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The right tools for your fabric graphics project

May 1st, 2012 / By: / Feature, Graphics

Identify proper installation hardware and best practices for large-format graphics projects.

Identifying the proper installation hardware for large-format print projects can be challenging considering the wealth of application options, the substrates used and the environments in which they will call “home.” From tension cable display systems to retractable banner crossbars to traditional grommet and washer pairings, the hardware used is as a unique as the displays themselves.

Just ask Barbara J. Herrold, president at K-O Products Co., Benton Harbor, Mich. “There are many types of installation hardware for a wide range of applications, including signs, banners, building wraps, POP, display and exhibits,” she says. “In fact, the type of installation—temporary or permanent—can change the call out of hardware on each of these applications.”

Jerry Grimaud, owner and president of Lawrence Fabric & Metal Structures Inc., St. Louis, Mo., says his company is a custom manufacturer and tends to lean toward custom components in the multitude of fabric and metal structures it creates for customers.

“With exhibits, we use a combination of routed plates, eyebolts, Delrin and aluminum clamps,” Grimaud says. “We also have the newer fabric and frame method tubing for silicone edge graphic [SEG].” SEG is a finishing method for high-resolution dye-sublimated fabric graphics in which a thin silicone strip or welt is sewn directly to the edge of the graphic and inserted into a frame. It’s a hardware application alternative for signs, banners and POS materials.

While SEG is an innovative option for fabricators, many continually turn to companies that offer the conventional line of hardware options for retail applications.

For example, YKK Snap Fasteners America Inc. in Lawrenceburg, Ky., offers a full line of conventional metal and plastic snap fasteners, turn buttons and grommets that have been used for decades on various types of signs and banners.

“What is unique to our line now is the new SNAD—SNaps attached with ADhesive—fasteners, which can be used in conjunction with conventional snap hardware or by themselves,” says Rod Helwig, group industrial sales manager at YKK Snap Fasteners America.

What distinguishes SNAD from other fasteners available for such applications is that it does not require a hole to be made in the banner, display, exhibit or structure to which it is to be mounted in order to be effective. “No tool, no hole, no special skills or equipment are required to place them,” Helwig says. “And if the setup is only temporary, they can just as easily be taken off without damage to either side of the mounting.” This feature is important to facility owners and operators who are faced with the impact mounting hardware can have on interior and exterior facades.

As Helwig explains, YKK’s SNAD product incorporates the 3M™ VHB™ acrylic adhesive tape as a key component. “While our adaptation of the VHB material into a snap fastener is new and unique, the 3M product has been available for some time and is used in a great many sign and banner applications. One of the reasons we believe the SNAD line will be successful in this market is the wide use and acceptance of the VHB product already within it.”

Another popular option for fabricators is using framing hardware to secure and display wide-format applications within the retail environment. Tex Visions, Carlisle, Pa., offers its popular Q-Frame Tex, an aluminum profile system that allows large graphics to be displayed freestanding, hung from a ceiling or attached to a wall. With the ability to easily remove and replace graphics, the Q-Frame Tex is ideal for large promotions that are changed frequently.

Hardware best practices

When a project comes into Lawrence Fabric & Metal Structures, the Lawrence team gathers the details and, along with the engineer, determines what product or custom product will best suit the application for both the client and manufacturer.

Some of the key considerations Grimaud and his team make when determining the most appropriate hardware with respect to the specific retail application include wind loads and stresses, accessibility to be tampered with, installation (can you mount into the building or not?), and the ease of recoverability. There is also a trend toward eco-friendly fabric graphic and hardware solutions. Consumers are interested in incorporating hardware components that are reusable, particularly for graphics that are easily and frequently switched out.

“Interior retail items need to meet several criteria,” Grimaud says. “The first point is cost, the second is function, and the third is the ease of set and use because the employee will typically do the installation.”

Helwig adds that fabricators need to focus on the weight of the signage being held, the materials and substrates the fasteners are being attached, and the conditions—outside, inside, in motion—the signage will be used?

“For example, the key to successful application using SNAD fasteners by themselves or in concert with conventional fasteners is knowing the materials to which they will be attached,” Helwig says. “SNAD components work best on high-surface energy surfaces like metals, glass and most plastics. But they can be successfully used even on materials like painted concrete block and wood.”

Finally, Herrold stresses the importance of asking the hardware distributor or manufacturer to recommend one or more hardware options for the application. “Involve your hardware supplier in the planning of any new project,” he says.

Communication is key

Educating the client about how a chosen hardware system will look with the fabric graphic design is paramount. When choosing a hardware system that meets the expectations of the graphics fabricator and the customer, Grimaud explains that it is important to come together as a team and make the best decision based on the given information. “We demonstrate the choices we have available to the client and get their approval,” Grimaud says.

With its new SNAD line, YKK has made tremendous inroads in communicating about the product and its subsequent uses. “YKK offers a considerable amount of information and data—written, video, graphic—that is available online or in response to specific questions,” Helwig says. “We also are partnering with distributors who are knowledgeable and experienced with the industry requirements and how the SNAD product line can meet them. YKK strives to continually provide its distribution network with training and materials on the latest developments.”

To ensure that a project is a success, Herrold says that active listening is important to ensure the customer receives the end result they have envisioned. “This is especially true when a fabricator is attempting a specific type of project for the first time,” Herrold says. “As a graphics fabricator, you know that the look and integrity of a wide-format graphic project is dependent upon a secure installation. Cost is always a factor, but it should never supersede a safe, professional presentation of the graphic. So active listening becomes the key ingredient between the customer, the fabricator and the installer or hardware supplier to ensure the system meets or exceeds that customer’s expectations.”

When it comes to installation and mounting hardware, industry experts have seen a multitude of mistakes being made.

“I have seen several instances where the hardware was undersized for the amount of wind load and stress,” Grimaud says. “Fortunately, I have not witnessed a unit coming off the wall. It makes you wonder if they had an engineer review the plan.”

Helwig adds that, once investigated, most of the problems involving hardware use are attributable either to not following the product’s defined best practices, or exceeding the design limits for applications and materials. “Most of these problems can be avoided with reasonable precautions and good practices,” Helwig says.

Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

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