There are 3 types of materials widely used to mount graphics. They are Foamcore, Gatorfoam, and PVC which is commonly referred to as Sintra. Yes – I know that there are many other graphic substrates including polystyrene, sign blank, coroplast, fabric and Plexiglas (to name a few) but these three are the most common and widely used rigid materials.
The reason many retail sign shops use Foamcore is because it is easy to work with and the least expensive way to mount graphics. It is easy to cut with basic tools like a razor knife or other table cutters that do not require power. Foamcore has two deterrents that make it less desirable for use in the trade show industry. 1. It is very susceptible to damage, especially to corner dings, and 2. It tends to warp.
So what is Foamcore? Foamcore is a Styrofoam center sandwiched between two semi-gloss white papercoatings. It comes in a variety of packaged sizes but is stocked by most graphics companies in 4 foot by 8 foot sheets that are either 3/16’s of an inch thick or ½” thick. Foamcore (at 3/16” thick) costs about $15 per sheet. If you are looking for the lowest cost and one time (or very limited) use of a graphic then Foamcore could be the solution. Make sure you are putting it into a frame or velcroing it to a wall so it does not warp.
The next step above Foamcore would be Gatorfoam. Gatorfoam has a very rigid coating which is resistant to moisture, unlike Foamcore. Gatorfoam is not an acid free material, so you should be very careful before using it for displays in museums or similar permanent archives. Gatorfoam has a polystyrene foam center encased between layers of a melamine and wood fiber veneer. Gatorfoam (also known as Gatorboard) has a much harder outer surface and resists warping. Gatorfoam is better suited for rigid easel signs and graphics that need to last for longer periods of time. Gatorfoam is significantly more expensive then Foamcore at $60 per comparable sheet.
Here at Exhibit Edge we almost exclusively use and recommend the brand name material called Sintra. Sintra is a lightweight yet rigid board of polyvinyl chloride (otherwise known as PVC). It is extruded into a flat sheet with a low gloss matte finish.
Why Choose Sintra?
It is lightweight yet rigid and durable. It can easily be formed into just about any shape imaginable using wood fabrication techniques, and has superior dent and scratch resistance. You can bend it without breaking it which means it will stand up much better for shipping and longtime use. Try bending Foamcore like you can with PVC – you can’t. Sintra is stocked in the same 4 by 8 sheets. Thicknesses are compared to 3/16 and ½ sizes of Foamcore but are measured in 3 millimeter and 6 millimeter sizes instead. Sintra costs around $35 per comparable sheet.
My advice when looking for a quality graphic substrate is to always choose PVC over Foamcore or Gatorfoam for trade show applications.