This time of year, many of us start a conversation with “Is it cold enough for ya?” In the sign industry, we have to turn this around and ask, ‘is it warm enough to install that vinyl graphic?’ The answer is; it depends.

All vinyl has an optimal temperature range. Extreme cold can affect the performance of the face film and adhesive and make installation difficult if not impossible. On the flip side, extreme heat can make the adhesive too aggressive. So whether you're applying vinyl graphics in Alaska or Hawaii, January or June, you may have some environmental challenges. What are the risks?

How do you know when it’s too cold for your planned installation? Why does ambient temperature matter for vinyl film installation? What happens if it’s too cold? Low ambient or surface temperature reduce the plasticity of PVC face film, which can rob it of its ability to conform to a curved or slightly textured surface. (Face film refers to the the colored part of the vinyl.) If your substrate is smooth and flat, this won’t be as much of a problem. But conformability is only half the issue.

The most conformable vinyl in the world will only stay put if the adhesive works. In temperatures below the minimum, the adhesive becomes so brittle it can’t “wet out” or mold to and bond with the substrate. If you’re near the minimum surface temperature, it may stick initially, but fail to bond well enough to become permanent. This could lead to adhesive failure after delivery to your customer; the cardinal sin of sign making.

How warm is warm enough? So how warm does it have to be to avoid failure. It depends. Each vinyl is different, but the general rule is about 45°F (7° C). To be certain you’re within the optimal temperature range, consult the manufacturers’ published data. For ORACAL Vinyl, that’s easy to do because ORACAL publishes the essential specifications on the back of their color card. It’s a great resource. It shows a wealth of data for each product including seawater-ability, temperature resistance, adhesive power and, of course, minimum application temperatures. (Fig1) A quick scan of the ORACAL color chart shows us that the minimum surface temperatures for the most popular ORACAL vinyls are as follows:

  • ORACAL 651, 751, 951, 951Metallic, and 8500Translucent:46°F (8°C)
  • ORACAL 641, ORALITE 5800 & 5860:50°F (10°C) If you don’t already have one, you can obtain an ORACAL color chart online. The initial cost is $10.00, but it’s well worth it. Click here to order.
Our Endura Vinyl films all fall within the same basic range of acceptable surface temperatures.
  • The back of our EnduraGloss color chart reveals that EnduraGloss calendared vinyl can be installed at or above 40°F and has an effective temperature range of 40 – 200°F.
  • EnduraMATTE has the same temperature range, despite having a lower-tack adhesive.
  • And our EnduraPATTERNS zebra and camo vinyls have an acceptable surface temperature range of 40 - 150°F.
  • Schein holographic films require a minimum surface temperature of 70°F.
  • EnduraLITE 48000 and M8512 reflective sheeting requires a minimum surface temperature of 59°F
  • EnduraLITE 8100 and Super Engineer Grade reflective sheeting perform best when applied in an ambient temperature range between 69° and 77°F
Avery doesn’t put this data on its color card, but it can be found on the product data bulletin for each Avery adhesive backed vinyl—usually on the second page. These are available upon request. To save you a few requests, here are the minimum surface temperatures for the top selling Avery vinyls.
  • Avery 900SC Cast vinyl:40°F (4°C)
  • Avery MPI Super Cast printable vinyl: 45°F (7°C)
  • Avery 700 High Performance Calendared, 500 Promo Calendared vinyl: 50°F (10°C)
Weathering & Storage Tips If you’re storing vinyl in a warehouse or garage separate from your workspace, be sure to allow it to warm to room temperature before applying. It may be 75° at your desk, but if it’s 35° in the storage area, that vinyl may not be ready to apply as soon as you bring it in. Do the same with masking tape, overlaminate film or any other self adhesive product.
  • Likewise, if your vinyl is warm but you’re installing on a sign blank or vehicle in a cool garage, heat up the surface before installation. That of course goes to the definition of the term “minimum surface temperature”. The surface temperature of the substrate is as important as that of the vinyl itself.
  • Remember it generally takes a few days for adhesive to completely wet out or bond to a substrate. So if you have to install vinyl in cold weather, do so in your climate-controlled garage and try to arrange to keep the newly decorated sign or vehicle there for a few days before releasing it into the wild to brave the elements.
So now you have a quick handy installation guide with which to answer the age old question, “Is it warm enough for ya?” The answer is; it depends.