Foamex – A Substrates 101 Guide To Foam PVC Boards & Printing
Your business’s sign is one of the most visible communications of your brand. Which is why you need the right material to serve as the base for your message.
Foam PVC or foamex is an incredibly versatile substrate for both indoor and outdoor signage. In this third instalment of our Substrates 101 guides, we’re diving deep into foam PVC and seeing where it fits in modern signage and whether it is the go-to product for your next project.
Looking to invest in new signs for your business or just landed here for a better grounding in print substrates? Read on for our complete guide to Foam PVC boards and printing.
What is Foamex?
Also called solid foam PVC or foamed PVC, Foamex is the brand name for a solid construction of fully rigid plastic.
Popular brands we’ve used include Foamalite, Foamalux and Forex. Just as with Correx, the Foamex brand just got lucky when its name became the generic term!
Not to be confused with foam-x (which is a soft-centred board)—Foamex actually isn’t foam-like at all. It is a hard, durable, and smooth substrate.
This high-quality material is easy to cut, bend, drill, glue, and print on. Foamex board is a popular option for business signs, display panels, exhibitions, banners, and other indoor and outdoor materials. You can see why it’s a favourite for graphic designers.
PVC foam board is a cheaper alternative to something like aluminium composite or Dibond and can be easily cut (in thinner gauges) to custom dimensions, and will still look crisp after several years.
It’s also a great alternative to plywood, thanks to its weather-resistant coating and the relative ease it can be mounted in place.
Many graphic designers prefer Foamex over other substrates because of how effective it is to print attractive graphics onto it, its lightweight make-up, and its economic costs.
Characteristics of Foam PVC
- Thickness: Foamex is available in a variety of thicknesses, depending on your signage needs. The most popular thicknesses for Foamex printing are 3mm and 5mm because these options can easily but cut to custom shapes and sizes. As an example, this material is sometimes used to create 3D block lettering for signs.
Foamex is also available in thicker options, including 10mm and 19mm, but it can be harder to cut the board at this thickness and the board is heavy when it comes to lifting and fixing in place. Trust me, 19mm foam PVC lifting is a 2 person job.
For cutting and routing, 19mm Foamex usually has to be cut using a laser. We use our computer cutting table to shape foamex panels.
Foam PVC in 3mm or even 5mm is fairly thin but don’t let the thickness fool you—Foamex is pretty dense and durable. It is susceptible to dinks on the edges but there aren’t many substrates in signage that don’t mark if not handled carefully.
- Colour/Printing: If your project needs a smooth, colourful sign, Foamex boards might be the perfect solution. It’s available in a range of colours, including white, black, red, yellow, green and blue – the coloured sheets work well with vinyl lettering applied.
In addition, this material works exceptionally well when digital printing. Intricate designs can easily be printed onto Foamex board, and if printed self-adhesive vinyl is mounted to it instead of direct flatbed printing, the corners can be wrapped so that the design bleeds seamlessly off of the surface.
- Weight: One of the greatest advantages of Foamex, is its light weight. This makes for an easy installation process, using basic screws, hooks, velcro, or other adhesives.
However, just because this material is lightweight, doesn’t mean it’s fragile. In fact, one of the reasons many choose Foamex board over other materials is because of its outstanding durability. Which leads us to our next characteristic.
- Lifespan: The typical lifespan for a Foamex sign is 5 years+, with indoor signs lasting, of course, much longer than outdoor ones.
The smooth exterior of Foamex has a weather-resistant coating, making it appropriate for both outdoor and indoor use. However, because it is made of plastic, this type of substrate will eventually begin to warp/bend with the heat.
Some lower density boards can also become brittle over time and even shatter especially in the heat or the cold. Ask for a mid-density foam sheet to be safe especially if being used outside. We can guide you with the best foam PVC for your application.
A last thing to bear in mind is that foam PVC (link all PVC products) is non-recyclable.
We’re starting to see foamed polypropylene entering the UK market. This does have recyclable properties but until we see the costs and print test on our machines, we’ll save our opinions for a future post.
PVC Foam Board Uses
PVC foam board can be used in a wide range of projects, including both indoor and outdoor use. Thinner Foamex is often routed into shapes and designs including 3D lettering – we’ve used for museum signage and for exhibition panels.
Thicker Foamex, on the other hand, is slightly more reinforced, making it a great option for outdoor signs.
From business signs to advertisements, posters, banners, display panels, and more, this substrate can meet a wide range of visual communication needs.
Foamex VS Foam-X: What’s the Difference?
One easy mistake that graphic designers and specifiers commonly make is mixing up Foamex and Foam-X.
While they sound the same (especially when asking over the phone…) , these two substrates are actually fairly different.
As stated above, Foamex is a solid and hard sheet of plastic made from PVC foam. Foam-X, on the other hand, has a soft centre of polystyrene or polyurethane and sandwiched between paper layers. This makes Foamex much more durable and suited to outdoor conditions.
There is a foam core Kapa product – Kapa-plast – that can be used for short-term outdoor promotions but it has nothing like the longevity of foam PVC and comes with a much higher cost per sheet.
Give Me a Sign—is Foamex Right for You?
Still feel like you’re looking for a sign as to which substrate to choose? QPS is here to help.
We’ve got years of experience working in the printing and signage industry. Its part of our service to match you with the best material for your needs.
If you’re still puzzled between Foamex and your Foam-X, get in touch and we’ll put you straight.