Conform Tape and Conformable Vinyl

Microsoft PowerPoint - Pitch Book 2Sometimes products made in the sign industry come from different disciplines and the people developing these products don’t speak the same language. I’m not referring to English and Chinese. I’m referring to the languages of grams per square meter vs denier. They both refer to the strength of a printable substrate, but one refers to paper and the other to scrim banner. Usually these various terms are easy to sort out. But sometimes people in various sign related industries use the same terms to express different things. When this happens, it can lead to confusion. This also happens in the general public when a subculture changes the meaning of a word. Dude, that wrap looks sick!
The R-Tape marketing people have caused some confusion by branding their 4076RLA product as “Conform” Application Tape. When a vinyl manufacturer uses the term ‘conform’, they’re referring to a film’s ability to adhere to complex curves. R-Tape’s use of the word ‘conform’ has lead some to assume that 4075RLA is designed for applying graphics on challenging surfaces. Not so. It means something entirely different. What then does Conform Tape do, and why did they call it that?

Conform Application Tape Overview

R-Tape Conform Application Tape is a high grade, high tack paper tape made with an added feature called RLA or release liner adhesion. All application tape adheres to vinyl letters. But not all application tape also adheres to the exposed release liner. The RLA formula keeps the tape stuck flat to the release liner, for an extended period of time.
This is beneficial for two reasons. The release liner adhesion resists wrinkling as the tape is applied to the weeded vinyl graphic. And it keeps the tape from curling away from the liner after application. The second benefit is only important if you’re creating a DIY graphic that has to be handed over to the customer for them to apply themselves, or if you’re shipping the masked graphic to a distant installer. If you use standard application tape for such a job, chances are, the edges will begin to lift, dust may accumulate on the upturned edges, and your finished product doesn’t look very appealing. The RLA formula keeps the product looking tidy and professional. Keeping dust and dirt away from the tape and vinyl also decreases the chance that stray particles will be transferred to the substrate resulting in possible damage to painted surfaces.
This featured, introduced by R-Tape over a decade ago, is now found on many products and is also referred to as a layflat property. SignWarehouse offers several such products including the original R-Tape 4075RLA, 4078RLA, AT75 clear tape, Main PerfecTear Plus 750, and EnduraMASK Perfect Tear Layflat.

Conformable Vinyl

Over in the vinyl world, ‘conform’ has a slightly different meaning. A vinyl that’s conformable is one that will remain perfectly adhered to a complex curve, such as a motorcycle helmet or a VW Beetle fender. There are different levels of conformability based on the properties of the vinyl’s face film. Cast vinyl is more conformable than polymeric calendared vinyl – which is more conformable than monomeric calendared vinyl- which is more conformable than traffic grade reflective vinyl. One of the most advanced vinyl films is marketed as ultra-conformable because of its suitability as a vehicle wrapping film on the most challenging of curved automotive surfaces. It stays in crevasses and deep channels with no lifting to achieve an enduring,  paint-like effect.  For more information about cast and calendared vinyl, do your mouse thing right here.
So if they’re both talking about staying attached to something, why isn’t R-Tape conform tape conformable in the same way that ORACAL 951 is conformable? Simply because it doesn’t require a transfer tape with RLA properties to apply cast vinyl to a challenging substrate. By the time the graphics are being applied to the substrate, the RLA – that is, release liner adhesion – formula has done its job because the release liner has already been discarded. At that point, there’s no added benefit to be found in the Conform tape.
And remember that this is a fleeting moment. The tape doesn’t stay on the vinyl or the substrate. It’s discarded and the vinyl soldiers on unaided. This is the critical difference between conform tape and conformable vinyl. Just about any vinyl can stick to a compound curve for a few minutes. Staying stuck for five, ten, or twelve years, is what makes a premium cast vinyl worth its premium price. And the end result will have little or nothing to do with what transfer tape you used to apply the vinyl.

So it’s good to use Conform tape or some other ‘layflat’ tape when you’re going to premask some vinyl that needs to stay masked for a while, or needs to be shipped to the installer. But that has nothing to do with how well the applied vinyl adheres to challenging surfaces, or with whether your applied vinyl graphic looks sick.

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