What kind of templates to use for reverse graffiti or clean advertising

What kind of template do I need for reverse graffiti or clean advertising?

Templates are magic. They organise chaos in a way that our eyes recognise as letters or images. Templates are used for many different natural media techniques but in this blog post I am only going to talk about templates used for washing communication messages of the dirt using a power-washer. 

If you would like information about templates used for other techniques just send me an email. I will be happy to help you.

The three most common types of equipment used for producing templates are: water cutters, CNC cutters and laser cutters. The type of cutting equipment or you will use depends mostly on the materials you want to use. The types of materials you will want to use depends on:
How eco-friendly do you want your materials to be?
How many impressions you will produce
If you will work on horizontal or vertical surfaces

Eco-friendly materials. 
If you are sustainably minded, the type of material you use is very important. There are many eco-friendly materials to choose from. 

The most common sustainable materials are:
Raw steel
Recycled PVC (plastic)  
FSC wood products. 

Raw steel

Raw steel is the most recycled metal material out there. Templates made from raw steel are strong and will last almost forever. You can cut templates with very fine detail using steel. Steel templates can also be repurposed and used as signage, as they are sculptures in themselves. If the images you are using are really amazing, you might consider paying a bit more and using raw steel. 

When you are finished with your campaign, raw steel templates will be rusty. The rust can look great but if you like a more polished look, templates can be sanded or polished, coated with a bit of oil or sealant and hung on a wall giving them a new life. 
1mm steel sheets will work for most templates. Templates with extreme detail might require 2mm but take note; these can get very heavy.

The drawbacks of steel are that it is quite heavy and can be razor sharp. If you will be working on a vertical surface I would not recommend using steel plates. If you are afraid of small wounds, you might avoid steel as well. Water cutting equipment is the best way to cut steel. Heavy industry laser or plasma cutters and some CNC cutters can also cut steel but in my experience, the costs of using these can be quite high.

FSC wood Plywood

FSC wood Plywood and particleboard are your best choices if you want to use wood as your template material. FSC wood comes from managed sources not the rain forest and wood is a renewable resource.
If your power washer is not too strong or your templates are not too detailed, these materials will work well. If you are using a professional power-washer, they will degrade and break. Not a problem if you are only producing a few impressions but more than 10 depending on the design, and you could be disappointed you chose wood.

Another draw back is that when wood dries it will warp making them almost useless for future use. On the plus side, if you are good with a jigsaw you can cut your templates yourself. Watch this amazing video of Paul (Moose) Curtis making his own templates.

Wood is quite light so it is good for both horizontal and vertical projects. I would not use material less that 4mm and if you need extra strength, I would use even thicker material.

Laser cutting and CNC cutters are your best choices for cutting wood. Most cutting companies will have the material on hand that they can cut.

Recycled plastics

There are many recycled plastic sheets on the market these days. Most are made from recycled, high grade PVC such as the caps of water bottles. Recycled plastic quickly became my favorite material. A 2mm thickness is strong, flexible and lightweight. One of the things I liked most about plastic is that I could repair my templates easily if they ever broke which usually was not caused by the power washer but by my not paying attention when I was taking them out or putting them back in the production unit. 

You can produce a few hundred impressions with recycled plastic. This material is great for using on both horizontal and vertical surfaces. It also can be hung up on walls but they are not as spectacular as steel. 

Recycled plastic is best cut with a CNC cutter. Again if you are handy with a jigsaw or even a box cutter, you can cut these yourself. 

Eco unfriendly materials 

Eco unfriendly materials are more common but I do not recommend them. Aluminium for instance, is considered a pretty evil metal. Aluminium can be recycled but it downgrades in the process. 

There are all kinds of virgin plastics, silicone and polymer materials that will work as well. You can even cut vinyl. Many plastic materials cannot be recycled. It’s all about balance. You may find it is just easier and or less expensive to use eco unfriendly materials but I would encourage you to try to use sustainable materials if you can.

Laser cutters can only cut certain kinds of plastic. CNC cutters can cut just about anything and though water cutters can as well many water cutters only cut one material as they have to filter the water and pay to dispose of the waste. Recyclable waste of one material is much less expensive then general waste made up of several kinds of material.  

Laser cutting, water cutting and CNC cutting companies are everywhere. Some also geared towards heavy industry. Laser cutting companies tend to work more with smaller businesses and individuals, as do some CNC cutters. However if you need really large templates, most laser cutters are quite limited. CNC cutter and water cutters usually have larger equipment. The trick is to shop around also to make sure you are getting the best price. Some will charge much more than others. 

When looking for a company to cut your templates it is also important to know what kind of digital files you will need to deliver. Most will be able to cut illustrator or pdfs (vector files). These are the easiest for most people to produce. Some can cut from jpegs and some will ask for CAD files that can be quite technical. If you pick a friendly cutter they will guide you through the process.

Producing your own templates may seem like a daunting task but don’t be afraid. Most companies will be happy to get your business, will like what you are doing and will be very helpful. If they are not, find another company there are many to choose from. How to prepare your digital files will be covered in a future blog post. If you need help creating your designs or your digital files, we can help you either in-house or through one of the many graphic designers we work with. It is impossible to cover every possibility in a blog post of any reasonable size so feel free to contact me if I missed something or you need any additional information. 

We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below! Or send us an email

Jim Bowes

Advertising professional specialising in Natural Media advertising techniques that have a low impact on the environment.