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Have you ever wondered why boat lettering is no longer painted but instead made with vinyl graphics?


A great way to illustrate the advantages of vinyl boat lettering is to examine the benefits of vinyl flooring. It's economical, durable, attractive, available in hundreds of colors, styles, designs and textures plus it's easy to install. That's quite a performance!
In the1970s, a process was developed to "cast" a layer of vinyl together with a layer of adhesive to create pin-stripes for the automobile industry. It took a few years for the public to realize that vinyl graphics were equal to paint in it's ability to withstand extreme outdoor conditions.
The challenge in those days was to find technology to cut the vinyl into usable shapes for the graphics industry. As luck would have it, the garment industry had developed software for plotters to cut woven material into patterns. This new automation was essential in launching the vinyl graphics revolution.
A graphics plotter is a electro-mechanical device that feeds and cuts material using a tractor (sprocket) fed or friction feed roller. It moves the material from left to right as a pointed blade lifts, drops, pivots and slides back and forth across the axis of the vinyl material. The blade tip perforates the vinyl layer with precisely enough pressure not to cut the waxy backing paper. The unusable vinyl around the lettering is then "weeded" away and discarded, leaving perfect lettering behind. A low-tack transfer tape is then applied and used to move the lettering from the waxy backing paper to the boat exactly as it was cut by the graphics system.
Software for vinyl graphics was painfully slow to evolve. For the first ten years lettering was done with a dedicated graphics machine only capable of producing one line of text at a time. Each letter style or "font" had it's own individual circuit card that would physically plug into the machine as it was needed. Having the computation power required to compose, execute and save a plot or print file for commercial purposes was a monumental challenge in those days. Amazingly, today's computing power can easily handle most graphic software requirements although mastering graphic software, as with most professions is not as easy as it looks. Hundreds of commands are necessary to address every possible digital enhancement when called for.
Printing onto vinyl has become an affordable way to display artistic images in recent years. This process requires special graphic design skills similar to other printing medium although outdoor graphics require enormous resolution for enlargement to meet commercial standards. The printer, inks and materials are specially made for UV resistance. Although vinyl printing is a major advancement in producing stunning outdoor artwork and photo images, the inks are not permenant unless coated with a clear laminate or laquer paint, adding to it's expense.
Most graphic materials are made the same way they were when first developed back in the '70s. In recent years, many "specialty" films have been introduced, adding luxury to the boat lettering and high-end graphics market. 22k "Gold Leaf" and Silver Leaf is now available in different patterns including Engine-Turn, Satin and Florentine Swirl. Other specialty films include Chrome, Imitation Gold Leaf, Diamond Plate, Reflective, Shade shifters, Ultra Metallics, Carbon Fiber, Camoflage etc...
Boat lettering has come a long way over the years however the most important aspects have not changed. The boat name should be proportionate to the size of the area it will go into. The colors should match or compliment any existing colors on the boat. The letter style should reflect the spirit of the boat name at the owners discression. Boat lettering should be permenant enough to last throughout the ownership of the boat.
Do-it-yourself web sites now make it fun to to design your boat name in minutes as you interact with a lettering program. When considering a mail-order boat name, keep in mind that the larger the graphic is (over 4" long), the more difficult it will be to apply due to the reach of your arms. Plan your application on a calm day and it you will achieve professional results every time.  Give it a try!