Sign Here - Adidas exhibition stand

Sign Here in Leicester, a trade service for built up acrylic and metal letters rely on their machines to cope with short lead times. Their CNC and laser cutters are able to have jobs cut and ready to build in an hour, providing a valuable service to their customers who are often in a rush. Thanks to their skilled and experienced staff they feel they 'provide the trade with a quality hand made product at a competitive price'. Of course price is a big factor in their business as it's important their customers have a margin for profit and get their products at the right 'trade rate'.

Rob Gardner, a director at Sign Here, says they are often an 'afterthought' in the project plan, which means their main challenges on a day to day basis are short lead times, schedules, and the logistics of getting the finished product where it needs to be, all at a reasonable rate. Something that also adds to the duration of a job is making sure their products are packed carefully to avoid damage in transit.

One recent job they are particularly proud of was for an Adidas exhibition stand. Rob tells us about it:
"Client confidentiality has played a big part in our continued growth over the years, building an extensive client base who know they can rely on us it's difficult to 'blow our own trumpet' at times. I think people would be amazed at what we have helped produce for top brands and high street chains! if we receive an enquiry that conflicts with another client we will always discuss with them the way forward in their best interests.

We also work closely with several design companies' signage projects so we were delighted when local company Mynt design agreed that we could talk about their Adidas project.

Mynt design and branding agency approached us to help produce a fully illuminated built up acrylic Adidas logo for an exhibition backdrop in Germany. We used CNC cut acrylic faces and returns, hand built returns, translucent blue vinyl applied to the faces, and back trays with mounted LEDS to give full illumination to face and returns. We also produced a full size fixing template to enable the fitters on site to easily line up with pre-drilled fixing bars. We tested the installation of the sign after we finished making it then carefully packaged it to be shipped to Germany."

Adidas Logo installed on the exhibition stand


Mulitpanel UK

A Digitally-printed sign made with alupanel sheets Shopping centre sign with mulitple signs on made from alupanel sheets Alupanel Mirror Panel on an outside sign

James Meylan, Mulitpanel UK European Sales Manager, notes that Aluminium Composite remains a popular choice owing to its versatility, affordability and durability.

Alupanel is both cost and time effective, giving the best results for print and fabrication due to its flat, smooth composite characteristics,” he affirms. The material can be cut to a high-quality finish either by hand or with a CNC router, and sign makers can improve their finished piece by downloading the Fabrication Guide from Multipanel UK. It offers hints, tips and recommendations on how to get the best out of Alupanel sheets.

With regards to Aluminium Composite materials there are 3 standard aluminium gauges available depending on the application:

  • A Standard (0.30mm) skin is designed for full fabrication, which includes routing for sign trays, light boxes, etc, in load bearing projects.
  • A Lite (0.21mm) skin is designed for FLA, non-load bearing signage, and printing in non-load bearing projects.
  • An Eco(0.15mm) skin is designed for temporary signage, such as hoarding panels around construction sites and banners around football grounds. The latter would both be great examples of substrates suitable for vinyl application.

“For display application where the edge of the panel may be visible we have developed Alufoam, and aluminium composite sheet with a foamed polyethylene core,” James reveals. “Not only is Alufoam 30% lighter than standard aluminium composite, its enhanced flexural strength mean it can be used over large spans.”

Choosing the right aluminium gauge

Not all aluminium composite panels are made alike, and not opting for the right one can lead to issues down the line. James notes the large majority of mistakes seen by the experts at Multipanel UK can be attributed to not selecting the correct aluminium gauge for the project. “As a cost saving exercise, cheaper, lower quality materials are often used on projects which can result in a false economy when the materials prove to be inadequate for the application,” he says.

Another key factor is correct installation to avoid the effects of thermal expansion, which can be easily avoided by compensating for the 2.4mm expansion rate of ACM materials over 1m at temperature. According to James, incorrect installation can cause panels to expand and warp if they are fixed rigidly without space for expansion and contraction.

This versatile substrate has many applications, and can potentially help sign makers get the best out of each project when the right type of ACM is selected. “Used correctly, Aluminium Composite material provides the best price-quality ratio for most sign making projects,” says James.

For more information, visit Large for sale sign, displayed outside.


NE Plastics

A CNC router An ACP Sign Tray with Lighting System ACP Sign Tray made from aluminium composite 

Nick Warne, Managing Director of NE Plastics, notes that there are many sheet materials that work well specifically for use with vinyl application.

“Materials of choice that we stock at NE Plastics include ACP (Aluminium Composite), Foam PVC and Perspex Acrylic,” he says. “Printing direct to ACP is achievable with our special formulated coated print grade. PETG & Polycarbonate also allow ink to key (bond) to them, which is significantly better.”

NE Plastics supplied the Aluminium Composite for the 5km round Olympic park when it was being developed, as the dimensional stability and direct-to-print qualities of material made it ideal for the job. According to Nick, boarding has in fact become one of the biggest areas for signage. “We have recently stocked a new product called Viscom Easy-Print, which is lightweight, durable and applicable outside,” he says. “This material is perfect for printing directly on to, and is a versatile  part of the display board family.”

Aside from the materials for use with outdoor boards and signage, Nick notes that sales of Foam PVC remain strong, as it continues to be a  safe choice for simple signage. “That said, there are problems with it not being very dimensionally stable,” he says. “Aluminium Composite on the other hand, offers a far better solution when in need of a cost effective material, where flatness and rigidity is a priority.” Aluminium Composite trays are also becoming more popular, he reveals.

While larger sign makers with their own shops tend to use flat-sheet aluminium to make custom trays, the majority of sign makers will buy pre-made ACP trays. NE Plastics produces bespoke sign trays made from their own branded Aluminium Composite, ‘Alliance’. The demand for these trays has increased significantly in recent years, according to Nick, owing largely to their versatility. The trays can be used in a number of ways:

 ·    Flat panel screwed to wall
 ·    Panels to go into a Panatrim Frame
 ·    Illuminating ‘Perspex Opal’ in an aluminium light-box
 ·    Mounting letters onto a fascia (ACP flat sheet as background)

The importance of correct installation

Nick notes that while choosing the right material is important, so too is taking into account the type of use and therefore installation expected from the sign.

If a sign is being installed in areas prone to vandalism, it should be made with a vandal-resistant, durable material. Similarly if it’s going to be placed outside, a weatherproof material coupled with appropriate installation is just as important. To emphasize his point, Nick recites an old industry example. “A sign was being put together for a shop, black foam PVC was being used as a fascia (20metres long & 5mm thick). This was butted together and screwed in, with vinyl applied on top. When the sun came out, it completely skewed the foam boards. The problem was that the boards where physically screwed onto the building, when the boards were heated in sunlight, they expanded and bowed. The sign-maker hadn’t allowed for expansion; he should have instead put a frame up and let the panels hang, thus giving them space to expand.”  

Finally, to achieve a perfect finish, Nick notes that although a CNC router or laser can achieve an expert finish on virtually any material, the real trick is to ensure that the material is of a high quality. “This is a must to avoid chipping or burring,” he explains. “When routing, it is essential to have sharp premium quality tools to get a clean finish. Quite a few customers buy their own flatbed cutter like a Zund or Konsberg to meet cutting requirements.”

To learn more, visit



Sydney Beaumont launch flat sheet sign making range

A row of flat sheet products stacked togetherSydney Beaumont (Leeds) Ltd, distributors of self-adhesive vinyls since 1966, offer a range of flat sheet products for the sign maker.

Many well known brands are available for the first time from Sydney Beaumont's central Leeds warehousing facility such as Foamalite Foam PVC, Correx, Akyprint and Smart-X. Aluminium composite sheet is also offered in a high end digital print grade, AluprintDigital and a hoarding panel grade, ecoACM.

Geoff Leigh, Sydney Beaumont's Managing Director, said: "In the Yorkshire area we are a predominantly collection based business with our sign making customers calling during the day to pick up their orders of self adhesive vinyl products. Over the years many of these customers have told us how handy it would be to collect flat sheet products as well, meaning we would literally be a one stop shop for all their materials. Now, being part of the Pyramid Display Materials Group, this has given us access to the industries leading sheet product range and made this a reality I feel our customers will genuinely appreciate."

The flat sheet products are stored in an innovative mini vertical racking system christened "The Toast Rack". This enables minimum stock quantities of all products to be held in Leeds, and then topped up by Pyramids trunking system every morning. The Toast Rack has been wrapped in WW100 vinyl from MACtac printed with the brands of products now available. Full sheets are available for collection same day and a cut to size service is also offered for next day delivery.

A full range of self adhesive vinyl's from leading manufacturers including Aslan, Ritrama and Politape together with the Graphtec range of CAD plotters is also available from stock.


Cutting Aluminium Composite

How to Cut Aluminium Composite

Aluminium composite may be one of the most popular materials in sign making, but cutting it isn't always straightforward. The versatility and relative inexpensiveness of aluminium composite has long rendered it a favourite among sign makers. The rust and waterproof nature of the aluminium composite makes it a long-lasting choice for usage outdoors, as does the smooth finish, and the high-quality durability has contributed to the market demand widening over the past few decades.

The material itself is comprised of two layers of aluminium divided by a non-aluminium substance, such as a thin layer of resin. Cutting through all three without damaging the ends can prove to be a difficult task. Workable for a number of projects, aluminium composite can be used in everything from large road signs to small flat signs and even lettering. But while cutting it may appear straightforward, the process can often result in burred edges, uneven corners and mess. It can be a particularly time-consuming undertaking if done by hand as well, taking about half an hour to cut through 2.5metres. But many sign makers are hesitant to invest in machinery that can take up space and become expensive, especially if the workload is relatively light.

Sign Update caught up with exhibitors and delegates at the UK Sign & Digital Show 2013 to find out how sign makers are tackling the task of cutting aluminium composite. Several of you told us about using a Treadle Guillotine, which we'll explore in more detail. Some are using a steel or aluminium ruler with a stainless steel cutting edge, some choose a wide format cutting bar, while others rely on a circular sawbench, or a circular saw used on a separate bench. Every sign maker's needs are different, depending on budget, and the amount of inventory being shifted, which results in so many different approaches to cutting sheets.

So is there a secret to cutting Dibond and similar aluminium composite panels in a cost-effective, low-hassle way? Sign Update chats with three experts to get the scoop on common cutting problems, as well as technology and techniques to overcome them.

A simple approach

Paul Hughes boasts over 20 years of experience in the industry, and owns Sign Making Tools (, a sign and vehicle wrapping tools supplier based in Telford. For Hughes, the trick to successfully cutting aluminium lies in going back to the basics.

"A lot of people don't realise you can cut it with a knife," he explains. "People think you need a circular saw or table saw, but you can actually cut it with a safety edge using a knife."

When cutting aluminium, the sharp tip of the knife is the key to scoring a defined line across the surface. For this reason, knives such as a heavy duty 18mil snap off blade utility knife are ideal. "I use this one because you break the tip quite regularly when you're cutting aluminium, but that's the bit you want to use. With a snap off top of blade, you can snap a new tip off very easily," he says.

Pipe Deburring Tool

A clean cut using just a knife requires a little technique and practice. Brute force does not necessarily result in faster cutting, but instead more damage to the product and edges that will require even more time to fix and sand down. A common mistake is trying to cut through all three layers at once, a tactic that will result in burred edges and curled lips. "What you have to do is score through the top layer of the aluminium," says Hughes, advising that this will make the process of working through all three layers easier. Once scored, you can snap the piece off for a clean finish. To tidy up edges, he suggests using a Surform shaver tool, deburring tool or simple corner rounder.

There are two grades of aluminium composite, and the tools used on it should reflect which one is being cut. "There is construction grade, or there is a lighter hoarding grade, which is even easier to cut because the aluminium is thinner," explains Hughes. "If you cut aluminium semi-infrequently and in small quantities, there are various tools you can use to do it manually."

Panel saws or table saws are obvious choices for hand-cutting, although they are not ideal for cutting larger sheets. Similarly a circular table saw may be able to cut through the material easily, but managing a bigger sheet can be difficult especially if you're on your own. "You can't manage the board weight-wise unless you look for a top of the range model with a shelf built in," says Hughes.

While Paul may prefer the simplicity and craftsmanship of hand-cutting, ultimately the decision comes to the job at hand. The decision to invest in machinery is one that rests on the workload. "It all comes down to how much you're doing," says Hughes. "If you're gearing up to do lots, you need to put the right equipment into place."

Mantech's Treadle shear / guillotineMantech's mechanicial guillotine

Straight-edged success

Bernard Van Cleven, Mantech (U.K.) Ltd. (, shares his insight into how a mechanical guillotine can help even out the process and create straight, flawless edges.

"Cutting is about shearing and breaking of material - 1/3 is the shearing, and 2/3 is breaking the material," says Van Cleven enthusiastically.

He is describing the technique with which to operate a mechanical guillotine without damaging the composite, a process that could make fast work of several orders. "Imagine a pair of scissors, if you will. If you can keep the blades closer together you have a quicker cutting action which results in less deformation of the material," he explains.

For high-volume sign makers looking to increase production flow whilst still producing quality cuts, a mechanical guillotine may be the perfect answer. That said, these benefits come at a price. A 2550mm motorized model costs around £8300, but the power provides a clean finish with minimal curling. For the lower end of a budget, the Treadle guillotine can be powered manually by using a pedal, and offers a more attractive price point to sign makers who produce on a small scale. The shearing action can cause narrower offcuts to curl, so some finishing and refining is needed. According to Van Cleven, a trick to minimizing this is keeping the bottom blade flat while paying close attention to the angle of the top blade. "With the cutting action, keep the angle as minimum as possible - no more than 1.5 degrees," he explains. The Treadle is unsuited to larger 2500mm x 1250mm aluminium composite panels, and is much more effective with smaller pieces of a maximum 1320mm width. Again, not using the proper angle can result in curling, so blades should be positioned at an angle less than 1.5 degrees.

Picking the perfect tool

Aluminium being cut on the Apollo vertical cutter FTC's Apollo 210 vertical multiple-substrate cutter

Alex McLean, Managing Director of FTC (UK) Ltd (, oversees the manufacturing of Trimalco cutters. According to McLean, the single-biggest mistake one can make when trying to cut aluminium is using the wrong blade.

When cutting aluminium, sign makers may use a chop saw for extrusion and turn to a panel saw for sheets. According to McLean, if there is a struggle or damage being done to the product, the chances are it's down to the wrong blade being used, not ineffective technique. "It is essential to use a blade designed for cutting aluminium," he says.

The variety of options available means choosing the right product depends on the type of aluminium composite, but blades should always be a key consideration. Unlike other materials, the composite responds more to the tool than the technique. "Cutting aluminium in all its forms is purely down to using the correct tools," says McLean. Sign Update caught a demonstration of how to effectively use the right tools at the Trimalco stand at the UK Sign & Digital show in April. The blade was set just deep enough to cut through the top layer, which was roughly 0.3mm, or about 10% of the overall thickness. After the initial cut the piece was snapped straight off, which resulted in a clean finish.

There can be a lot of trial and error on a sign maker's part to establish exactly what works and what doesn't. For example, products such as the Europa Cutter Rails were not designed to cut aluminium composite panels, yet many of McLean's customers do just that. "The results are surprisingly good. It ruins the blade, but at £9.00 for 100 blades it doesn't appear to be an issue," he says.

Key areas of difficulty when cutting aluminium include mess, the noise created by large machinery, the need to remove or correct sharp edges and contamination. While some products like the Trimalco line are designed to provide clean cuts that minimize fall out, for other saws, the simple solution of housing the saw in a separate room from your laminator and printer can help reduce the debris, keeping your primary workspace clear. Regarding sharp edges, McLean notes that the Apollo Multi-substrate cutter uses two wheels to slice through aluminium composite panels and sheet aluminium, reducing the need for further finishing and without contamination.

An all-in-one solution

Router head on the zapkut vertical panel machine.Zapkut's ZM Vertical Panel Saw

Keith, Managing Director of Zapkut (, manufactures vertical panel saws to cut aluminium composites such as Dibond. Used in conjunction with a router, this method makes light work of cutting even a fulllength, 3 metre Dibond sheet.

According to Keith, the resurgence from economic recession is imminent, and now is the time to invest in products such as a vertical panel saw to make light work of cutting aluminium composite before demand starts to swiftly increase.

"Sign makers have relied on material suppliers for cutting for free, but this won't be the case for too much longer," he says. "For many, they'll simply wake up and realise they're paying a lot of money for the cutting service that they could be doing themselves."

With machines in the middle of the range priced at under £3,000, the vertical panel saw is attractively priced. The addition of a floating head router runs just over £500 extra, giving sign makers benefits that are, according to Keith, both affordable and instrumental in creating clean, quality cuts.

"The router cutter protrudes from the base plate by the depth that you want to go into the composite," he explains. "That base plate of the router presses against the surface of the material, so you've got that constancy of depth. This allows for very accurate machining - to within 0.1mm." The router depth can be set very precisely using the twist dial arrangement, enabling sign makers to run the column along the sheet or across its width by moving either the column or the router head. This enables the operative to handle sheets without assistance. A vertical panel saw is designed to cut across both the width and length of a sheet, and unlike other tools doesn't apply force to the cut which can often result in rounded edges.

As well as being able to make tricky bevel cuts, the saw and router when used to- gether are ideal for making light boxes, commonly used to backlight signage. The Dibond composition typically is 0.3mm skin of aluminium either side of 2.4mm polyethylene, can be easily cut and manipulated with minimal skill or technique to create one. "You machine out the front face, and most of the polyethylene in a V shape, at a 90 degree angle, giving you the opportunity to fold it. If you run a line right along each edge, you'll have a corner piece," says Keith. Once folded up, the whole piece comes together, and the corners can then be easily glued.

For Keith, a vertical panel saw is an intrinsic part of a sign maker's arsenal. "It's simply a well-priced, easy way of cutting sheet material, and that is going to become more of a requirement from sign makers as we come out of recession."


Dibond Décor and Stucco finishes – new to Robert Horne

Dibond Stucco shown close up under lighting. The Robert Horne Group has just introduced two new finishes to its extensive aluminium composite Dibond range. Dibond Décor is a selection of panels with realistic wood effect finishes and Dibond Stucco is a panel with a distinctive and special embossed silver finish, combining the uneven raised texture of traditional stucco plaster, with a highly reflective surface.

Dibond Décor is ideal for designers looking for a sustainable, durable and easy-to-fabricate alternative to hardwoods.

Dibond décor is an excellent material for direct-to-substrate screen and digital printing, making it suitable for presenting images and advertising messages. It is not sensitive to dampness and temperature changes and can therefore be used in long term external and internal applications, with no need for maintenance.

Compared to real wood, three dimensional designs can be easily constructed, as the sheets can be routed and folded like other Dibond products. The material can be pre-routed, and delivered to site flat. Folding to finished shape can then be carried out by hand, with no tools, on site - in a matter of minutes. Other standard fabrication techniques including drilling, sawing and stamping, can also be employed Dibond Décor is available in dark wood (Wenge) and light wood (Maple) finishes in a 3mm thickness and is supplied without a PE film.

Dibond Stucco is an embossed matt silver finish with an extremely tactile feel and resistant to marking, making it suitable for applications where human contact may frequently occur.

Under lighting, Dibond Stucco provides an eye-catching, shimmering effect, with points of light reflected by the uneven surface. It is extremely hard wearing and confirms to food grade material specifications and has a UV resistant polyethylene core, making the material suitable for internal and external use.

Due to its special surface structure, Dibond Stucco is not suitable for printing, laminating or CNC milling. Fixing and bonding can be carried out using special techniques which allow for the surface texture. Other standard fabrication techniques include drilling, sawing and stamping, and folding to form three dimensional items.

Dibond Stucco is supplied in 3mm thickness with branded PE Film on both sides. Dibond aluminium composites are ideal for use in design schemes for all kinds of commercial, retail and leisure facilities. Typical applications include bars and counters, fascias and wall finishes, furniture, exhibitions and displays.

For further information please contact Robert Horne or visit the web site

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