Paper, chalkboard, mirrors, oh my! It's daunting enough choosing materials to bring the vision for your big day to life, but have you also considered the environmental impact? Below, we break down the pros and cons of various signage materials as well as discussing some of the impact to our planet.
Looking back over the last eight years that L&D has been creating wedding details and specifically day of signage, watching the trends shift has given rise to an interesting internal struggle. L&D was created by recognizing that many signs needed in weddings, did not need to be a one time use, and either kept by the couple—who would want to keep a 200 person seating chart in their home—or toss them in garbage. This was around the time that chalkboards became a popular choice for use, and from there making the jump to renting chalkboard signs that could then be returned and reused by dozens of couples. This also typically allowed couples to on average spend less money for "custom" signs being that they were rentals, and could also be placed in different frames to be more versatile.
Next up were re-useable wood signs and mirrors, which changed the industry again as couples now had either a more rustic / organic option as well as a more glam / romantic direction in mirrors. These, along with chalkboards, were most typically being hand-lettered with chalk and chalk or water based paint pens, which you can erase with Windex.
Then there was a major shift into acrylic. Clear acrylic, solid core acrylic, painted acrylic, it gave rise to so many more aesthetics and themes or color stories that the options really became limitless. What also came along with this, was a sudden realization that this material was not nearly as reusable as chalkboards, mirrors and wood signs. Frequently, when couples reach out about their day of needs, many of them are wanting to create as little waste from their wedding as possible—which, hell yes, weddings create so much trash it's insane, and the first option they jump to is acrylic, with the rational that it is reusable. While this is true, it is only so to a certain extent. That is why it is important we actually look at the pros and cons of each material option for your celebration:
Pros: Chalkboards are versatile and can be used for a variety of wedding signs, from seating charts to menus. They can be purchased pre-made or can be created using chalkboard paint which also comes in many colors. Chalkboards are versatile, can be reused for different events many many times, many in my inventory have been used 50+ times with new chalkboard paint in between to touch up scratches.
Cons: They can be difficult to read from a distance, and the chalk may smudge or rub off if not sealed properly, although using chalk pens or water based paint pens tends to solve this problem.
Environmental Impact: Chalkboards themselves are relatively low impact, as they are typically made from slate or other natural materials. However, using chalk or chalk markers can generate waste and may contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.
Pros: Wooden signs are a classic choice for weddings, can be painted or stained to match the wedding theme and are quite durable. They can be made from various types of wood, such as plywood, reclaimed wood, or pallet wood and sealed to actually become reusable with chalk pens or vinyl.
Cons: They can be heavy and difficult to transport, and they may warp or crack if exposed to moisture or extreme temperatures.
Environmental Impact: The environmental impact of wooden signs depends on the type of wood used and how it was harvested. Opting for reclaimed or salvaged wood can reduce the impact, as it reduces the need for new logging. However, if the wood is sourced from non-sustainable forests or if excessive amounts of energy are used in the manufacturing process, it can have negative environmental impacts. The chemicals used to seal the wood so it can be useable also has it's own impact. While we do get many uses out of each of our wood signs, they can be scratched and damaged to the point of needing to be disposed of, which, with the sealant makes them not recyclable.
Pros: Acrylic signs are modern and sleek, and can be customized with text, graphics, or even photos. They can be clear, frosted, or colored, and can be mounted on stands or hung from the ceiling. They are a very versatile option and can be cut into unique shapes as well as layered and cut with a laser cutter.
Cons: They can be expensive, can scratch or crack if dropped or mishandled, and may reflect light in a way that makes them difficult to read. They can be damaged by cleaning chemicals and can only be reused a handful of times based on the finish before they must be cut down and used for other purposes, or inevitably be thrown out.
Environmental Impact: Acrylic signs are typically made from petroleum-based plastics, which have a high carbon footprint and can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. However, some companies offer recycled or biodegradable acrylic options that can be more sustainable, but unfortunately these are not "on trend" with many wedding looks. At L&D we try to get the most use out of our acrylic as possible, and larger pieces that can no longer be used are cut down and used for other projects like making bases etc. Unfortunately, there is still acrylic that will end up in landfills and it's impact is huge. Custom printed acrylic (not vinyl graphics or hand lettering) cannot be reused and go straight to the landfills.
Pros: Fabric signs can add a soft, romantic touch to a wedding. They can be made from canvas, burlap, linen, velvet, silk, and even more options and can be painted or printed with custom designs. They are also lightweight and easy to transport.
Cons: They can be delicate and may require special care to avoid wrinkling or staining on the day of.
Environmental Impact: The environmental impact of fabric signs depends on the type of fabric used and how it was produced. Opting for natural fibers like organic cotton or linen, or recycled materials, can reduce the impact. However, synthetic fabrics made from polyester or other petrochemicals can have a high environmental impact. One possibility for recycling printed fabric, or at least giving it a longer life is to sew it into keepsakes like pillows a throw blanket etc. Some of the larger pieces I also cut down to use for cleaning rags.
PAPER / FOAM CORE SIGNS
Pros: Paper signs are a budget-friendly option and can be easily customized with text, graphics, photos and calligraphy. They can be printed on cardstock, kraft paper, or even vellum, and can be framed or hung with string. Paper signs are lightweight and easy to transport.
Cons: They can be delicate and may rip or tear if not handled carefully, and may not hold up well in outdoor settings or in humid conditions. Frames are a good thought if outdoors at a windy location.
Environmental Impact: Paper signs and their impact depends on the type of paper used and whether it was produced sustainably. Choosing recycled or FSC-certified paper can reduce the impact, as can minimizing the amount of paper used. Paper can also be shredded down to use for packing materials, or cut down to note size and written on as scratch paper - again with the goal being to extend the life as much as possible. Foam core is a more rigid option for printing signs and holds up better during the event, and is recyclable, but typically must be taken to a recycling center.
This is an overwhelming amount of information and we encourage couples to talk with their stationer or day of designer about what is important to them in regards to desired look, what sign materials are practical for your setting, and also how to reduce their environmental impact. From the L&D standpoint, painted back acrylic is the least eco friendly option as the paint colors tend to not be as popular to reuse, removing the paint takes a lot of harmful chemicals and ruins the finish, and lasercutting paint is not recommended. One solution we propose to couples wanting this look is to do signs they will want to keep in their homes as painted back, typically a welcome and a bar sign as those two are fun keepsakes, and then we do the rest of the signage in the rental materials of clear, frosted, black or white. They still look cohesive by keeping the same fonts throughout and adding illustrations.
A last point to be brought up is that in the last few years there has been a shift to using vinyl on signs for that more perfect, modern look. L&D has made this change more out of necessity than being on trend. As a mom of small kids, I needed to be able to work more quickly, which vinyl allows for. The tradeoff is that removing the vinyl creates more waste, both with the actual vinyl pieces and the chemicals used to remove it. This is the internal struggle I mentioned, having created a company out of seeing an unnecessary waste that could be reduced by rental options, only to come full circle and now be facing the fact that I am creating more of that waste, just in a different process. If you feel passionately about this, please opt for hand lettering on you items—just tell us when you inquire that it is important to you! The best thing we can do is continue educating within the industry as well as making information easily available to those planning weddings and other events.
Want to discuss these points further? Reach out! This post is based on my personal experience running this business and the research I have been able to find, but I am open to learning more and working together to make better changes within the wedding industry and for our environment!