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The Art of Sign Painting

Signs are important messengers. Designed and situated to pass on information, usually to many people. A few examples:


Botanical sign – Identifies specie of flora or fauna, often both the scientific and popular names.

Zoo sign – Identifies specific creature, and describe its unique characteristics.

Historical landmark sign – Identifies natural or man-made site, wonder, building, etc.

Destination sign – Identifies place, how to reach it, approximate distance, “special interest” trivia.

Property sign – Identifies property, usually with only name and a logo.

Commercial sign– Displays business name, location, phone numbers and web address.

Product/Service sign – Advertises general or specific goods and/or services available for purchase/use.

Event sign – Announce upcoming special event, as well as its date (s), location, contact information.




Today, many signs, particularly commercial and product/service, are made of pre-stamped or pre-printed sheets of vinyl and/or plastic.


* Advantages: Durable, waterproof, fade proof, tear proof. Involve no drying time, on site. Allow efficient delivery to the customers. Very appealing, aesthetically.

* Disadvantages: Cost, and longer design and production times.


Hand-painted signs have a place in an electronic-tech driven world.


Signs that are hand-painted – by brush, roller, and/or spray – have a unique place in the “space of things.”


Sign painting is still needed where surfaces and spaces call for an artist’s personal touch.


Sign paint is almost a lost art these days. Still, clients and customers may request and need it, when their surface, spatial and budget call for this special touch. So, it deserves some explanation for painters who wish to try it.


About surface preparation.


The level of a surface’s preparation is determined by the distance from which the sign will be viewed. A few examples:

– From 100 feet. Surface needs to be moderately smooth. Minimal prepping and sanding may be needed.

– Close and at eye-level. Surface needs to be smooth-to-the-touch. Thorough prepping will be needed.


  1. The surface should be “dry” and moderately “smooth.”
  2. Weather conditions should be dry and reasonably clear. Avoid full sun.


Once the surface has been prepared, you’re ready to get down to the real fun – and challenge.


Follow the simple recommendations listed below to turn your sign painting venture into a big success.


1. Plan out on a piece of paper the location of your words and /or numbers.

A. Measure phrase/line length, word length, distance between letters and sentences.

B. Maintain an even spacing.


2. Mark horizontal lines, indicating the bottom of the letters and words.

A. Use markings which can be removed easily. Do not use ink.


3. Use stencils to lay out and pencil in letters.

A. Or, if you are gifted, use the free hand painting method.

B. For sizable letters, a bounce pattern can be used.


4. A “steady hand” and a “sharp eye” are typically required, either way you do it.

A. Used together, from start-to-finish, they will help you complete phase to specification.

B. For your sign to come out looking good, both must be used with the right precision as needed.


5. Two brush styles are normally used: the flat and the filbert.

A. The size you choose will depend on the width of the letters and numbers.

B. The size you choose will also depend on the style of each respective letter or number.


6. When painting a letter, you generally want to load the brush according to the letter size.

A. Too much paint on the end of the bristles will create a wavy line.

B. Too little paint on the end of the bristles will create an uneven flow.


7. Do not use masking tape, under any circumstance.

A. The paint will suck in underneath the tape.

B. It will make a difficult job that much harder, and messy.

NOTE: It’s something I do not do.


8. Oil paint is the medium of choice when it comes to doing signs.

A. It is water proof, dries hard, and cleans easily of dirt or residue.

B. It also flows extremely well when applying.


Product Recommended: Bulletin Colors brand. They are specifically designed for sign painting.


Painting a sign is a creative challenge – and opportunity.


Painting a sign will really test your ability to paint a straight line.


1. It requires a “special attention to detail,” versus the standard skills used for production painting.

2. It requires a steady hand and precision craftsmanship.

3. It requires ample time and patience.

4. And, it requires a unique passion for detail-work.


One of my sign painting challenges and opportunities:


I once hand-painted a sign, that had over 350 letters and numbers. It required precision work. And, it stretched my sign painting abilities way beyond my perceived limits. (I couldn’t wait till I was finished.)


Every sign painting project offers its own new and amazing opportunity to test one’s skills. And, to stand back and congratulate yourself.  For the fantastic signage left in the full view of others!

Many thanks, Ron!


And, thanks to everyone for visiting, “Painting with Bob.”

Copyright 2015. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.

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