An attractive advantage: How sign shops can leverage the power of magnets

Photo © Ikonoklastfotografie |

Photo © Ikonoklastfotografie |

By Zigfrid Tijunelis and Michael Althoff

Magnets surround us every day, in our many gadgets and as invisible helpers with our daily tasks. Even our planet has a magnetic field.

Do you use magnets in your sign shop? If we had to guess, we would say about 95 per cent of shops probably have some kind of magnet in their toolbox. Signmakers use them as clamps when manufacturing channel letters. Printers use printable magnetic media to create various signs. Vehicle wrappers use magnets to hold and position vinyl on a vehicle’s body. Even office managers use them to hold up charts and boards.

Indeed, magnets play a significant role in every sign shop’s regular activities. How and when did this all start? 

The initial attraction

About 20 years ago, magnets emerged in the graphics industry as tools to hold and align self-adhesive graphics onto vehicles. The first styles shops used were just simple ferromagnets, but they were discovered to heavily scratch the surfaces of the cars or the graphics. As a result, rubber-coated magnets quickly came into use as an alternative.

However, as most vendors or suppliers of those magnets did not do their proper research, a dangerous mix of toxic rubber with outgassing plasticizers was introduced into the application process.

Once those magnets came into contact with car paint—especially new cars with fresh paint jobs—they caused chemical reactions with the polymers in the paint. In the worst-case scenario, combustion would occur underneath the first layer of paint, resulting in the installer having to repaint the car at their expense.

Now, responsible manufacturers or suppliers of rubber-coated magnets are careful to offer food-graded rubber coats, to avoid getting installers and their customers into any undesirable situations.

Safe handling and storage

When it comes to magnetic power, most think the rule is “the stronger, the better.” However, this is just a half-truth. While there is no doubt the bigger, larger, and heavier the graphic, the more powerful the magnet should be, there are still certain rules to follow.

An industrial-applied magnet must be shortcut, to reduce exposure to its full power. This is to protect the user or other instruments present while working with or storing the magnetic tool. If it is not shortcut properly, pacemakers can be set out of order or credit cards can be destroyed while handling a two-sided exposing magnet. The magnet should be transported either closed with another magnet or “parked” on a good-sized piece of steel, to prevent its magnetic power from affecting other objects.

Ultimately, you should not have any two-sided magnets on you or in your toolbox, unless you shortcut them with steel plates or other magnets to secure them. Installers do not always consider the potential consequences of using these magnets, but it is mandatory to handle them responsibly and with care.

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