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Avoid expensive mistakes when applying graphics to awnings

October 4th, 2019 / By: / Expo News

Bill McSpadden wants IFAI attendees to not make the same mistakes he has made. On day 2 of IFAI Expo 2019 in Orlando, Fla., McSpadden’s educational session on graphics for small to medium fabricators focused on avoiding expensive mistakes that turn profitable projects into unprofitable ones. McSpadden is owner of Capitol Awning, located in Richmond, Va.

Sign permits are one example. When is an awning a sign? Awnings become signs when letters and logos are applied. In these cases, the awnings will fall under a local jurisdiction’s sign regulations. Most localities don’t want their streets to look like Time Square, McSpadden said, and if an awning’s graphics aren’t in compliance with local codes, the awning will have to be altered or replaced.

There are tricks to avoid this—for example, the Panera Bread chain uses a wheat graphic on its awnings that is generic enough that it isn’t considered a sign, yet it is recognizable from a distance to customers. An awning for a veterinarian that includes pictures of dogs and cats and the generic vet symbol will attract attention without falling under a locality’s sign codes.

Less expensive vinyl graphic cutters are available, and you don’t need to have a dedicated graphics expert on staff to use them, he said. It’s also fine to subcontract out what you don’t understand. If fading is going to be an issue, make sure the customer understands that the graphic won’t look good several years out.

Requiring a client to sign off on a proof is another way to avoid having to pay for a mistake. “Lay it out to scale as much as possible, proof it and don’t do anything without a signature,” he said.

McSpadden’s takeaways for avoiding expensive mistakes are:

1. Know what a sign permit is.

2. Consider putting a sign on the awning, rather than having the awning being the sign.

3. Attract attention with color and design.

4. Choose the right method for the graphic and substrate.

5. Standardize and test.


7. Consider purchasing a vinyl cutter and software.

8. Retracing is okay, and vectorizing is okay.

9. Consider purchasing an air brush.

10. Set up reasonable customer expectations.