Colorful, festive and fun, balloons bring joy to almost any event. So naturally, when PPB was invited to visit the Dallas factory of Pioneer Balloon Company (UPIC: Pioneer), we jumped at the chance.
“Everyone expects to walk into a balloon plant and for it to be jolly and bright, but there’s a lot of machinery and corrugated cardboard,” jokes Mark Jenkins, MAS, the supplier’s Ashland, Ohio-based director of sales. “Really, though, the big story for us is that we manufacture the product ourselves.”
It begins with latex harvested from rubber trees, which Jenkins points out is biodegradable. “People don’t know our balloons are natural latex—they assume they’re synthetic,” he says.
Raw latex matures for about 10 days, and then it’s ready for the production line. Balloon forms are washed, dried and dipped in a coagulate liquid, which causes a thick coating of latex to adhere to the forms.
The matured latex is transferred to dipping stations, where controlled color dispersions are added to the uncolored latex. Once the forms are coated with a gel-like layer of latex, they’re flipped upright.
Next, rolling brushes create consistently sized neck rolls. The forms are then ready for leaching, a temperature-controlled, hot-water bath that removes impurities and proteins.
The bath begins the curing process, also known as vulcanization, and the forms are ready to run through the curing oven. This process vaporizes water out of the gel, and the latex is now officially rubber.
Though the balloon’s properties are set, the surface remains tacky. To ensure a smooth finish, the balloons are dipped in a mixture of water and powder. Then, the dipped balloons are stripped off the forms.
A tumbling process in which balloons are tumbled in a mix of water, hot air and soap cleans up the balloons’ dusty appearance. They’re now ready for decoration.
Ponder this: How are balloons printed?
“Whenever I have a sales presentation, someone always says: ‘I have a silly question.’ I don’t even let them ask,” Jenkins says. “I tell them: ‘Yes, balloons are inflated when we print them. That’s how we get a clear image.’ People think it’s a silly question, but it’s not. If you spend a lot of time thinking about how balloons are printed, I might worry about you.”
Good thing we talked to Jenkins before the factory visit—that was our first question.
Pioneer Balloon Company At A Glance
Established in: 1917
Headquarters: Wichita, Kansas
Factory locations: Ashland, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; El Dorado, Kansas; and Hamilton, Ontario
Most popular color: White
Colors trending now: Lime green and wild berry
Number of balloons produced annually: More than one billion
Sales stat: More than 120 countries purchase Pioneer balloons
Farthest a balloon has traveled: Outer space. “We’ve produced specialized balloons for NASA with different weights and special formulations,” notes Jenkins.
The Four Balloon Types
1. Qualatex® Latex: Best for promoting one-day sales and special events, this is the balloon of choice for decorators all over the world. They’re 100-percent biodegradable and fly for 12-24 hours.
2. AdRite™ Economy Latex: Ideal for price-sensitive promotions requiring low-cost balloons. They’re 100-percent biodegradable and fly for 12-24 hours.
3. Qualatex® Microfoil: These attention-getters are perfect for longer lasting point-of-purchase displays. They have an average flying time of three to five days.
4. Chloroprene: These larger, durable balloons are made specifically for outdoor use, boasting a flying time of four to 18 days, depending on size.