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Protecting your interpretive signage against graffiti.

Protecting your interpretive signage and everything you need to know about graffiti removal.

When it comes to protecting your interpretive signage, sometimes you need to think beyond UV and environmental exposure. We recently received a call from a long time client who had fallen victim to a weekend spate of graffiti across their heritage site, fortunately the buildings were largely spared from this senseless act of vandalism, however the signs weren’t so lucky.

The client’s question, “How do we remove the graffiti without damaging the signs?”

Luckily in this case, it was a relatively straightforward task. Due to how the signs had been constructed, the quality of the materials and the finishes used, our client was able to successfully clean down the interpretive signs without any negative impact to their appearance.

There are a lot of factors that come into play when assessing how to protect your interpretive signs, my aim in this article is to discuss what these are, so you have a better understanding of the various approaches to dealing with graffiti and how to determine which method is right for you.


Factor 1 – Likelihood of graffiti.

First things first, let’s look at the likelihood of graffiti.

In my 25 years of experience designing signage for city centres to outback deserts and everywhere in between, I can honestly recall maybe 3-5 incidents of clients reporting graffiti on their signs. That’s not to say that I hear of every incident, but 9 times out of 10, we are the first port of call for our clients when a crisis strikes.

Granted, there may be some locations that are more prone to graffiti than others, and identifying potential hot spots should be picked up during the initial site survey, so appropriate protection can be considered up front during the design phase, providing a preventative approach. Generally speaking, graffiti to signs is not as big an issue as some would have you assume, however, if your site is prone to graffiti it pays to bring it to the attention of your signage designer early on so protection levels can be considered from the beginning.


Factor 2 – Is there a downside to graffiti protection?

Before we start to look at the various types of protection on the market, I’d like to start by pointing out that there can be some potential downsides to applying a separate anti-graffiti barrier to your signage, and it’s worth being aware of what these are.

A lot of anti-graffiti coatings will not last as long as the surface they are applied to. I have seen this occur time and again, when you come across a sign that is in relatively good condition, given the age, but the anti-graffiti coating is ageing prematurely. This normally shows up as chalking, blistering or cracking where the coating separates from the surface to which it has been applied. This can leave the sign looking far worse off than if it would have been left to age organically.

The other thing to be aware of when considering anti-graffiti protection for your interpretive signage is yellowing. Although it’s less likely these days, there are still some inferior products on the market that can look great when the signs are installed, only to turn an awful shade of yellow over time. This of course, is counter-intuitive to providing the protection that the anti-graffiti coating was initially intended to provide.

The characteristics of a good quality anti-graffiti coating will provide an extremely hard, non-porous finish that limits penetration of solvents commonly found in permanent markers and spray paints. A good quality anti-graffiti coating is designed to repel foreign material so it has less chance of penetrating the surface making for less residue once removed.

Can you see I’m pushing the emphasis on quality here?


Factor 3 – Types of anti-graffiti protection.

To boil it down, there are essentially 4 categories of protection when it comes to guarding your interpretive signage against graffiti.

  1. Non-sacrificial
  2. Naturally occurring hardened surfaces
  3. Self-adhesive laminates
  4. Sacrificial coatings

Let’s take a look at these a bit closer, to gain a better understanding of the differences.

Non-sacrificial coatings:
From experience, these coatings provide the ultimate form of protection, they are normally applied as a 2 part liquid coating which cure to an extremely hard, non-porous surface. When it comes to the removal of graffiti, we have found that you will generally get the best results with a non-sacrificial coating, as little to no residue remains, and none of the surface gets removed during the process of cleaning away graffiti.

Naturally occurring hardened surfaces:
Naturally might not be the correct word, but stay with me and I’m sure you’ll pick up what I’m putting down. When I mention naturally hardened surfaces, I’m referring to products that may not necessarily have a proprietary anti-graffiti coating, but do have excellent properties when it comes to removing graffiti. These products include powdercoated surfaces, anodised aluminium, stainless steel, highly polished stone (such as granite and ceramic finishes), good quality polyurethane coatings, glass and the like. All products share similar characteristics of being extremely hard and less porous, therefore you will generally achieve good results when you remove graffiti from them.

Self-adhesive laminates:
Laminates can be a good cost effective alternative to liquid coatings, however, in most cases they will not last as long as their liquid counterparts. With this in mind, self-adhesive anti-graffiti laminates are better suited to shorter term applications, around the 3-5 year mark. Generally, they work best over self-adhesive digitally printed graphics and do provide quite good results when it comes to removal of graffiti. However, if repeated cleaning is likely to occur, the films can tend to lose their glossy appearance and become dull in areas where regular cleaning has taken place.

Sacrificial coatings:
You may have guessed it by now, sacrificial coatings are designed to sacrifice some of the coating each time graffiti removal occurs. They are generally more suited to short term applications such as banners and promotional material, and in most cases are a single pack, out of the can application. Each time removal takes place, you are effectively removing some of the coating so therefore there are only a limited number of times you can remove graffiti before getting back to the base surface. Another widely used method of sacrificial protection, which I’m not particularly fond of, is applying a secondary surface such as Perspex or acrylic over the face of the sign. Acrylic, although it might appear to be a hardened surface, is actually a very soft product and is easily scratched and marred when it comes to removing graffiti. It is not particularly robust when it encounters even the mildest of solvents, which can greatly affect the surface by dulling the gloss level, making it very difficult to maintain legibility of the graphics. This may give you some level of protection in internal environments, but I really wouldn’t recommend it outdoors for protection against graffiti.

These options for anti-graffiti should be discussed with your signage designer at the start of your project, as well as the likelihood of the occurrence of graffiti and the potential downsides to anti-graffiti protection.


This brings us to graffiti removal.

I can’t stress this enough, but the best thing you have on your side when it comes to removing graffiti, is time. The quicker you get to the graffiti on your interpretive signage, the better chance you will have at a successful removal. Due to the myriad of different surface finishes that are available today I recommend that whichever product you choose to remove graffiti, test it first! Ideally in a location on the sign that is not clearly visible. When using a graffiti removal product on your interpretive signage, always follow the safety recommendations set out by the manufacturer. We have seen some products affect different surfaces negatively, which can sometimes be influenced by the age and colour of the background surface.

Two products that our clients have recommended to be effective in the removal of graffiti are;

  1. Selleys Muck Off Graffiti Remover
  2. Safewipes Graffiti Remover

If you have had success with other products, we would love to hear about them so we can add them to this list. Contact us at info@publik.net.au or give us a call on (08) 9434 1122.


Key points to consider when protecting your interpretive signage against graffiti.

  1. Get to the graffiti quick, the sooner you remove it the better result you will have.
  2. Light colours are more subject to ghosting/visible residue after removal and may require a higher level of protection than dark colours.
  3. Make sure the anti graffiti coating lifespan matches or exceeds that of your sign structure and graphics.
  4. Consult with your signage designer as to which is the best form of protection for you.
  5. Always protect your graphic panels as a minimum – if a story is worth telling, it’s worth protecting.
  6. Trial any graffiti remover somewhere out of sight on your sign before cleaning down larger areas to ensure there are no adverse effects.
  7. Always refer to, and follow the safety recommendations set out by the manufacturer of the removal product you are using.


John Brown-Neaves
Managing Director, Publik


Disclaimer: The information in this article is general in nature and should only be used as a guide to understand the topic of graffiti removal and protection. You should always seek expert individual advice suitable for your unique requirements.