Help me figure this out, eh?
August 31, 2008 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Tell me, how the hell do a paint a sign in a font? Examples inside.

I'm trying to make a sign for a friend for her birthday next week. She wants one in an italian theme and, being all crafty and everything, I have decided to make her one as a surprise. I've seen these signs EVERYWHERE but I can't find a place that tells me how they painted it. The people that painted these signs both have "handpainted!" listed on the sites, but obviously, the letters are too precise to be handpainted. It appears a stencil was made, but how does that work? You make a stencil for every single sign? I would think that there's an easier way, but I can't figure it out.

Link 1

Link 2

Any thoughts? Please enlighten me - I can't afford to buy anything for her birthday, but I AM crafty enough to do this with the materials I have.

Thank you, AskMeFi. =)
posted by damnjezebel to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know how they do it, but I would do it the obvious way: with a projector.
posted by kindall at 6:57 PM on August 31, 2008


Use the painting technique of scaling up. Take a small printout of the text you want, using the appropriate font, and divide the printout into squares. Divide the large sign into the same number of (but larger) squares, using pencil (which can be erased or painted over). Draw what you see in the squares in the smaller source printout into the larger, proportionate squares on the sign. If you've made enough squares, it shouldn't be hard to replicate the appearance of the font.

Once you've drawn the text on the sign, you can paint it in.
posted by jayder at 7:09 PM on August 31, 2008


My father-in-law was a sign painter in the army and it was done by hand. He had fonts in his head! You draw guidelines, pencil the letters, then paint them. Now everything is computer cut out, stick-on vinyl. If you have just one to make, you can do it. Print it out first on the computer and then transfer it to your board. The painting is pretty easy once you have it drawn. You could also just print it large on card stock, cut them out, and paste them.
posted by lee at 7:18 PM on August 31, 2008


Or find an old fashion pantograph. My dad use one for many years to enlarge a variety of things.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:18 PM on August 31, 2008


Your examples look like handpainted lettering, the imprecision is especially noticeable in the curves. Maybe it's a fading art in the time of inexpensive vinyl lettering, but one can still buy lettering brushes in well-equipped art supply stores.

Fastest way is to compose your typography in a graphics program, have the output made into a transparency, project it onto your sign material and lightly trace the image onto the board.

One trick that will keep your hand steady: use a wooden dowel with a cork (aka a Malhstick) on the end as a rest for your brush-holding hand.
posted by jamaro at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


Print out the font on your computer to the desired size. if you can't print big enough, use The Rasterbator to enlarge the text to the desired size. Then, to transfer the printout to your board, you use a transfer paper, like this product. (Available at any art store, and probably places like home depot also).

Basically, you put the transfer paper between your font/text printout and the board, and then trace the lines with a pencil. The transfer paper transfers your lines (text) to your board.

Then paint.
posted by extrabox at 8:10 PM on August 31, 2008


Some people are really good at hand lettering, but the machine to make the stencils is a cutting plotter.

You can ask a local sign shop if they'll cut a stencil from a file you provide. They make low tack stencil vinyl. Be sure to make your design in a vector program (like Illustrator) convert the fonts to outlines before you save it, and don't use fonts that are too intricate.
posted by JulianDay at 8:14 PM on August 31, 2008


You might be able to print it out at actual size, tape it all together, then use an X-Acto knife to cut out the outlines and use them as stencils. I've done something similar with big chunky fonts; I think you'd be hard pressed to do that with anything delicate or scripty though.
posted by bink at 8:18 PM on August 31, 2008


I asked a question about stencils a few months ago. You might find some good ideas there.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:35 PM on August 31, 2008


I used to use these oversized chisel-tipped markers for sign making. Easier to control than a paintbrush when it came to lettering.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:20 PM on August 31, 2008


I would find a way to blow up the layout to actual size - either tiled printouts, or blowing it up on the big-ass Xerox at Kinkos. In this case a single sheet would be better. Then I would transfer it to the board/surface with either transfer paper, or the cheap way, with a bunch of pencil rubbing on the back. Then go nuts with your paint. It'll be a lot more work than you think.

I saw a demo from a former sign painter (now a type designer) at a typography conference. And yes, he freehanded every damn thing.
posted by O9scar at 12:51 AM on September 1, 2008


My first design instructor (in high school!) was an old-school guy who could do this stuff in his sleep. One day, he came to class, rolled-out an 8-fool long scroll of paper, lightly penciled some guide lines, and then proceeded to perfectly hand-letter some little quote across the scroll in a nice script, with a jar of tempera and a 2" brush.

Pretty impressive stuff.

Generally, if you don't have the skills, you would set the type in something like Illustrator, print it out and then project the art onto the board at size. Trace it out lightly, then paint.

It will still look rough, though. Hand-lettering takes a calm, smooth hand and more than a slight feel for how type should flow.

Vinyl is the popular option, these days.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:45 AM on September 1, 2008


Old school sign painters do it by hand. My friend who does very elaborate sign painting uses silk screens with foam brushes (the cheap ones you can buy at the hardware store). Both of these methods require a whole lot of skill and knowledge that your not likely to acquire in a week.
If you just want a big sign for her birthday, why not just do a big printout? Kinko's can probably do this.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:59 AM on September 1, 2008


Response by poster: thanks, guys. I'm going to try the transfer paper trick and see if that works. Thorzdad, would vinyl be used as a template, or are you talking to affix it to the board in lieu of painting?
posted by damnjezebel at 6:37 PM on September 1, 2008


The vinyl is the actual lettering, yes in lie of painting. They are adhesive backed. All the lettering you see on vehicles and most signs are done this way now.
posted by lee at 8:57 PM on September 1, 2008


"Link 1" appears to show signs of paint that has "bled" under a stencil -- the slightly wavy edges where capillary action pulls the paint under the masked-off region.
posted by misterbrandt at 10:02 PM on September 1, 2008


In case this is useful to anyone, the way to prevent the bleed-under that misterbrandt's talking about is really simple.

1. Basepaint the background (the dark color in this case) and let fully dry.
2. Apply your stencil and really smooth on the edges.
3. Go over the stencil with your base color again, to seal the edges.
4. Stencil in your color like you'd do normally.

This way, any bleeding that might occur will be exactly the same color as the base coat, and your real stencil color will be nice and crisp.

This also works really well with masking tape. Base, apply the tape, hit the edge of the tape with the base color, and paint on the color you want as the end result. Easy easy. Sometimes we'll score the edge of new color and the masking tape with a sharp blade just to be sure it all comes up extremely cleanly.
posted by lauranesson at 10:47 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


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