Can You Install Vinyl Film on a Plywood Sign Blank?

Coroplast substrate used in A-Frame

631 vinyl sticks better to smooth surfaces such as coroplast, shown here. These coroplast substrates can be easily slipped into an a-frame holder.

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive deals with substrates. Just a few days ago a gentleman from New Jersey asked if he could put ORACAL 651 on plywood.

Excuse my waffling, but my answer is a definite maybe.

Actually plywood and painted plywood are not good substrates for vinyl. Vinyl is an adhesive backed film that is expected to last for years outdoors in all kinds of weather. To achieve that longevity, the adhesive must have a firm bond with the substrate.

This requires the use of very smooth substrates like glass, corrugated plastic, foam core, and painted aluminum. Rough surfaces like unfinished plywood will not provide a sufficient bond with the adhesives used on vinyl films. The vinyl may stick initially, but sooner or later (probably sooner), it’s going to come off.

For long term outdoor graphics, the smooth substrates mentioned above are the best choice. For larger graphics, heavier substrates are required. The most compatible options will be aluminum composite materials. These products are comprised of a sheet of aluminum laminated to a thick, flex resistant core made of a corrugated composite or plastic product. There are different trade names for these, but if you look for Alumacore, Alumalite, or DIBOND®, you’ll be able to find a reliable substrate for long term outdoor signage. MDO plywood composite is also a commonly used sign substrate. But If you choose MDO, please make sure it’s properly prepared and painted.

Speaking of paint, the other question we get is about what kind of painted substrates are suitable. There are two things to watch out for; porous paints that won’t make a good seal with the adhesive, and uncured paint. The best paints to use are those developed for sign making, like 1 Shot brand. If you can’t find One Shot, try an enamel paint. And make sure if you’re putting vinyl on any painted surface that the paint is completely cured. Fresh paint emits VOCs* that may react chemically with the vinyl’s adhesive and degrade it, causing failure after application. For more tips about suitable substrates, visit ORACAL.com and read the FAQ.

*volatile organic compounds.