The president of MLE, Inc., an Illinois-headquartered merchandising and sign solutions company, Mike Loftus has grown his business from a startup to a company with over $25 million in revenue. Possessing a personal interest in signs and vinyl graphics, Mike Loftus of MLE enjoys learning about the history of and new developments within the field.
Vinyl was first created in 1937 by a team of 3M engineers. This early version of the material was created as a reflective product for a roadway median. While the reflectivity certainly surpassed that of regular paint, the adhesive was lacking in strength and the strips soon began to peel off the road.
Rather than attempt again, the team focused on creating reflective sheeting for road signs. The improved adhesive clung to the signs much better and within a couple years reflective signs became the norm.
Despite having existed for nearly 20 years, it was not until 1956 that vinyl started being used to create emblems and signs. Film casting was developed in the 1940s and non-reflective lettering came about in 1953, but it was in 1956 that the first pressure-sensitive vinyl was created. This new vinyl brought about increased color availability and usage options for vinyl.
Over the next several decades, vinyl experienced a few more innovations, including the introduction of display film for short-term signs in 1960 and film color expansions.
By the 1980s, the first vinyl plotter was created. Vinyl plotters cut graphics onto vinyl sheets that have an adhesive backing and can be applied to virtually any surface. This allowed for the creation of uniform vinyl images on translucent film and far surpassed the previous sign creation methods of screen printing and spraypainting. Graphic vinyls quickly grew in popularity and became the staple of sign production by the mid-1990s.