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    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    How To Make A Sign

    I decided to document pictorally how to make a sign. I had no idea how they were made before I started working in the sign shop. There is as much time taken to design the sign in the computer as in the application process but here I have focused on the application.

    You must first determine the dimensions that you want the sign to be and then design the sign around them. Here are several signs set up to be cut by the plotter.

    You must then choose the color of vinyl that will make up your sign. We carry over 100 colors but can order any color. I arranged the vinyl according to color families a while back. This helped stop my stepdad from ordering the fifth role of dark gray. He still has a little trouble putting them back where they belong.

    The computer sends a picture of what the sign will look like to the plotter. The plotter has a very small knife that pivots and cuts through the vinyl. This is a new plotter that has the capability to make paper banners using colored markers. An example is on the wall behind the plotter.

    When the vinyl comes from the plotter it looks like a full sheet of color. There is a paper backing on the vinyl. You have to look hard to determine where the cuts are. You must then "weed" out the unneccessary vinyl and leave in the image for the sign. This step is espcially tricky because the back of the vinyl is extremely sticky and if you touch part of what you would like to leave, they stick together.

    The weeding is done with an X-acto knife. You must remove the insides of all the closed letters.

    After the weeding process is finished, transfer tape must be applied to the entire image. These are the sizes of tape that we have. When I arranged them this way, my stepdad said it looked like the "more bars" cell phone commercial. What do you think?

    Here is the transfer tape being applied. You must lay it down without any lumps or wrinkles as they will affect the final vinyl on the sign. You must take a squeegee and smooth down the tape so that it will adhere to the vinyl.

    The sign must be trimmed allowing for easier placement on the sign substrate (the material the sign will be made on) and in this case, there are two signs here and they must be cut apart.

    A center point is drawn to speed up the centering process.

    Dirt is the devil to a sign maker. If you don't clean the substrate, dirt will stick to the sign and the vinyl will have lumps under it. Even a tiny speck of dirt will look three times larger under the vinyl.

    Again, everything must be measured to make sure that the sign is straight. Half of my time in the sign shop is spent measuring. Each top corner is tacked with a piece of masking tape in order to place the vinyl exactly where you want it.

    Once you have the vinyl piece secured with a line of masking tape, it makes a hinge with the paper and tape. The paper backing is then removed exposing the sticky back of the vinyl and tape.

    Very carefully the tape is pulled down but not quite touching the substrate.

    A squeegee is used to smooth down the tape and vinyl together starting at the tape line with special care taken to remove all air bubbles.

    Once the tape is smoothed down, it is slowly removed leaving the vinyl image on the substrate.

    Voila! Our finished sign.

    Did you learn anything?


    Motor City Monk said...

    Yeah - you spelled Unique wrong!

    Just kidding - did I getcha?

    Interesting stuff - I'd lose my mind if I was a sign maker. How do you not lose it on a daily basis?

    SignGurl said...

    I am the human spell checker of signs. Sometimes, being human and all, I screw up.

    So, my sign making bored you, Monk?

    It's really quite interesting since I very rarely do anything monotonous. It's always something new and creative.

    Motor City Monk said...

    No - I didn't say it seemed boring - just repetitive in a way that would drive me crazy.

    buddha_girl said...

    I find myself wavering on whether or not I could do this sign-making thing.


    The other part of me is calming saying...no kids...no afterschool meetings...no "you're an overpaid babysitter" comments...


    SignGurl said...

    Monk~ Point taken, but it really is a mixed bag every day. Same process, but different signs and substrates. I really enjoy the design process.

    Buddha Girl~I could see where your job would be hard to deal with. I usually only deal stresswise with deadlines and my desire to make everything perfect.

    Mike said...

    You can make me a special sign, I have a great idea!

    BTExpress said...

    Thanks, I think that was interesting. Yes, I learned a lot.

    barman said...

    Most interesting but I think I would almost have to see it in person to fully appreciate it. I suspect that half those steps are just autopilot, important but just automatic.

    So with an E size plotter like that looks like it is, how do you do really big signs or are you limited to the size the plotter can do? Do you do it in strips or sections somehow?

    Thanks for sharing, that was really most interesting. Maybe I can share what I do. Lets see think a little, type on the keyboard, run the program I wrote, scratch my head wondering what I did wrong, fix it I hope and than start all over. No, no one wants to see that.

    Finally it just had to be done ... can you hear me now? I love the cell bar thingy, to funny.

    American Navel said...

    Most informative blog post ever!

    The process of sign making involves alcohol, vinyl and squeegees. It almost seems sexy.

    New navel up signgurl.

    DZER said...

    I saw the sign.

    And it opened up my eyes.

    I saw the sign.


    Madame X said...

    D stole my comment sooooo-
    Signs signs everywhere there's sings fuckin' up the scenery breakin' my mind...not exactly complimentary to the sign maker's art but it's the only song I could think of

    Big Pissy said...

    I learned how difficult and precise your job is and that I could never do it!

    I'm TERRIBLE at math!!!

    all that measuring *shudder*

    Fridaysweb said...

    The man I used to work for had signs made for everything you could think of. At the office complex, we had a large sign out front with slide-out "windows", where we could add or take out company names (there were dozens of businesses renting space). One time, we had a surge of new tenants and had to have more than a dozen signs made quickly. Our signmakers were busy (of course everyone else in town had a surge of business, as well) and needed some "help" getting things out on time. Guess who got volunteered to help? Yep. Would be moi. I learned a lot those couple of days and really enjoyed it. My favorite part was the design process on the computer (and this was about 12 or 14 years ago, so you can imagine how primitive that program was!). I absoluted hated doing the letters, though. We actually had to lay them out, one at a time. We could make very small chickenscratch type lines with a grease pencil to help us place the letters in the exact right spot, but there were still many errors. I do not envy you. I would enjoy the design part, but am just not steady handed enough to get things in the right place without bubbles and dirt. It takes a LOT of talent, so you are pretty damn special, lovely SignGurl.

    Nonny said...

    That looks like fun. Of course anything other than my real job looks like fun. Actually, my sister-in-law does the exact same job and I always wondered what she did all day.

    Suze said...

    Jenn, I found that very interesting and creative. Nice to see you keep an orderly house, men can be so untidy.

    What's the strangest sign you have ever been asked to make?

    crabcake said...

    Yowsa! That's a boatload of work, girl!

    I like Suze question about what's the strangest sign you've ever been asked to make. Do tell. We'll wait.

    MamaKBear said...

    A lot more involved in this sign making thing than I had a clue about! Learned something new today!

    I wanna know too...what's the strangest sign you've had to make???

    Tumbleweed said...

    Uh, what was it you were making? he he

    I did learn a few things, thanks! I only get to spend my time on the design end...we would make a good team!

    SignGurl said...

    Mike~What cha got in mind?

    BTE~Really? You learned something? Maybe I should switch professions and be a teacher, lol.

    Barman~Yes, we are slightly limited in how large images can be. If they are more than 24 inches, we have to panel them (cut them in half and match up the edges). Vinyl is sold in lengths longer than 24" but it's very expensive.

    Navel~When you say it like that, it does sound sexy ;-)

    DZER~...and I am happy now...

    Madame~...do this, don't do that, can't ya read the signs?

    Pissy~I wasn't real good at measuring increments but I've become great at it. I can even work with 1/32's. You could do it!

    Friday~I can only imagine how tough it would be to half to place each letter individually. We don't have to do that. It's really not that hard. Just lots of measuring. Pretty cool that you got a chance to see how it's done.

    Nonny~Now you can tell your SIL that you could do her job, heh!

    Suze~I have to think about the strangest sign I ever made. I think the one with locks, chains and hand cuffs. It's not as kinky as you think, though. It was a vandalism sign.

    Crabcake~I don't think people realize that we can make anything on a sign ;-)

    MamaK~It's always worth the trip over here, haha.

    SignGurl said...

    Tumbleweed~You know it! I deal with all sorts of graphic designers and I'm sure I'd rather deal with you.

    Spinning Girl said...

    That looks like a freakin' lotta work.

    I'll stick to brainwashing the children.

    Rrramone said...

    I learned that 196+acres=with home

    Anonymous said...


    Chrissie said...

    Thats really cool! and yes I did! lol...

    btw.. Im not sure if i mentioned but i love the new look!... im jealous I dont live in michigan and... miss ya. I have read your blog a couple times but for whatever reason I think i've been having to click it away and leave the puter before commenting! Take care sug! *kotc*

    S said...

    Oh Sign that was so much fun!
    I want to do a post where I show how to alter pants...but, I altered them already!

    Maybe I can fake it....my fave pants are levis 501s but the rise is a bit high for me...sooo, I took off the waistband and cut 1 1/2" from the top of jeans, made the waistband a little longer and put it back on. Instead of five buttons, they now have 4. Now I have low rise 501's and I am the only person on the planet who does!