What’s the difference between vinyl lettering and digital printing?

There are a few things to know about digital printing and vinyl lettering for signage. At Miracle Sign Co., we use both for a variety of custom design sign projects. So what’s the difference between digital printing and vinyl lettering? For one, vinyl lettering has been around a lot longer than digital printing. As a matter of fact, we bought our first Gerber Vinyl Plotter over twenty years ago – it only had four letter-styles or fonts at the time. Today, it’s got over 1000!

We’ve since upgraded and also have two large format digital printers, a Roland and a Mimaki. But, we’ll get to that a later. Let’s first define vinyl and digital and then talk about the other difference between the two, including the pros and cons of each type.

What is vinyl lettering?

Vinyl lettering is lettering made from a resin plastic made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It’s pliable or flexible and similar to leather. Vinyl lettering always involves a plotter.

What is digital printing?

Digital printing is the printing of an image from a digital source – PDFs or graphic software – onto a surface material. Digital printing always involves a computer.

What are the differences between vinyl lettering and digital printing?

  1. Lifespan: Vinyl lettering lasts longer than digital printing. That’s because digital ink fades over time compared to lettering made out of PVC or resin plastic. For instance, an outdoor Tuff-Weave banner finished with vinyl letter may last up to ten years. But, this doesn’t rule out choosing digital printing for an outdoor sign project. Any digital printing will benefit from an extra layer of laminate-protection to increase its lifespan, especially if the digitally-printed sign is for short term use on a field or parking lot, enhancing its appearance and surface qualities at the same time. There’s so much more to laminate than meets the eye; so, stay turned for a future blog post on the topic.
  2. Cost: We wish there was an easy answer to this one, but there isn’t. It really comes down to your signage needs and wants. Granted, digital printing may have a quicker turn around time during the  production phase, but this doesn’t take into account if the image was custom-designed, the size of the print, lamination, and above all else, the purpose of the sign. If the sign is for outdoor use, you’ll end up having to replace a “cheaper” digital printed sign more often than a vinyl one – vinyl lasts longer. So again, cost depends on your sign project purpose first and materials second. Keep this in mind when shopping around for sign shops because at Miracle Sign Co., we see your sign project as a custom production process and not just as a finished piece of material.
  3. Appearance: The most obvious difference between the look of vinyl lettering and the look of digital printing is that vinyl lettering features two or three prominent colored letters on a solid banner background. We’ve heard vinyl lettering described as “blocky,” “basic,” “traditional,” and “simple.” On the other hand, digital printing has a photo-like quality. Many more colors can be used to show text, images, and pictures. The substrate or material used in digital printing usually “becomes one” with the digital image.


If you’re wondering about what sign materials and brands we use at Miracle Sign Co., check out the blog posts on Vehicles and Banners, Promo Signage, and Interior Signage.