Monday, October 17, 2005

HOW WE MAKE BANNERS --Detailed Instructions

How we make FREEWAY BANNERS (as of September, 2005).


All the materials we use are readily available from home maintenance & repair stores (Lowe’s or Home Depot), garden supply stores or nursery’s and office supply stores (Office Max, Staples, Office Depot, etc.).

The best thing about these banners is that they are highly visible but lightweight and don’t catch a lot of wind. The second best thing is that all the materials are reusable.

After the first few times you will be able to set the banners up and take them down in 5 minutes. Once you make a set of poles you can use them for any length banner from 6 to 24 feet.

Capitalism is a restless system, so the materials described here are subject to change over time. For example, we sent a friend out recently to buy a roll of “Homewrap”. He came back with “Housewrap”, a new but slightly inferior product. Another example is broom handles. We use sections of broom handle to make joiners between two poles. I discovered recently that you can get two different diameters of broom handle from the same brand broom in the same store. Anyway, paying attention to these kinds of small details can save you time and frustration. In short, what I'm saying here isn’t gospel.

I’m not going to try to explain every bit of thought that went into how we do these banners. Suffice it to say that most of our techniques have something to do with the balancing act between gravity, wind, money, time, simplicity and most importantly, visibility. Oh ya, and the laws against permanently attaching anything to a freeway overpass.

I'm writing this with the assumption you have a little mechanical aptitude but not much.
The 6 basic ingredients:

Tyvek Home Wrap (Home Depot carries it) about $39 to $130 a roll depending on the size. Any white plastic material will work but Tyvek is the easiest to remove the staples from so you’ll be able to reuse the letters. By the way, the Tyvek used in FedEx envelopes is a better grade than HomeWrap. It’s just that the envelopes are harder to come by and it’s time consuming to take them apart.

Garden shade cloth, ( the cheaper type is better in my opinion) $1.40 or so a foot.

See a picture on this website of the kind we are fond of:
You can buy shade cloth from hardware stores, nurseries or off the Internet. I used to buy the Coolaroo brand but the cheaper stuff is lighter and works just as well. You can probably find it at Home Depot. I bought a large amount off the internet from International Greenhouse Company, (12 by 100 feet). It worked out to a little over a dollar per panel foot, including shipping.

To tie things together we use Cable (or zip) ties (7 inch or longer), It takes about 100 ties per banner. If you think you'll make 10 banners buy a bag of 1000 cable ties for about $30.

We use threaded wood cone adapters to connect the poles to each other (about $2 each) (you get these from window-cleaning supply stores). If you don’t have a store nearby you can buy them online. You need one for each pole. Get some spares.

We use 12 foot telescoping “extension” poles for making banner poles. ( you’ll need 5 for a 12 to 24 foot banner, but only 3 for a 6 to 12 foot banner. (any brand with an internal locking mechanism will do the job). Home Depot just switched to a new version that seems sturdier. The poles cost about $15 a piece. You can pay twice as much at a window supply store if you want to get professional grade poles. You can also buy shorter 8 foot poles if you think that’s all you’ll need

Staples (see below).

Tools needed for making the banners:

Letter, number, and symbol templates

“SharpieMarkers for tracing letters

Scissors for cutting out letters (if you find a good scissors sharpener let us know)

12 inch “Swingline” long-reach metal staplers for attaching the letters (About $25 plus tax) at the evil corporate Office Max. The evil corporate “Staples” store carries the same stapler for $27.59 plus tax.

Swingline S.F. 4 premium staples” work better with the stapler above. Cost $2.85 for a box of 5,000 at evil corporate “Staples”. You can always buy these at other office supply stores.

Flat Staple removers (not the claw type) for removing letters. Cost $2.15 each at evil corporate “Staples”. You can buy these at other office supply stores too.

Ice pick or sharp punch
It helps to have a pointy metal punch for making starter holes for the cable ties in the shade cloth.

Snippers (small wire cutters) in case you make a mistake with a cable tie and need to remove it.
The first step is to make some templates for tracing the letters onto the Tyvek. We generally use 16” high letters for long distance freeway overpass banners and 7” letters for street level banners. Sometimes we mix the two sizes when we are trying to squeeze a slogan onto a banner. You can use any style of lettering you want but we usually stick to blocky styles because they have the best visibility. We don’t want people driving off the road trying to read our banners.
The 7 inch letters are pretty easy. You can blow them up on computer printers and photo copy machines. Printing the 16 inch letters will cost you about $2 each at a copy shop on their special copy machine.

[Here’s a somewhat experimental way to get around the $2 charge for the large letters using a normal photocopy machine. Take a thick marker (a sharpie marker should work good) and draw a vertical and horizontal line on each letter dividing them into 4 equal quarters. I’m talking about dividing the letters themselves not the sheets of paper the letters are printed on. Now fold the letters into quarters down the middle of the thick lines and photocopy each quarter section seperately.
Set the copier to blow up (enlarge) to whatever percent --can you tell I haven’t actually done this yet-- will give you the 16” tall letters. Make sure you position each sheet you are copying on the machine about 1/8th inch out from the side, where the machine will pick up the thick lines you drew. Experiment or ask a technician to help you. Getting these lines to print will help you line up the four enlarged quarters when you tape them together to make the big letters. Don’t curse me, if this turns out to be tedious and time consuming.

After you get your paper letters trace them onto some dense cardboard or dense plastic sheeting. Old cardboard yard signs work good for this. Cut the letters out of the cardboard to get the final templates. You might be able to save a step by printing the letters directly onto card stock.
It is also possible, at least for the smaller letters, to avoid to the need to make templates by simply printing the letters directly onto Tyvek. To do this you’ll have to cut the Tyvek into 8 ½ by 11 inch sheets that you'll be able to feed through an inkjet printer. Set your computer to print open faced, or outline letters so you don’t waste so much ink. DON’T TRY THIS ON A LASER PRINTER! Tyvek is made out of the same material as plastic milk bottles, and you guessed it –IT MELTS!
Just so you know, some Professional Print Shops actually carry Tyvek paper but it's expensive.

We use garden shade cloth because large banners catch a lot of wind and the shade cloth lets some of it through. Imagine walking in a windstorm carrying a door as opposed to carrying a screen door. Shade cloth comes in different grades. We have always used 70% shade. You can use lower grades or just a single thickness (we double it) if you prefer wispy ghostlike banners.

Cut the shade cloth 36 inches wide and as long as you want your banner to be. Our banners are often 16 feet long. Fold the cloth in half lengthwise and crease it by walking on it and rubbing it with your hands. Your newly folded panel is 18 inches high. You will have an inch to spare on the top and bottom as you lay out your 16-inch letters. Or you have room for 2 rows of 7-inch letters. Once you get the letters laid out tack them down with a stapler. Use the staple puller if you make a mistake or change your mind. After you get everything right, take a 12” stapler (or two) and staple everything down. Put about 10 or 12 staples in each letter, depending on how rough you are on your banners. Make sure you staple down the corners of the letters to keep them from getting folded over from the wind or from someone stepping on them.

If you can’t get everything you need to say on one panel, make a second panel and tie it below the first panel with cable ties. Use 7” cable ties and leave them loose so you have a 2” gap between the top and bottom panel. This gap helps with wind resistance. Stop pushing the cable ties together after you hear the first click. That's how to keep an even 2" gap.

We have found through experience that it is not a good idea to go higher than two banner panels. We built a very impressive three panel banner one time. When the wind came up it looked like one of those old movies clips of people trying to invent the first airplane.

Making virtual sleeves for the banner poles to run through:
Put cable ties across the top of the banner to hang it from the top pole. Also, put about 12 evenly spaced cable ties along the sides of each panel. Tighten the cable ties only until you hear the first click and make sure you line the ties up straight vertically on the cloth.


Take two telescopic extension poles and remove the end caps off the large or butt ends. Use a knife or a hacksaw depending on which brand pole you bought. Be careful not to damage the internal cam mechanism. It’s on the end of each internal section of pole. In order to fit two 12 foot poles together you need a piece of broom or mop handle to hold the butt ends together.
I found a 12 inch section of fiberglass mop handle with a 2 7/8 inch circumference that works great. I scraped and sanded it down until one end could be pounded permanently into one of the cross bar poles. Then I sand down the other end a bit more until it can be freely slipped in and out of the other horizontal pole.
If you aren’t so lucky as to find a nice piece of fiberglass handle try using a metal handle. Wrap some duct tape around it if you need to increase it's diameter. An eighth of an inch of duct tape makes a difference in how snug it will be. Nashua makes the best duct tape. Use a piece of emory cloth (very fine sand paper) to smooth out the opening of the pole so the duct taped section will slide in without snagging. You might be able to use a piece of wooden handle or dowel. I haven’t tried it because wood swells when it gets wet. But maybe you could put some wax or oil on it to keep it from soaking up water when you use your poles in the rain

It is a good idea to drive a plug down into the horizontal pole that has the open end so that dirt won’t get in it. This will also keep the inteior section of the pole from accidentally slipping out. After you do this, you might put a cable tie or two around the top of the interior pole to keep it from sliding down and knocking the plug out.

For short banners between 6 to 12 feet you only need one crossbar. A good solution to using one pole is making a plug to put into the open ended horizontal pole you made above. Probably the best way to get a threaded plug is to extract, or saw it off the end of a metal broom handle. Then wrap enough duct tape around it so you can slide it snuggly into the end of the pole but still be able to pull it out again later. That’s it. Now you have a single pole that is threaded on both ends.
HORIZONTAL POLES Step 2, Corner pieces:
Drill a 5/16 inch hole through each threaded wooden cone a little less than half way down from the male end.
Take two cones and tie them together by running 4 cable ties through the holes you drilled. Tie them together into a T shaped corner piece. Keep the cable ties a little loose so the corner will be able to flex (I’ll post a picture of this pretty soon). Make two of these corner pieces and screw them on the ends of the horizontal poles.

THE UPRIGHT POLES. The upright poles are good just the way you bought them, except for the center pole. Take a wood cone and run 3 cable ties through the hole you drilled. Leave the cable ties loose enough so that an extension pole will slip through it easily. Screw this cone onto the top of an extension pole and you have your center upright vertical pole.

Use three poles for banners from 6 to 12 feet and 5 poles for banners 12 to 24 feet long.

  1. Make sure you have the T-shaped wood corner pieces screwed onto the ends of the two horizontal poles.
  2. Run each horizontzl pole through the virtual sleeve of cable ties across the top of the banner and join the poles in the middle.
    Hold it! Before pushing the two poles together slip one of the horizontal poles through the loop on the end of the center upright pole.
  3. Run the side poles up through the cable tie virtual sleeves on the side of the banner and screw them into the corner pieces.
  4. Look it over and see if you need to redo anything. Look very carefully at the corners. This is where things usually get goofed up.
  5. Adjust the tension on the banner by adjusting the length of the top poles. Make sure the side uprights are being held at right angles to the top pole while you are doing this tensioning.
  6. Elevate your banner to the desired height and tighten all the poles (not too tight!).

BANNER DISPLAY: What is behind the banner makes a difference in how visible it is. In fact, we have noticed that sometimes if the sun is directly behind a banner the lettering becomes completely invisible to people looking up at it. Some brands of shade cloth might be worse than others. We haven’t totally figured this out yet.

ELBOWING BANNER POLES: This usually happens when you elevate the banner and one of the horizontal and vertical poles get stuck at less than a 90 degree angle.
It's the same effect as when you put your elbow inside your coat sleeve instead of your hand. The solution is to bring the banner back down and push the cable ties toward the corner until the elbow loosens up. The other option is ripping the banner.

SAFETY VESTS: When displaying a banner, not only is it safer, it makes you look like responsible, upstanding members of the community.
The NWfreeway blogger calls safety vests “the cloak of power”:
I couldn’t agree more. Safety vests will also likely improve the attitude of the police.

DEALING WITH POLICE: We haven’t been harassed by the police in over a year. My shortest advice is to know the law, hold your ground and wait for the good cop to show up.

POLES: The poles have an internal locking mechanism that engages whether you twist the pole to the left or the right. Don’t make them too tight. It can be a real pain to loosen them up. You can also strip the internal locking mechanism. We suggest that you use caution when locking the poles. You can always re-tighten them if you need to.
On the remote chance that dirt somehow gets inside a pole it can jam things up. Wash it out with water.

More tips:

Alternative non-adjustable $3 upright poles:
Take a 2 1/2 inch diameter PVC pipe and cut it to the length you want. Drill a 13/16 inch hole in the end of it. In the other side of the pipe directly opposite this hole drill an 11/16th inch hole. Now you can run a cross pole through the larger hole and screw the threads into the smaller hole.
Trick: you can take the bow out of the center of the crossbar by drillinging the 11/16th inch holes an 8th of an inch lower. If you need a center pole drill a pair of 7/8 inch holes through the end of a PVC pipe.

Last tip:
You can accurately measure the circumference of a pole by wrapping a shopping receipt around it and marking the paper at the point where it overlaps itself. Then measure this paper with a ruler. Thanks to Emmia for editing.

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