Perhaps the most frequently asked questions we face about flags are based around: What size do I need and how long do they last?
The most commonly available flag size is 1800 x 900mm (6 x 3’). They look good on poles up to 6m tall, and OK on poles that are taller, but start to look way out of proportion on poles taller than 9m. The rule of thumb is that the length of the flag in feet is the same as the height of the pole in metres. So a 6m pole has a 6’ flag and a 12m pole has a 12’ flag.
In Commonwealth countries flags are usually twice as long as they are high (2:1). In other countries the ratio is often 5:3 or 3:2.
How long does a flag last?
This is a “how long is a piece of string” type of question and will vary with weather, site and usage pattern. Nearly every flag sold in Australia is made from either knitted or woven polyester. Flags will either wear out by flogging to pieces in the wind, or rotting as a result of UV exposure. Motor car tyres are a good analogy to use here. A good tyre these days will last about 60,000km, but a lot less if the driver is a teenage boy, or the car is driven in mountains, or the wheels are out of alignment. Even if the car sits on blocks in the shed, the tyres will eventually perish. Similarly a good flag will get about 5,500 hours of use before it is worn out, many less if the flag lives on the coast and if flown in storms, many more if it never sees much wind and lives in the shade.
Just like a tyre, peoples’ opinion of a worn out flag varies too. The flag equivalent of a totally bald tyre is one where the stars have blown away and all that remains is the Union Jack. The equivalent of a tyre worn to its wear indicators is a flag where the fly end corners are gone and the hem has broken away. Worn tyres can be re-treaded; worn flags can have the fly end renewed.
In summary, to extend the life of your flag, only fly it in daylight hours and avoid flying it in strong winds and your flag will last up to three times longer than if flown 24/7.
Dust, dirt and pollution get into the weave of a cloth and as the threads of the fabric move against each other this foreign matter works to break down the cloth. It is sensible to gently wash and dry your flag occasionally to remove these cloth destroying contaminants. Store the flag folded neatly and dried, out of direct sunlight.
Polyester, knitted or woven?
In Australia, 99% of all flags are made from polyester, either knitted or woven. Which is better depends on what you are looking for in a flag. Undeniably, woven polyester feels better and lasts longer than a knitted polyester flag, but a woven flag is heavier, costs more and doesn’t fly as easily. A knitted flag is cheaper, lends itself more readily to digital printing and ink penetration, has a silky appearance that many people prefer, is lighter and flies easily in lighter winds; but doesn’t last as long as a woven flag.
Due to ease of printing most flags other than the more common flags such as the Australian Flag, are usually only available off the shelf as a knitted polyester flag.
Sewn (appliqué) or printed?
In days gone by, all flags were made by the appliqué method, that is different coloured bits of cloth were sewn together to create the desired flag. Today, some flags are still made this way, but they are expensive because they are mostly hand-made, and are restricted in the detail and range of colour shading that can be used. This method makes good strong flags, but they are also heavier than printed flags so don’t fly as well in light winds, the added weight of the double and triple thickness cloth means that the flogging forces on the flag are greater, and of course all that stitching represents more opportunity for the flag to start to come apart.
Sewn flags look great, especially on indoor poles in ceremonial situations, but 6m up a flagpole anyone would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Printed flags are commonly made with one of three methods, screen printed, digitally printed and sublimation printed.
High volume runs of flags are generally screen printed using dyes, or sometimes ink. This method gives the best dye penetration to the reverse of the flag and the longest life of the print. Colour matching is usually pretty good and far better than with appliqué flags. The down side is that the high set-up costs restrict the cost effectiveness to relatively long runs and the more colours, the more expensive the flag. Screen printing lends itself to woven polyester cloth so the flags longevity is good.
Digital printing lends itself to one off manufacture and is particularly good with photos and shading and in flags with lots of fine detail. Digital printed flags are perfect for short production runs but the process really only works well on knitted polyester.
Sublimation printing is a process that is suited to large production runs of flags that will only be used for a short time, such as a major event promotion. The colour does not bleed through the cloth well and fades rapidly, the reverse side often only has a faint image compared to the front of the flag. Sublimation flags are only available in knitted polyester.
What does it all mean to you? Well, where possible, we recommend screen printed flags on woven polyester cloth as representing the best value for money flags.