sale signs. Dibond can be cut precisely and easily, but coroplast doesn’t retain its structural integrity when cut with intricate detail.
Common uses of Dibond:
- Mounted retail or office signage
- Typographic signage
- Stenciled signs
- Custom parking lot signs
What is Dibond?
Dibond signs consist of two sheets of aluminum composite encasing a solid polyethylene core. Polyethylene is the world’s most common plastic, used in a wide array of household packaging and products. This combination of metal and plastic makes dibond at once incredibly durable and pleasing to the eyes. And because both the interior and exterior are solid, dibond panels can be cut to any number of intricate shapes without losing structural integrity. This makes dibond great for mounted typographic signs or signs that require stencil cutouts. Dibond differs from aluminum signage in that it has a plastic core, making it lighter weight and more shock absorbent than regular aluminum.
Still have questions about which sign material is best for your project? Give us a call! Our team of reprographics experts are happy to answer all of your questions about signage, design, and printing. See our product pages for more details about the printing and ordering process for each specific sign material:
- Dibond Signs
- Coroplast Signs
- Sintra Board PVC Signs
- Foam Board Printing
- Gator Board Signs
- Ultra Board Prints
This guide was originally published on August 19, 2016. Last updated on March 5, 2017.