A Designers Guide to Aluminium Composite
If you’re just entering the graphic design industry, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of print materials out there. The truth is, graphic designers are faced with a lot of options when they’re ready to take their designs to print. And while more options mean more power, it’s important to understand the basics in order to choose the best material for your needs.
To help you better understand your options, we’re diving into our second print substrates 101, with a focus in this article on aluminium composite—AKA Dibond.
Maybe you’ve heard of Dibond, maybe you haven’t, but we’re here to get you up to speed with this highly durable material.
What is Dibond and How is it Made?
Dibond is the brand name of one of the top aluminium composite materials (ACM). Often used to create permanent high valued outdoor signs, this material consists of a plastic polyethylene core sandwiched between two aluminium sheets.
The combination of plastic and aluminium coating makes Dibond extremely durable and much more lightweight and shock-resistant than pure aluminium.
In addition, because this material is completely solid, it can easily be cut into intricate details without losing the integrity of the piece. This property makes Dibond a popular choice for signage designs that may require trimming after printing.
The generic name of Dibond is aluminium composite. However, because the brand has dominated the manufacturing of this material, many simply refer to this product as Dibond.
It was originally created more than 20 years ago by 3A Composites, which was known as Alcan Composites at the time. 3A also manufacture similar products using aluminium such as Hylite and KAPAtech.
They also manufacture the paper board we covered in this blog post about Dispa board printing. We wouldn’t recommend Dispa though for your new shop signage!
Dibond Usage in the Sign and Print Industry
Those in the graphic design industry will likely encounter Dibond when they are ready to take their project to print.
Dibond is one of the most popular outdoor signage materials, especially for signs that are intended to be permanent fixtures. Its varied uses include company logos, retail signs, directional signage and shopfitting.
Aluminium Dibond signs are ideal for mounting as they offer the flattest panels of any material. You’ll see Dibond being used in many exhibition displays. Next time you’re at the art gallery or museum, have a peek at what the prints are mounted to.
Further, because each aluminium composite panel is made up of plastic and thin aluminium sheets, Dibond is very lightweight and sturdy. In fact, the combination of these substrates is designed to withstand the outdoors, offering a waterproof and heat resistant surface that will not warp in the sun.
Some of the top uses of aluminium composite in the sign and print industry include:
- Long-term outdoor signs
- Typographic signs or projects with intricate details
- Expensive digital prints and graphics
- Mounted logos
- Retail signs
- Parking signs
- High-end real estate signs
- Creative projects
Outside of the sign and print industry, Dibond also has applications in decorative lighting, furniture construction, interior design, displays, and more.
Case studies on the durability of this material have shown it to be a top contender for those in need of a superior finished quality and weatherproof signage.
The Pros of Aluminium Composite
- Long-lasting and highly durable
- Protection from outdoor conditions like rain, snow, and the sun
- Can be cut easily without damaging the integrity of the sign
- Offers the flattest panel of any material, making this material ideal for mounted signs
- Visually appealing effect due to the multiple substrates
- Lightweight thanks to the plastic core
- More shock resistant than regular aluminium
- Does not warp in the heat
- Can protect expensive digital prints and graphics
The Cons of Aluminium Composite
- Different finishes can carry more expense
- Slightly less rigid than solid aluminium
Different Types of Dibond
As the first and leading manufacturer of aluminium composite material, Dibond has created a variety of products to suit any designer’s needs.
Some of the most popular Dibond products include:
Butler finish: Characterised by its shiny and polished surface. By adding a clear lacquer to the surface of the panel creates this effect.
Dibond Digital: This material is specially designed for maximum ink adhesion. This grade of Dibond can create truly striking digital prints, allowing your design to shine. If you’re interested in Dibond printing, this is likely the best option for you.
Dibond Décor: Characterised by its wood appearance. This is perfect for signs that call for a more rustic aesthetic.
Dibond Mirror: Featuring a glassy and reflective surface, this grade of Dibond offers a mirrored surface that is unbreakable and half the weight of a conventional mirror.
Dibond FR: This variety of Dibond features a mineral core, giving it the fire retardant classification.
Dibond Structure: If you want to give your sign a unique look, Dibond Structure offers a signature surface with unique finishes to the aluminium.
Dibond Eloxal: This material features an additional anodised coating making it much harder and more durable than the standard paint system.
Alternative Products to Dibond
Aluminium composite offers maximum durability and visual appeal, making it perfect for long lasting and important projects. However, the high quality of this material does come with an added cost and may not be the best choice for every job.
If you’re looking for alternatives, consider some of the following:
- very lightweight
- less expensive than Dibond
- recyclable Polypropylene
- suited for external use
Foam centred Board:
- ultra lightweight
- very inexpensive
- paper exterior
- suited for indoor use only
- less expensive than Dibond
- highly durable
- many different thicknesses
- suited for indoor or outdoor use
Each of these alternative products has their own pros and cons. It can simply boil down to your specific project needs.
We understand that there is a lot to consider when choosing the right signage material for your needs. If you need to run through options to find the ideal substrate for your project, get in touch on 01782 413789.
Looking for more substrate guides? Check out our post here on Correx and Correx printing.
A Tough Paper Product For Internal Graphics
I’m always on the lookout for unique products that can be used to complete jobs in a different way or provide a different purpose.
When we sat down with 3A Composites and looked at their new DISPA® board, we immediately spotted a display board with a few unique differences compared to the substrates we already carry on the shelf.
I’m seeing more eco-friendly, environmentally friendly and recyclable products come through our door. With the growing focus on getting away from plastics, we’re all for using them wherever we can.
Made from 100% FSC certified paper DISPA looks like its got first-rate recyclable credentials.
For info, FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council. It’s an organisation that started in 1993 to promote the use and management of the world’s forests. Approval by the FSC means the wood used in its construction has been sourced responsibly and the forests where the timber originally came from are being renewed.
It’s not just your sign and display products that can show the FSC logo – look around the next time you’re at the DIY store and you’ll see it on wallpaper, flooring, conservatories, doors and furniture. If it’s made from wood, it should have the label on it somewhere.
By using paper stock for the complete product, DISPA stays lightweight and manageable even in the bigger sheet sizes. As a ’built-up’ sheet with a number of layers utilising the same paper for the core, 3A Composites claims DISPA will stay rigid, stable and flat through production and in final use.
3A Composites calls the core of the material a ‘unique structure of embossed formed paper.’
I think of it almost as a cardboard Correx. All the paper ‘waves’ or flutes in the middle of the media giving it this strength and durability.
Being constructed completely from paper, it’s an internal product only and can be susceptible to the issues of being dinked on the edges. It’s the same possible damage as with any other softer substrate if mishandled. Just be careful when it’s in the print room and during installation.
Specifications and using DISPA Board
Thickness wise, DISPA board is only available at 3.8mm. Thick enough to keep warp-free and steady for hanging signs, POS units and displays.
As a board, its ideal for short term and lightweight promotional campaigns. But if you’re looking for something more substantial, check the alternatives we list further down.
Sheet sizes off the shelf should cover most jobs. From 1250x1840mm to slightly oversize 8×4 and 10×5. When creating complex point of sale display units that need CNC cutting and folding and we need to get it all on one sheet, we’re covered.
One of the big plus points of DISPA comes from its bright white, smooth paper faces. If you print using flatbed UV curable inks, printing DISPA board should cause no issues.
Double-sided hanging signs or point of sale cards become simple to produce when your board stays flat on the print bed and both sides have exactly the same properties.
As with DISPA board printing, the processing afterwards should be equally as stress-free.
Unlike plastics and metal substrates, paper materials can be converted using either manual tools or on the cutting tables. The only issue I can see is that the edges could crush if guillotined. Its the same with Correx or foam centred boards. Check pressures if it is an issue or look at converting using different kit if possible. It CNC cuts with little effort by using standard knives and settings.
Alternatives to DISPA board
Alternatives to DISPA include standard display board or display card. Also, these usually max out at around 2500mic thick.
They also don’t have the internal structure of DISPA with the laminated faces and built up embossed paper. For something like hanging signs though, they may be a viable alternative.
Dufaylite, Xanita board or Reboard are other options depending on the final application. Usually, a bit thicker, this honeycomb centred media (not quite like an Aero bar) is always popular as the substrate behind free-standing display units. It is strong, prints well and easy to cut and convert.
Foam centred boards like FOAM-X or KAPA are also popular for internal POS and hanging signs. Lightweight, strong and made from a sandwich of paper plus polyurethane. Foam core boards work well but most are not recyclable. DISPA, card and other 100% paper alternatives can also come in at a lower cost.
We’re putting together a Substrates 101 guide to the different media options within the sign and print spectrum – have a read through our details on Dibond printing or our post on Correx printing here.
Making The Most Impact With Your Graphic Design Work
For a graphic designer and their work to really stand out, the quality, look and feel are what matters.
Creating a good design means combining various things, such as creativity, style, concept, and so on. However, the end result and how clear you get the message across is what counts.
If you’ve got the eye and can develop design work that capture’s the client’s style effectively, you’ve got it. If you’re looking for a little graphic design work inspiration, this list should help start you on your way.
Here are 5 primary elements to help with creating better graphic design work:
Basic Theme Matching
Graphic design work that hits the bullseye will always aim to match the theme where it’s going to be placed. The design will blend with the theme, and it will not look out of place.
When designing, you have to take into account the background and placement. If the design doesn’t sit well, it won’t be as effective. But, if it feels in tune, then the whole thing will naturally have an aesthetic appeal. These rules apply whether the design is for business cards or brochures. It’s the same if creating work for signage, exhibition graphics or other printed media.
If you’re looking for more design inspiration I’m a fan of a book called ‘Looking Good In Print’. It’s an oldie, but definitely worth having a flick through.
A great design has a lot to do with clever colour combination. The stronger the colour combination, the more impactful the design will be. If you pick the wrong colours and combine them in one design, the design will look amateurish. Combine the right colours together and watch the design come to life. Colour can either pop and catch your eye, or it can jar and look contrived.
Simple designs can often have the most impact. Clean and clear, it should convey some kind of meaning. A simple design will make the end product look more elegant and high value. Design that is crowded and overly complex can confuse the message you are trying to convey. A simple design can help the viewer understand the message and ultimately, understand the product.
Your graphic design needn’t be similar to others that are out there but it is a good idea to keep up to date with current trends. So, if you want to follow what’s in fashion that’s fine, but you have to make your design different from the rest. Make it stand out and add your unique edge.
Designing with your own style adds a personal touch. Developing your own look that people identify as your work injects personality. Strive to create the kind of design work that you can call your own and which is instantly recognisable.
This is what sticks – it’s your brand.
Add this individual touch but don’t railroad the client because you want your style running through their work. Make sure you cover their bases before pushing the project to fit your ideas.
Those are the 5 primary elements of great graphic design. Keep these things in mind when working on your designs or working with designers. If you’re looking for a designer to work with your ideas, get in touch.
If you’re a designer and you use Adobe Illustrator (and who doesn’t?) did you know its now 30 years old?!
Have a read of this post looking at Illustrator’s history through the years.
Every industry has its own product names and many times those brand names become synonymous with the actual product.
Like Hoover, Sharpie, Tupperware and Velcro, Correx is another one of those trademarks that became the generic term.
Correx, or to give the product its Sunday name – fluted polypropylene – is a twinwall corrugated plastic. Its designed for strength and used primarily for printing on in the graphics and sign market.
That’s the reason we’re delving into it today for a once over about what it does, what’s good about it and why we use it for certain jobs.
Fluted polypropylene doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue when you’re ordering a pack of 8×4 sheets. You can see why in the UK, Correx has become the go-to name for describing the product.
Other brands of fluted polypropylene available are Twinplast, Corriflute, and in the USA, Coroplast. Coroplast has the same level of brand recognition in the US as Correx has over here.
Uses of Correx
Correx has always been used for estate agent boards. It’s waterproof, lightweight yet resilient so even though it bears the brunt of the traffic, wind and the weather outside homes for sale, it usually keeps up and stays in place. Another popular use is for all the election signage. Next time you’re driving along the road and being told to Vote For…., you can be fairly sure the candidate chose Correx to help get their party’s message across.
Temporary signs cable-tied to a lamp-post or railing? Probably drilled and printed Correx. Along with vinyl banner, it’s the Village Fete sign substrate of choice!
When you look at its profile, all the flutes are in line and like little girders. These flutes help with strength just like girders and also keep it cost effective compared to a solid sheet. I don’t see rigid polypropylene in much thicker gauges than 1200mic (1.2mm) so with Correx being usually around 4 to 6mm you can quickly see why it’s much more economical to produce with much less material needed to manufacture. It’s a trade-off between overall toughness and suitability against cost per sheet for its intended purpose.
For economical and short to medium term signage which needs to be on a rigid substrate instead of something like a vinyl banner, Correx is certainly up for the job.
Now, being polypropylene, the face of Correx has a low surface energy that in layman’s terms means it can be an issue getting stuff to stick to it. Originally screen printing the image was the way as those solvent inks would chew their way in. Once digital rollfed inkjet became more prevalent then printing onto self-adhesive vinyl and applying was the next option – there were issues though with different types of vinyl not adhering quite as well as necessary but for short-term applications, it usually worked. With UV curable inkjet its pretty much now back to the ink adhesion of screenprint but with the option of full-colour graphics to boot. Correx printed signs go upmarket!
Just as with Mr Sellotape, it must be great to own the trademark!
Most people specify or ask us for Correx even though as I said, it’s really a fluted or twinwall polypropylene.
The brand name of Correx is held by UK manufacturer DS Smith. Along with Correx, they create other similar products such as Akyprint or bubble board along with a solid polyprop sheet.
Like Correx, Akyprint is a twinwall product with a face and back sheet. The difference though is that instead of flutes running along the length or width of the board, dots or bubbles are in-between the two panels. These bubbles create a strong sheet that doesn’t have the lines that can be visible on the face of a standard fluted polypropylene.
At this point, I feel like passing the This Is Your Life red book over to Correx and watch the title credits roll.
As the theme tune starts, let’s give a quick recap:
It’s a cost-effective, waterproof rigid substrate that is still lightweight and durable. Available in a wide number of sizes maxing out usually at 1.5 x 3m along with flutes running parallel to either width or sheet length. Correx lends itself to economical short to mid-term outdoor signage and, useful when printing directly onto, its also available in a range of colours. Correx printing is simple enough when using screenprint or digital UV inks.
It can also have vinyl applied to it. Give it a quick test first though as not everything likes to stick to it.
So there you go, a brief 101 into Correx and how it fits in with modern print, signage and display.
For a new paper product that has a similar construction to Correx, check out this post on using and printing Dispa board.
All The Info For Specifying & Buying Tile Sample Boards
Being based in Stoke-on-Trent in the heart of the potteries, here at QPS Print we often get asked to work alongside ceramic and tile manufacturers. One of those display items that we often use our expertise to print are Tile sample boards or hand boards (every request seems to have a different name!) (more…)
Looking Back At The Go-To Graphics Software
Once upon a time, being a graphic designer was way more of an uphill battle than it is now.
Beyond the day to day challenges, arbitrary requests and ambiguous revision directions, having control of how you translated your ideas was chock full of challenges far beyond those found today.