Comparing Vinyl and Poly
Both are synthetic substrates but which one is more suited to YOUR custom label project?
In custom label printing, the term “poly” is a bit nebulous as it can refer to a few different materials that all begin with the prefix “poly”: polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene. Both polyester and polypropylene are commonly used substrates at Sticky Business and although these materials have their differences, for the sake of simplicity and comparison to vinyl, let’s just lump them into a single category called “poly”, and apply distinctions when necessary.
Durability / Lifespan
The lifespan of a poly is generally shorter than the lifespan of a vinyl. However, some polyesters can possess greater durability than other members of the poly family, particularly if laminated or screen printed. Poly is a synthetic material and thereby resistant to moisture, temperature fluctuations, oil and mild chemicals, making them far more suitable labels for certain products than a paper substrate. Many polys are intended for indoor use, but depending on the strength of the adhesive, poly can be used outside for up to a year or so.
Vinyl substrates are manufactured to withstand harsh conditions and often claim to be weather and sun resistant for up to 3 or 4 years. Vinyl has greater stamina against moisture, grease, extreme temperatures, abrasion and caustic substances. Certain chemicals will corrode vinyl or its adhesive, but it is the best substrate option for labels that need to be durable in severe environments.
In many cases, polypropylene and polyester are more cost effective than vinyl because they are less durable. Polys are manufactured to be economically viable options for many label applications, however they are costlier than paper and there is a range of price depending on the specifications of the poly. Special polyesters that are a thicker grade of material or have unique properties like metallics are usually more expensive than polypropylene and sometimes even vinyl, depending on how specialized it is. Similarly, certain vinyl is more expensive than others because of distinctive properties, such as its finish or adhesive strength.
A wide array of options exists for both polys and vinyl. Vinyl is available with a high tack, standard, removable or static cling adhesive in both clear and white, but typically only the standard adhesive is applied to colored vinyl options, of which there are many! Vinyl can come in every color of the rainbow, but uses for solid colored vinyl are more limited in custom label printing since there is almost always text and graphics printed, which is better achieved using ink on a white substrate.
Polypropylene also comes in clear and white with the gamut of adhesive choices, but also offers a freezer adhesive that is particularly good for packaging that will go in the freezer. White or clear polypropylene are commonly used to produce window decals with a face-side adhesive, those used indoors to be read outside the window. Many of the metallic-looking substrates, such as brite or brushed silver are often polyesters, but it can depend on print method whether the metallic-looking substrate is a vinyl or a poly. Our available options for wide format printing on reflective or pearl stocks are both vinyl.
Vinyl and polys can both be printed flexographically and digitally, but many presses are limited by the substrate options that are available and compatible with them. Our wide format digital presses, which are especially advantageous and cost effective for short run orders, use a lot of high-quality vinyl. This occasionally creates confusion when clients request quotes for 100 labels on a white gloss paper and then receive a quote for 100 labels on a white gloss vinyl. The reason is that we always try to quote the most economical option for the quantity requested, even in instances where the substrate might be a little overkill for its application. However, we are always happy to discuss your project’s unique specifications and explain the various MOQs for different print methods.
Polypropylene gets a lot of action on digital presses these days because of its cost and versatility. Poly is perhaps the most suitable substrate to use in conjunction with laser cutters because the material is more resistant to burning than paper. A thin brown line along the edge of the cut-line can be visible when the laser burns the substrate, which is more noticeable with a white background or border.
Some of the most durable vinyl and polyesters are only available for screen printing, which use special inks for long-lasting impact and tooling dies to create the cut line. Thus, if you want a screen-printed decal with a special custom shape, you should expect to incur a custom die charge on your first order.
Like most variables in custom label printing, the choice between a poly and a vinyl can be distilled down to three factors: application, availability and desired appearance. But don’t worry, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of substrates and print methods and suitable options. That’s why we’re here! You are going to be the best judge of where your labels are going and what you want them to look like and if you provide us with this information, we can help devise the best sticky solution to fulfill your labeling needs.