Cheap and portable signs for a protest?
April 7, 2008 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I'll be participating in my first ever protest later this month. What is an economical way to make hand-held signs and sandwich boards which are sturdy enough to survive a day of protesting on possibly windy streets, but also light and compact enough to transport easily?

I'll be participating in a protest on the street in New York City later this month.

I'd like to cobble together some hand-held signs and sandwich boards for myself and others to use.

Since many of the participants will be traveling in from out of state to attend, I'd also like to be able to easily transport a bunch of signs/boards with me on trains and subways so that I can give them to others to use.

My initial thoughts are for foam core sheets with laser printed paper glued to them, using small pvc pipe for hand-held signs and linking two sheets together with plastic cable ties for sandwich boards.

Any better ideas out there?
posted by de void to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Keep it simple and use posterboard. Write on it with Magic Marker. (Most printed signs aren't going to look any better than handwritten ones unless they're printed directly onto the sign material, but you want cheap here.) If you want a handle, use a yard-length wooden stick. (This will help in the wind.) The important thing is that it's something you can hold for a couple of hours. PVC pipe is going way overboard.

What are you going to? (If you want to say. If not, that's cool.)
posted by graymouser at 2:03 PM on April 7, 2008

There have been some issues in NYC with protesters using wood or other rigid materials as sign handles - anything that could potentially be a "weapon". The police will be watching, for sure. Using something like a 3 foot cardboard mailing tube which you can staple the sign to is a good work-around.
posted by blaneyphoto at 2:09 PM on April 7, 2008

I've found that foam core works slightly better than posterboard. It's a little more rigid, but still light enough to carry for an extended period, and you don't really even need a post. You could use printed lettering, but hand lettered works just as well on foam core.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:23 PM on April 7, 2008

1. Old white sheet.
2. Cheap paint

Result: Nice big multi-person sign! Hold it lengthwise across a few people as you march. For transport, roll it up and stick it in a backpack. Nice visual impact too.
posted by typewriter at 2:25 PM on April 7, 2008

But it will pick up the wind, if indeed it is a windy day.
posted by typewriter at 2:26 PM on April 7, 2008

If you're expecting high winds, punch some holes in the signs so they don't act as sails/kites. This is especially important if you're going to have kids or small adults holding them.

A cloth banner would be much easier to transport than posterboard, and muslin + paint/markers should be fairly cheap.
posted by desjardins at 2:26 PM on April 7, 2008

Cardboard is fine, you can fold it up at the end of the day. When lettering, make sure that you plan out what you want to say in pencil first. Nothing looks sillier on signs than 8 inch letters on the left half and 3 inch on the right, because the letterer ran out of room.

And it's not just NYC cops that will take away any wooden stick you might want to use. Many cities do not allow them since the Battle for Seattle. Stick with the cardboard tube, but there's still no guarantee about that.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:41 PM on April 7, 2008

Another tip to help you center your hand lettering is to count out the letters (or words) on each line and start in the middle and work your way out.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:57 PM on April 7, 2008

Don't use a sheet. I used felt during a certain 2/10 protest and it would have worked perfectly if I'd used thin wooden dowels on all edges, rather than just two. It was windy.

Sew channels along all edges, slide thin dowels in, and leave two free for your hands to hold. The added bonus is that this sign collapses into nothing for carrying or running away.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 3:01 PM on April 7, 2008

you probably won't be allowed to use a rigid handle. when my friends and i marched to protest the republican national convention in new york, we made our signs out of posterboard and mounted them on the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper.

so, just go on down to party city, buy some discount christmas wrapping, and save it for the holidays.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:42 PM on April 7, 2008

I went into a random fabric store in the garment district in nyc, they were happy to give me a bunch of long and sturdy cardboard tubes for free. (cheaper than mailing tubes, stronger than wrapping paper tubes)
posted by chelseagirl at 3:54 PM on April 7, 2008

Kinkos will print corrugated plastic signs for fairly cheap (though not, obviously as cheap as sharpies and cardboard.) It would look more professional, if that's what you're going for, and they're pretty sturdy.
posted by ctmf at 4:45 PM on April 7, 2008

(film core) sandwich board bonus: keeps your hands free for other purposes. disadvantage: not as easily seen (unless you're wearing stilts or are on a tall unicycle)

using a sheet is really great. paint it, and make long thin slits to allow the wind thru. don't use it full size -- you'll trip over it. trim it to more of a banner size.

also, be creative: can you find an old, goofy hat that you can staple a sign to? what about goodwill/thriftstore "props"? (i had a friend once who dressed as god and had a sign that said "why am i supposed to love brown babies any less?" with a bunch of baby dolls with fake "blood" on them).

or you can make your sign a specific shape that will also convey a message -- a coffin, for example.

just don't get too attached to any of it -- be prepared to ditch it and run if things get ugly.

good luck.
posted by CitizenD at 4:46 PM on April 7, 2008

I strongly recommend printing out your slogans on plain paper, scaled up to fit your sign. They're much, much more readable from a distance. (Check out my signs for example. [self link; scroll down] )

I was able to do this incredibly easily on my Mac using Appleworks. It should be pretty simple using whatever layout program you have handy.
posted by kristi at 5:16 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Darn, hit Post too quickly -

After printing them out on plain printer paper, attach them to your sign using clear plastic tape. Staples are okay, but tend to come out before long. If you plan to picket a lot, you can put together a nice plastic pouch that goes over your posterboard and is big enough for your printed slogans.
posted by kristi at 5:17 PM on April 7, 2008

nth-ing the caution about rigid poles. In my experience, though, cheap wrapping-paper tubes fold quickly in the wind and pole-less signs get tiring to hold above your head. Keep in mind that the bigger the sign is, the more wind it will catch. Bring a roll of duct tape for repairs--even if you don't need it, someone else will. Sheets are great if you're at the front of a march, but not so good in a big crowd because no one will see you. And check out the weather forecast--if there's a chance of rain, cover your sign with saran wrap and tape it tightly on the back.

You didn't ask for other tips, but mama-bear is concerned for you at your first protest and wants you to have a good time! Make sure you have weather-appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes, high-energy snacks like gorp and plenty of water (remember, you'll be walking and yelling), and basic first-aid stuff like band-aids, tylenol, and benadryl--basically, act like you're going on a long hike. If there's the slightest chance of protester-police tension, write the legal resource # somewhere on your person and have a couple bandannas you can dampen and cover your face with in case of pepper spray/tear gas.
posted by hippugeek at 5:44 PM on April 7, 2008

To add to hippugeek's note: wear sunscreen. I'm not kidding. I was in a protest in DC in April and it never occurred to me because, you know, I wasn't sunning myself on the beach or anything. I wound up with heatstroke and my eye swelled shut.
posted by desjardins at 6:11 PM on April 7, 2008

Cut holes in anything which may inadvertently become a sail.
posted by genghis at 8:26 PM on April 7, 2008

Get yourself some adhesive vinyl. Lay out the letters backwards on the paper backing and cut them out with scissors or a sharp knife. Stick them to sheets of corrugated plastic sign board (you could probably get off-cuts of these things at your local sign shop, they'll know what all of this stuff is).
I hate seeing protests on the news with crappy looking signs, it just makes the protesters look childish and uneducated. It's better to stay home than to scrawl something with magic marker on a torn old box and hold it up to the TV cameras. As if that's going to convince anybody.
I went to Quebec City in 2001 for the anti-NAFTA protest (50,000 irate Canadians! Can you imagine it?). I used the above technique to make a sign with red letters on a white background that said 'THE DOLLAR IS A COLLAR'. And of course I was wearing my dog's collar stuffed with American dollar bills. A big hit! Why? Because my sign looked so professional of course. Courtesy of adhesive vinyl. Also swimming goggles and a filter mask from the woodshop where I was working came in very handy when Quebec City's finest started lobbing tear gas all over the place.
One request: please please PLEASE chant something OTHER than 'what do we want? [fill in the blank], when do we want it? [now; of course], or 'hey hey, ho ho, [fill in the blank] has got to go!' So tiresome.
My suggestion: '2, 6, 11, 3, we believe in anarchy!'
A better suggestion: I saw a video of a protest for nothing in Toronto. About twenty people were marching around on the street with large blank signs, handing out blank leaflets, and chanting 'What do we want? NOTHING! When do we want it? WHENEVER!'

posted by arcadia at 12:31 AM on April 8, 2008

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