A company called Speedpress sells a pretty nice looking tool for applying vinyl to banners or coro yard signs, etc. It essentially reuses a single piece of apptape over and over, while also allowing you to look down through the tape to accurately align multi-colors or center your vinyl on your coros.
Again, pretty sweet. But, it's also $250+, depending on the size. Forget that. I know the good people at Speedpress are trying to make a living, but so am I. Someday I'll buy one, I promise.
Anyway, here's the Speedpress:
And here's how to make my $5 version of it, copied from a forum post I made a while back:
This is my $5.02 version of the SpeedPress. I have a 20 18x24 double sided coro order coming up tomorrow and I was looking at my roll of Rtape AT-42 (only tape i use) and not looking forward to throwing a good portion of it in the garbage can doing the signs. I have seen the SpeedPress before and it's a pretty good idea, but I like building shit and not buying it.
So I sketched up a quick design and went to Lowes. $5.02 later (minus tax) I have below.
(1) 10' length of 3/4" Schedule 40 PVC - $1.78
(4) 3/4" PVC elbows - $0.96
(1) 5/8" x 48" dowel rod - $1.98 (I splurged and bought the poplar because they were straighter, lol)
(6) 1/4-20 x 1-1/2" carriage bolts
Other stuff I had that you might need to buy, depending on what you have lying around:
4 screws (black drywall screws in photo below, but just about any screw 1-1/4" or so will work)
4 eyescrews (I had some hooks that I bent closed)
Drill and bits
Hacksaw or PVC pipe cutter (much, much nicer. If you do any work at all with PVC, buy one now)
Optional, but recommended:
Note: This is for a 18x24 version. I cut some longer pieces for use with a 24x36 sign, more on that later.
First: Cut two pieces of PVC 27.5" long. (24" for apptape width + 2" for extra width + 1.5" for allowance of elbows). Then, cut two pieces 21.5" long. Assemble these with the elbows. DO NOT GLUE THE JOINTS. It will probably be a little out of whack, just put it under your feet and tweak it until it sits flat on your table.
Next: Cut the dowel in half, drill small holes in all 4 resulting ends and screw the eyehooks in so they are oriented the same way.
At this point, it should look like this:
Next: Drill holes in the corners on the elbows. These should be slightly smaller than the carriage bolts, so they thread in, rather than fall in. If you dont have the right sized drill, you can glue them, but make sure the square part under the head of the bolt doesn't go in the hole. You need the head and the square to set the gap from the table.
Next: Turn the unit over and center your dowel on the long pieces of PVC and mark below the eyebolts on the PVC OPPOSITE THE CARRIAGE SCREWS. Drill a small hole to allow your screw in. Screw the dowel to the PVC through the eyebolts LOOSELY. The dowel needs to be able to move up and down about 1/8".
Loading it with apptape
Turn the unit over so the carriage bolts (bottom) is up. Cut a piece of apptape sticky side up, leaving about 6" on each side of the legs:
Turn the dowel side to face you and thread the app tape between the dowel and the PVC. You can pull the dowel down to allow the tape to slide easier:
Leave yourself enough tape hanging down to wrap it around the dowel and back onto the sticky bottom of the tape (ignore the lousy job I did, try to do better, but it isn't terribly critical, unless you really wrinkle it up):
Next, turn the unit around and do the same thing on the other side. It's easier to get this side tight and straight. Try to pull the tape fairly taught, you don't want it to sag in the middle.
Now check your gap underneath between the table and the clear tape. It should be a consistent 1/4" or so all the way. I'll skip ahead to the tensioning screws at this point, because if it's sagging, you need to tighten it up.
Drill two holes on the ends of the PVC where it meets the elbow and thread in some bolts. See the picture for a better explanation, but you can hold the elbows and twist upwards on the bolts to wrap up some of the tape and tighten the sag up: This is why we didn't glue the joints.
Now place your vinyl on the table (it needs to be laying flat, not curled up) and place the unit over the top of it. Get it centered and squeegee the apptape down from the center out, lifting the vinyl up:
Flip it over and peel the backer off:
This is with the backer peeled off and flipped back over, you can see the gap to the table that will allow you to position the coro:
Depending on your tape, it is AWESOME lining up coro below using this tool. Before, I would cut the backer paper/apptape close to the vinyl to get a good measurement from the edges of the substrate to the lettering. Using this method, you can almost eyeball it all the way. My job this week is on the house-shaped signs, so it will be a cakewalk lining up the stroked border with the edges.
Do the same thing as before: Start in the middle and squeegee outwards to apply the vinyl to the coro (or whatever).
Flip the unit over:
Now comes the tricky part: Peel the sign away from the tape without pulling it too loose. A combination of quick snaps and slow pulling seemed to work best. Remember, you can retighten the tape if it sags.
Lastly, you can make the cross pieces any size you want. I cut some pieces 39.5" long to make a frame for a 24x36 sign, all you have to do is swap the non-dowel pieces out:
You will most likely need to put some carriage bolts in the center of the longer pieces to keep it from sagging, I haven't tried it yet though.
Hope this helps somebody, and if nothing else, I hope it saves some apptape!
Put a piece of backer paper on the tape to keep it clean between uses. I estimate that you can do easily 15-20 double-sided signs before you have to remove and replace the tape.
I also have found that this works best with a low-tack apptape.
It doesn't work all that well with expanded PVC substrates, from my experience.