The Skirball is one of the few institutions I know of where the exhibition designer takes an active role in the production and installation of the exhibition itself. One of the tasks of my job that seems to invite a lot questions is the production and installation of the exhibition text on the walls.
Here at the Skirball, exhibition wall text is made out of cut vinyl. The vinyl comes in a wide variety of colors and levels of transparency. The adhesive used to place it on the wall ranges from extremely temporary to nearly permanent. It’s versatile and looks clean, which is why it’s a favored material for displaying text and other graphic elements on walls.
Although I favor cut vinyl over other methods of displaying text (printed panels, handbooks, etc.), installing it is a fairly intensive process that involves many steps. First, the curators send me the approved text. I then decide on the right font and size (color is usually determined beforehand). “Draft” files are then sent to the plotter, which uses a small knife blade to cut the outlines of the letters into a sheet of thin adhesive vinyl.
The parts of the vinyl that aren’t used are then loosened and pulled away in a process called “weeding.”
Since the width of the roll of vinyl is limited to the size of the cutter, really large sections of letters are done individually or have to be pieced together directly on the wall.
After the weeding is completed, a low-tack adhesive “transfer” sheet is applied on top of the vinyl and its backing sheet (or “release paper”).
I then apply the different versions to the wall to determine which style to choose. It doesn’t usually require putting every version up to get a sense of what works best.
The letters or sections of letters are taped the wall and the backing is removed, leaving only the vinyl and transfer sheet. A laser level projected onto the wall helps ensure the installation is even. The transfer sheet is carefully removed and the vinyl is smoothed down onto the wall.
However great vinyl looks, it can still be troublesome to install. A very common occurrence is missing or damaged letters.
There are times when I question my own decisions, like deciding to put big blocks of vinyl on an angled ceiling, which just adds extra challenges.
But at the end of the day, nothing else compares to vinyl’s crisp, clean look.