Can you print neon or metallic colors on a banner?

When it comes to having banners and printed backdrops made, people often have a dramatic vision in mind that’s full of neon colors, black light paint, glow paint, and all kinds of spectacular metallic effects. While this may look great in your imagination, how do you actually translate that to the printing process? Can it be done? And if so, how effective is it?

Why neon-printed colors don’t show up brightly on banners

Let’s kick off with the difference between printing colors on a material and displaying colors on a screen. As any eighth grade physics student could probably tell you, when you mix paints for physical printing, they tend to be subtractive, meaning the paints get darker the more you add. The colored light on a phone screen, though, is additive—the more you add, the brighter it gets. 

This means that the luminosity we associate with neon shades, which depends on backlighting, doesn’t really translate to a printed surface.

In our digital world, it’s easy to forget this – especially if you’re running a band that focuses heavily on your Instagram and TikTok accounts and you’re used to designing graphics for screens.

So how can my banner artwork glow with neon colors?

We have had some resourceful customers who have experimented with combining traditional printing methods and additional techniques. 

Printing neon colors on banners usually isn’t possible, but here is one brilliant way a customer of ours came up with a possible solution.

One customer came to us with this artwork:

They wanted neon glow effects in the central “power up” section. They asked us to print a full-size version of the artwork as a conventional CMYK output—which we did. 

But – they wanted the power up battery section to light up with a neon type of effect, which we told them may not show up.

So they had a stroke of genius, and had us print a smaller banner, just like this:

They then took that output and very carefully applied neon paint to the white area, by hand. A mixture of traditional machine printing and human artistry, and then they planned on lighting up that area at their show. This is a clever a way to achieve a cool lighting effect or even a neon glow, with a backup printed banner behind it. If it didn’t work at some of their gigs, they could just not use the white, smaller banner.

The a hand-painted neon section that could be velcro’ed into place as well. 

The upside to this method was if the neon section didn’t turn out well, you still had a usable printed backdrop.

Drum roll please… here is how it turned out for Dirty Deeds!


As you can see, the neon effect turned out in stunning fashion. At outdoor shows, like the image at the top of this blog post, they simply use the backdrop only.

How does dye sublimation printing work?

Dye-sublimation printing uses heat transfer ink to imprint images onto fabrics. The process involves printing a fabric with a heat-activated dye/ink, followed by heat pressing or treatment, resulting in a lasting printed transfer. Alternatively, you can print onto heat transfer paper before heat-pressing the image onto the textile.

While the process results in vibrant and long-lasting colors, it still presents limitations regarding the intensity of neon shades. The nature of sublimation—heating a solid straight into a gas, bypassing the liquid phase—means it’s effectively a dying process that won’t carry neon effects with it. 

Will black light, glow paint, or metallic paint show up on banners?

Similarly, black light, glow, and metallic paints face hurdles when printed onto banners. The effects these paints produce are dependent on the chemical properties of the paint itself, not its color—properties that get lost in translation when you convert them to CMYK color printing. That’s why you need to think outside the box – like our Dirty Deeds friends – to find ways to get close to this effect, but with a strong backup so your show will still look good if it doesn’t work out.

If you’d like to talk to an expert about getting your banner or backdrop printed, you can contact us here.

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