Expanded Plastics

Signage is crucial to running a business. No matter what industry you’re in, there are more varieties of signage than you’d assume at first glance — especially inside buildings. You need to be sure your signs are visible, attractive and cost-effective, as they’re a part of your decor as well as reflective of your company’s brand. Of all the potential customers who see your signs, 68% will judge your company based on those signs’ quality.

When it comes to ordering durable, reliable signs, material plays a huge role. Depending on your needs, you’ll find options suited for specific uses, those that do better in certain weather conditions than others or types that are more cost-effective. Before you commit to a material, you need to know what you expect from your signage.

You’ll have to consider whether you need an outdoor or indoor sign, how large you want it to be, what information you plan to put on it and any other details that could be a deciding factor in the material you choose. If you’re looking for mainly indoor use or a lightweight material that’s easy to transport, expanded plastics are a great option to consider.


When you’re thinking about creating a sign, the material should be one of the first details you consider. Expanded plastics are highly versatile, so there’s a good chance they’ll serve your purposes well.

Manufacturers producing Group A plastic commodities typically make the plastic materials in two forms: unexpanded and expanded. Each variety has its own unique characteristics, purposes and benefits, so the differences are essential to consider.

Unexpanded plastics are highly dense and versatile. They can be molded into many different shapes, including children’s toys, storage containers, large drums and more. Manufacturers use similar resins to create expanded plastics. Rather than keeping them dense, however, they use a foaming process to create small internal bubbles. These bubbles provide a lower density and a higher heat release rate, making the plastic an even more versatile option.

Being both light and rigid, expanded plastics are ideal for signage and screen printing processes. They’re also known as foamed plastic or plastic foam for their composition and considered a form of substrate. Typically, the solid plastic consists of a type of polystyrene, polyethylene or polyurethane, but the polyvinyl chloride — better known as PVC — is also expandable.

There are also several methods of creating expanded plastics, including:

  • Expandable processes: In this method, manufacturers use physical and chemical characteristics to better stabilize the plastic and the finished product as a whole. Machines heat the plastic into a liquid form while applying some variety of blowing agent to create the trapped bubbles. During cooling, molds shape the plastic into the desired structure as they’re exposed to steam. After this step, the molds go through a second expansion to adjust density. This process is most often used for polyurethane foams, which can turn out to be soft or rigid foams.
  • Extrusion: Using an annular die, manufacturers will extrude expanded sheets through an injection molding machine. As the sheets leave the extruder, a blowing agent positioned at the end of the machine expands them. This method is frequently used for polystyrene, as well as through a single screw extruder.

Regardless of the processes and materials, expanded plastics cover a broad spectrum of densities and stabilities, from rigid boards to flexible foams. They’re low-cost to produce, relatively easy to manufacture and have high consumer appeal for their characteristics, not to mention being incredibly versatile. Depending on their densities, they’re perfect materials for anything from packaging to children’s toys to fashion to signage.


Of the multiple types of expanded plastics, PVC is a popular choice for signs. It’s also known as expanded PVC foam board despite not being made from foam. Before you decide on a sign material, you should consider specific details, such as:

  • Weight: The thickness of PVC varies so that you can get the proper weight for your needs. The many available weights mean you can choose the best fit depending on where you intend to mount your sign and how large it needs to be. For example, thicker weights are better for free-hanging signs, but thinner may be better for signs that require frequent moving.
  • Size: You can have PVC boards cut to specific sizes or attached with adhesives or hardware. With the right tools, you can shape the boards into whatever outline you need.
  • Colors: Expanded PVC is available in the classic white color as well as black, grey, blue, yellow, red and green. Suppliers will often carry other colors too, and you can easily screen-print your design onto the sheets as well.
  • Finishes: Most suppliers carry PVC material in a matte finish to eliminate the glare and reflective look that comes with gloss. With digital printing, you can apply any design you want, single- or double-sided. You can also have the sheets overlayed with vinyl and lamination. Laminate will provide the printed images with extra protection against moisture, UV damage, scratching and marks while giving your sign a professional appearance.
  • Applications: Because the material is so versatile, PVC is great for many different applications, including displays, trade show panels, wayfinding signagedimensional lettering and more. It’s far better suited for indoor use, but some types of protected PVC will last outdoors, and laminate will extend the life of outdoor signs.

Commonly chosen for indoor uses, PVC is one of the most useful materials out there. It’s light, versatile and available with a wide variety of physical characteristics. Whether you’re looking to advertise or create a more cohesively branded office space, PVC is well-suited for the job.


Compared to regular PVC and other sign materials, the expanded variety has many benefits. The material is:

  • Versatile: Unlike regular PVC, the expanded type is great for permanent indoor and temporary outdoor applications. Not only is it ideal for signage, but it’s also suitable for a wide variety of other uses, including as a substitute for other composite materials. Its strength will enable you to place it almost anywhere, as it’s compatible with most mounting techniques. With applied heat and bending, you can even create a standalone sign. Also, due to the air bubbles giving the material a lower density, it’s a very portable solution.
  • Lightweight: The composition of all expanded plastics makes them more lightweight than the unexpanded alternatives. The PVC plastic itself is reasonably easy to transport, and the air bubbles reduce density while maintaining stabilization and durability. You’ll be able to move, transport and install signs made from expanded material with more ease — perfect for applications like PVC real estate signs.
  • Durable: Expanded PVC material is resistant to water, fire, mold and outdoor conditions, making it an even more high-end option. In the case of exposure to flames, the plastic is self-extinguishing. With low absorption properties and a closed structure, PVC is not susceptible to damage from wet conditions or taking on mold or rot. It also has shock-absorbing qualities, so it’s less likely to break under pressure. It’s even dent- and scratch-resistant. While it does last far longer in indoor spaces, certain types of PVC are better suited to last outdoors.
  • Processable: Need a specific shape or design? With expanded PVC, you can create almost any kind of sign you could with other materials. You can shape it through saw and die cutting, machining, routing and gluing, then install it with nails, screws, staples or cold mounting techniques. You can treat it the same as wood, metals and aluminum signs, including the ability to screen print designs on it. It’s malleable when heated but rigid and strong enough to take on power tools and puncturing.
  • Customizable: Since this material is so versatile and receptive, it’s completely customizable. PVC is available in multiple weights, sizes, colors and finishes, and with screen printing, you can apply any design you wish. You can also shape your sign with the right tools. Heat will allow you to bend the PVC into an L-shape to create a self-standing sign.

With so many advantages to benefit from, expanded PVC is an excellent choice for many types of signage. Whether you’re looking to spruce up your office or find a way to display sales, this material is well suited to fit your needs.

Benefits of Expanded PVC


Because the material has so many uses and is completely customizable, there are almost limitless applications for expanded PVC. Some real-world uses include:

  • Indoor signage: There are many different varieties of indoor signage — wayfinding plaques, labels for departments or offices, window displays for sales, countertop signs and the list goes on. Regardless of what you need, custom PVC signs are a perfect option. You can fit them to any size or shape, choose from a multitude of colors, finish them with graphic designs and mount them anywhere with ease.
  • A-frames: Some varieties of expanded PVC are suitable for outdoor use, and all of them are noticeably lightweight. Because of these characteristics, PVC a-frame signs are an excellent option. You can quickly move them from inside your business to outside on the sidewalk, or you can leave them in one spot. If you plan to use the board outside, you should bring it in during the night and in extreme weather conditions.
  • Yard signs: One of the best examples of a yard sign is a real estate plot marker. Real estate businesses need to mark properties, plots and houses with signs that identify them as on or off the market. These signs also need to show the realtor responsible for selling, the company name, the phone number to call and any other pertinent details. Once a property has sold, those signs need to move to new locations. PVC is an excellent material for this purpose. It’s completely customizable in terms of size, thickness and design, and it remains lightweight, so frequent transport isn’t an issue. They’re durable and relatively inexpensive, and with a laminate coating, your signs will last longer in outdoor conditions.
  • Trade show signs: When your company sets up at a trade show, you need to be sure your exhibit is informative and attractive. Your design elements also need to be transportable and easy to set up. By ordering custom PVC plastic signs to use as elements of your display, you’ll gain the advantage of brilliant graphics, unique design, ease of transport and setup and multiple mounting options. From small, informational countertop signs to large, colorful graphic displays, your exhibit will be more attractive to visitors, and you’ll see more trade show success.
  • Decorative purposes: Along with being a fantastic material for professional displays and informational signage, expanded PVC is also perfect for sprucing up the office with bright decor. Whether you want to use quotes, photographic images, graphics that align with the company branding or something similar, the smooth surface and matte finish of PVC plastic foam board will ensure that your screen printed designs are clear and vibrant.

While those above are some of the most common applications, there are many more uses for expanded PVC signage. It does last far longer in indoor applications, as the air bubbles allow the material to expand and contract with changing temperatures. That said, it isn’t confined to inside spaces. Even if you come across the need to replace an outdoor PVC sign, the material is so cost-effective that an impromptu replacement shouldn’t cause much stress.

Recommended Applications of Expanded Plastics


There are so many signage materials out there to compare before choosing, so why use expanded PVC?

Much of your decision depends on the future circumstances of the sign. If you’re looking to mount it in an indoor space, PVC is ideal for almost all applications. It’s light, easy to install and comes in a range of weights. Outdoor applications still work as long as the sign isn’t permanent. Expanded PVC is great for sandwich boards and temporary sale signs that you’d bring inside overnight or in inclement weather.

Its low price point makes PVC useful for temporary and permanent use. If your company remodels often or is growing at a quick rate, more expensive options may not be the best for you. With PVC, you can easily match interior decor and branding styles, and if inspiration strikes and you want to order a new design, you can do so without wasting money.

You should also consider how often you’ll want or need to move the signs. For real estate companies or political campaigns, having portable signs that are easy to relocate is a huge benefit. It’s also an essential characteristic of trade show displays. Even for interior signage in offices, varied mounting capabilities and lightweight materials make moving much easier. PVC is light but rigid and durable, so you can move these signs without fear of damage.

SpeedPro Dayton

Studio Owners

Cody Scarberry and Sean Hohenstein