Ask the Expert: Cast vs. Calendered Vinyl

Written October 17, 2019

This question comes up frequently when members call in with questions, and particularly when someone is looking to save money on a project. Inevitably, callers want to know if they can substitute a “calendered” vinyl in an application that really requires a “cast” vinyl. First off, it helps to understand the differences between the two, which should help you determine which vinyl will work in your application. Both cast and calendered vinyls use the same basic raw ingredients: PVC (polyvinylchloride), plasticizers to give flexibility, pigments for coloring and a few other additives.

Cast Vinyl
Cast vinyl starts in a liquid state and the ingredients are mixed together and then poured onto a casting sheet. This sheet travels along a long conveyor or moving web and through a group of ovens which evaporates the solvents, leaving behind a solid vinyl or film. This is wound up in large rolls and is later coated with an adhesive. This process allows the vinyl to be in a relaxed state, which results in a very thin and flexible vinyl that is conformable (hence an ideal product for wrapping vehicles with their complex curves).  Cast vinyls are more durable than calendered vinyl, with many cast products rated at seven or more years of outdoor durability.

Calendered Vinyl
Calendered vinyls (also known as intermediate or short-term vinyls) is a molten mixture that is extruded through a die, followed by a series of calendering rolls. This process makes for a thicker vinyl (3 to 6-mil is typical) and this vinyl has a memory which does not lead to it being dimensionally stable. Calendered vinyls are good for flat surfaces or simple curves.

The calendering rollers will determine the appearance of the vinyl. In the same manner as the cast vinyl, this product is wound up in large rolls and later coated with an adhesive. Calendered vinyls are usually rated at one to seven years of outdoor durability (this depends heavily on the quality and grade of the raw ingredients). Calendered vinyls also will “shrink” more than cast vinyls.

It is very important to match up vinyl type (cast or calendered) with the appropriate over-laminate. It is almost never recommended to mix a cast vinyl with a calendered laminate. On occasion, you may see a premium calendered vinyl matched with a cast over-laminate, but this is the exception and not the rule.

This is one of the reasons manufacturers will sell their vehicle wrapping vinyls and laminates in a matched set and also why it is important to understand that the warranties offered often depend on these vinyls and over-laminates matching.

Understanding the boundaries of these materials and where they will serve you best allows you to determine which one is best for your particular application. Now go out there and wrap something!