Page 1


ADDing Logos

Entry signs

Nautical enhancements







Number 202

Nu mb er 202

april 2012

School & team signage



S ig n Bu i l d er i l luStr ated


Custom Routing > Wall Coverings

apri l 2 01 2

> Programming LEDs


references seen here

Providing sign media fabric for applications seen pretty much anywhere. Digitally Printable Awning Fabrics: Weathertyte®, Weathertyte® Lite, Herculite® Natura™. Digital Media Fabrics: Sunbrella® Inkjet White, Vivitex™ Collection, Ferrari® Sign Media, Dickson® Jet 210 and Jet Tex, Bantex®, Main Street® Digital Plus. Backlit Fabrics: Cool Glo™/NorthStar®, Eradi-Lite®, Nite-Lite®, Cooley-Brite®, Cooley-Brite® Lite, Signmaster® Supreme.

April 2012

43 28

Building Signs is an Art BY JEFF WOOTEN

A creative sign shop engineers custom, standout signage.


New Opportunities for Routing BY STEPHEN GLAD

Sign tools produce ice sculptures and amusement park fixtures.

photo courtesy of dream scape.




37 43 The Message Makes the Medium 52 A Captivating Signage Project A Gallery of Wall Coverage BY LORI SHRIDHARE AND JEFF WOOTEN

Selling, designing, and installing wallcoverings.

Channel letter fabrication ups a family-run sign shop’s capacity.



Content is key to the power of digital signage.

Mosaic tiles lead to a toast-worthy sign.

Sign Builder Illustrated (Print ISSN 895-0555, Digital ISSN 2161-4709) (USPS#0015-805) (Canada Post Cust. #7204564) (Bluechip Int’l, Po Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2, Agreement # 41094515) is published monthly by Simmons-Boardman Publ. Corp, 345 Hudson Street, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10014. Printed in the U.S.A. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY and Additional mailing offices. Pricing, Qualified individual working in the sign industry may request a free subscription. Non-qualified subscriptions printed or digital version: 1 year US $105.00; foreign $197.00; foreign, air mail $297.00. 2 years US $149.00; foreign $267.00; foreign, air mail $497.00. BOTH Print & Digital Versions: 1 year US $158.00; foreign $296.00; foreign, air mail $396.00. 2 years US $224.00; foreign $400.00; foreign, air mail $600.00. Single copies are $36.00 ea. Subscriptions must be paid for in U.S. funds only. Copyright © Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation 2012. All rights reserved. Contents may not be


Built-in Channel Letter Appeal


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

reproduced without permission. For reprint information contact: Art Sutley, Publisher 212-620-7247 or For Subscriptions, & address changes, please call (800) 895-4389, (402) 346-4740, Fax (402) 346-3670, e-mail or write to: Sign Builder Illustrated, Simmons-Boardman Publ. Corp, PO Box 10, Omaha, NE 68101-0010. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Sign Builder Illustrated, PO Box 10, Omaha, NE 68101-0010. Instructional information provided in this magazine should only be performed by skilled crafts people with the proper equipment. The pub lisher and authors of information provided herein advise all readers to exercise care when engaging in any of the how-to activities pub lished in the magazine. Further, the publisher and authors assume no liability for damages or injuries resulting from projects contained herein.

Boldly going where no other sign lighting company has gone before.

And leaving the competition in the stardust.

Who’s chasing AgiLight now? We've launched a whole galaxy of new sign lighting solutions that are light years ahead of the competition. Meet some of our latest stars: • Mini The tiny module that packs a premium punch. Smaller foot print than our industry-leading ThinRayz product. • Power Supply A user-friendly and reliable IP68-rated power supply that cuts material and labor costs. • Bold Cabinet Sign Lighting that ramps up the light output. • SignRayz G2 A new generation of SignRayz offering superior performance and even greater face coverage. • ALE (Area Lighting Element) A new retrofit kit for undercanopy lights that opens up new market opportunities for installers.

We’re exploring the final frontiers of sign lighting. 866.482.0203

How-To Columns


Creating Pan-formed “Nautical” Entry Signs

Agenda APRIL 2012 April 24-25 Northeast States Sign Association’s NSSA Sign Expo 2012 will be taking place at the Turf Valley Golf Resort & Conference Center in Ellicott City, Maryland. For more information, visit

MAY 2012


MAy 9-11 The 2012 LIGHTFAIR Tradeshow and Conference will be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. To learn more, log on to

Shop Talk

18 Creating Pan-formed “Nautical” Entry Signs BY MARK ROBERT

Departments 6  UpFront

Set sail on making residential signs with a seafaring theme.

Questions abound this month as Editor Jeff Wooten tries to get behind some of the essential answers.

23 Spirit Products for School Sports Teams

10  Dispatches


An education on providing signage for local school and sports teams.

The latest news from around the industry.

14  Sign Show

The newest products and services from sign manufacturers.

56  SBI Marketplace

Advertisements and announcements from the sign trade. How-To

Adding Logos

entry signs

Nautical enhancements




Si gn Bu i lde r i lluStr ate d

a p ri l 20 12




Number 202


Num b er 20 2

april 2012

School & team signage




Custom Routing >

> Wall Coverings Programming LEDs

60  Shop Talk

It takes two to create one-of-a-kind signs.

On the Cover

MAy 15-16 The second SGIA 2012 Business Development Conference, designed to facilitate partnerships between the graphic and sign community and brand managers at retail establishments, is scheduled to take place at the Westin Downtown Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. For further details, visit MAy 17-19 The Illinois Sign Association and the Wisconsin Sign Association will co-host a Joint Spring Conference and Table Top Trade Show at the Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan, Wisconsin. To learn more, log on to

“Accessorize” your routed identity signage, as shown in this photo provided by Acme Industrial Thinking of Cookeville, Tennessee.

Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012


by jeff wooten

April 2012, Vol. 26, No. 202

Questions of the Day— Answered?

Sign Builder Illustrated (ISSN 0895-0555) print, (ISSN 2161-0709) digital is published by Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation executive offices

President and Chairman Arthur J. McGinnis, Jr. Publisher Arthur J. sutley

Some questions really are worth asking.


very now and then, my mind will sometime wanders, and I start pondering questions where any answer seems maddening. For example: What existed before the start of time and how long did this period exactly last? Another good one: If the grammar reminder is “i” before “e” except after “c,” then how do you explain “neighbor?” Or “weird?” And maybe the best: How do you respond when your wife or girlfriend asks for an honest opinion about “does this outfit make me look fat?” (Then again, maybe this isn’t such a maddeningly perplex answer after all!) Then there are those questions that should have a logical answer but take some effort to arrive at them. For example, I saw a sign by the front door in a restaurant stating that “Braille menus are available by request.” However there was no Braille on this sign. Why not? Elsewhere, starting at the end of this month (April 30), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is slated to require about six million private-sector businesses to post an 11-by-17inch employees rights notice posters in their facilities to, among other things, inform workers of their right to join (or not join) a union. And as you might expect from having this subject brought up here, a number of these businesses are going to be sign companies. The first “logical answer somewhere” question that must be asked: Why? And then: Does the NLRB really have the authority to enforce this rule? A federal court recently judged that, yes, the NLRB does have authority to do so based on actions set by Congress, but it did dismiss a couple of severe penalties, such as an automatic


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

violation of the NLRA for failure to post this notice. Instead charges of unfair labor practices for failing to do so will be on a case-by-case basis. The International Sign Association (ISA) joined a coalition of manufacturing trade associations to oppose the then-proposed rule last year and is still doing so after this federal court ruling. Its statement: “The NLRB lacks the authority to require the notice or impose any penalties, and will be seeking further remedy in order to protect its members, perhaps even through legal avenues.” (Note: For more information about this matter, contact ISA’s David Hickey at Currently contributor Jim Hingst is working on an article about how the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) might affect you, so legislation appears to be a hot topic these days. Which leads to another question: Because of this court decision, will the NLRB feel entitled to enact more rules of this type? Not sure of the answer...yet. But it’s there somewhere. But fortunately there are some questions that are easy to answer, which we address this month. For example: What do you need to know about the appeal of wallcoverings (pictured, above)? Today tools and materials allow you to customize and transform rooms, lobbies, and hallways with high-definition images, paintings, and/ or photographs. On page 37, we offer solutions on how to market and install these graphics. See? Sometimes there are questions with easy answers! (And check out our informative articles about custom-routing, LED display content, and why handcrafted signage still matters.)

345 Hudson Street, 12th floor New York, NY 10014 212/620-7247; fax: 212/633-1863 editorial editor

Jeff Wooten

323 Clifton Street, Suite #7 Greenville, NC 27858 252/355-5806; fax: 252/355-5690 associate editor

Ashley Bray

345 Hudson Street, 12th Floor New York, NY 10014 401/722-5919; fax: 212/633-1863 contributing writers

Butch “superfrog” Anton,   Mike Antoniak, Jan Fletcher,  Jim hingst, Peter Perszyk, Mark  roberts, lori shridhare, randy  Wright art

Corporate Art Director Wendy Williams Associate Art Director Phil Desiere production

Corporate Production Director Mary Conyers circulation

Circulation Director Maureen Cooney advertising sales east coast regional sales director

Jeff sutley 212/620-7233; fax: 212/633-1863 west & midwest regional sales manager

Kim noa

212/620-7221; fax: 212/633-1863

For reprint information contact  Art Sutley 345 Hudson St 12 Floor New York, NY 10014 212/620-7247; fax: 212/633-1863 Circulation Dept. 800/895-4389

Photography by Greg Gorman Š 2012

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a wrap that went

To The Dogs Dover, Delaware—If a van wrap featuring a set of doe-eyed dogs and the plead “Can I come live with you?” makes you change lanes to get to the adoption center, then Carolyn Phinney has done her job. President of Signs By Tomorrow of Dover, Delaware (www.signsbytomorrow. com/dover), Phinney and her team recently created and installed a wrap for Paws for Life (, an adoption center that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters. Phinney was no stranger to Paws For Life or its non-profit mission. Prior to purchasing SBT of Dover with her husband three years ago, she worked for a nonprofit. And not long ago, Paws For Life helped lead Phinney to her own dog, Ace, who has now become the shop’s mascot. “I have always had an extreme, deep love for animals,” says Phinney. “I fell in love with the group because of what they stood for.” So when Paws For Life approached 10

Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

all photos courtesy of signs by tomorrow, dover.


A Retail Makeover

the end result, but the organization was even more surprised when Phinney took $600 off the cost of the wrap and donated it back to the organization. “This isn’t even about just saving these dogs. These animals are saving people,” she says. In addition to Paws For Life, SBT of Dover has done charity work with Meals on Wheels and offers a 10 percent discount for non-profits. Phinney believes it it is very valuable to be involved in the Ace local community. “I pay it forward,” she says. “If something comes back because I helped out a person or an organization, then to me it was two-fold.” —Ashley Bray

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated

photo courtesy of nanolumens.

Phinney about the van wrap, she was more than receptive. She designed a partial wrap to stay within the non-profit’s budget. The design went through about six proofs before SBT settled on a wrap featuring rescue dogs, the plea for adoption, and the phrase “I brake for strays” on the back bumper. Using its HP 9000 solvent printer, the sign shop printed the graphics onto Avery vinyl with an Avery overlaminate. The graphics included s e c t i o n s o f Av e r y window perf, as well as an Avery reflective vinyl on the back of the van (which allows portions of the wrap to be visible at night). It took one installer about three hours to apply the graphics to the van. Paws For Life was very pleased with

Norcross, Georgia—The M·A·C Cosmetics store received a makeover when NanoLumens (www. installed its NanoSlim™ LED display in the front window of the New York SoHo location. The “digital wallpaper” is a fixed retail installation designed to compel people to enter the store. Measuring 4.5 feet wide-by-9 feet tall, it is less than 3 inches deep so retailers can maximize floor space. The display boasts a seamless 4mm pixel pitch with stunning resolution, high brightness, and off-axis viewing angles to effectively engage consumers from any distance or angle. The display can be built to any size with no bezels. Diversified Media Group of Kenilworth, New Jersey installed the display, which helps M·A·C stand out from the crowd. “Traditional displays have become ineffective in engaging and holding the consumer’s attention," said NanoLumens President & CEO Rick Cope. "When people pass by a storefront and see stunning seamless visuals, they can’t help but stop and check it out.”


Dispatches +

St. PAul, minnESotA—3M Commercial Graphics ( will continue to showcase its 3M™ Scotchprint® Wrap Film Series 1080 for thousands of car enthusiasts at select NASCAR® races this year. “3M’s extraordinary wrap films are already used on many NASCAR vehicles, but fans may not realize that they too can use it to create a custom look of their own,” said Doug Blackwell, business development manager for 3M Commercial Graphics. After successful demos earlier this year at the Daytona 500 and the Subway Fresh Fit 500, visitors will be able to watch a car being customized with 3M car wrap films at other racing events. Booth staff will also answer questions, hand out product samples, and provide information on how visitors can create their own custom car wraps with the help of their nearest 3M Certified and 3M Preferred Graphics Installer. Car wrap demonstrations take place July 15 (New Hampshire Motor Speedway; Loudon, NH), August 25 (Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, TN), September 16 (Chicagoland Speedway; Chicago, IL), September 30 (Dover Intl. Speedway; Dover, DE), October 21 (Kansas Speedway; Kansas City, KS), and November 11 (Phoenix Intl. Speedway; Phoenix, AZ)..


Video Walls Enhance the Shopping Experience Edmonton, Alber ta, Canada—The Edmonton City Centre (ECC) is a unique retail bridge that connects to two downtown hotels and includes more than 800,000 square feet of retail space. With 4.5 million pedestrians passing through the area each year, ECC officials knew they needed to do something to better engage these potential shoppers. Working with integrator WMC Digital Media, Inc., ECC started planning a video wall installation that would allow marketers to interact with passers-by. “We want to entice their participation in community events or simply entertain them with trivia and news,” said Walsh McPherson, founder of the WMC. The ECC wanted the LCD displays to be able to handle everything from video and animation to audio and RSS feeds. It planned to display advertisements alongside social media posts, trivia, sports stats, and more. To be sure this content was viewed by the targeted demographic, the screens had to be installed in the most ideal locations. “The sizing, placement, and location of the video walls were a top priority,” said McPherson. “The content would have no purpose—and the project wouldn’t be beneficial—if the target

Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

audience can’t easily view the video walls.” The ECC chose to use NEC Display Solutions ( because they met the aesthetic, color calibration, and 24/7 reliability requirements. Three video walls, comprised of NEC X462UN ultra-narrow LCD displays, were installed at the elevated walkway that joins the east and west buildings of ECC. The wall configurations include a four-by-four-inch landscape (east wall), as well as a two-bytwo-inch portrait and three-by-three-inch landscape (both on the west wall). To help cover the costs of implementing the new signage system, the ECC and WMC relied on revenue generated from adver tisers. More adver tisers are continuously being added to the rotation. The system was launched in October. “ T h e reac t i o n b y l o c al s h as be e n phenomenal, and retailers are impressed with the results they’re getting from this targeted marketing,” said McPherson.

all photos courtesy of nec display solutions.

photo courtesy of 3m commercial graphics.

3M Wrap Demos

SignSHOW architectural SiGNaGe Turn the Page with Component Signage’s New 2012 Product Catalog and Standard Color Chart Component Signage, Inc., has released its 2012 Product Catalog and Standard Color Chart. This free publication consists of the company’s wide selection of wholesale architectural signage, which includes (but is not limited to) post-and-panel signs, pylon and monument signs, blade signs, sign blanks, and more. Many of the products are optional backlit and can come UL Listed. The company includes one standard polyurethane paint color in the price. Component Signage, Inc., sells direct, which passes the cost savings on to you. (

d i G i ta l p r i N t i N G e q u i pm e N t/ S u p p l i e S Vibrant 3M Solvent Inks Offer Flexibility and Reliable Performance with Seiko Printers 3M Commercial Graphics and Seiko I Infotech Inc. (SIIT) introduce GX 3M inks—vibrant, flexible, colored inks made for use in the Seiko I Infotech ColorPainter™ H Series Printers. Designed for printing on many 3M-brand opaque, translucent, and reflective graphic films, GX 3M inks can be applied on or to fleet and vehicle graphics, indoor and outdoor signs, and promotional graphics. Its excellent conformability means that GX 3M inks are suitable for graphic films installed on compound curves, corrugations, and riveted and flat surfaces. These solvent inks are available in eight rich colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, black, light cyan, light magenta and two shades of white). When protected with the proper 3M overlaminate, the inks are also durable and weather-resistant. (

Marabu Launches its Water-based Sublimation Ink Marabu North America introduces its first water-based ink, TexaJet DX-SHE (Sublimation-Hybrid-Epson). Suitable for both transfer and direct digital printing, this new premium ink has been developed specifically for the commercial sublimation printer, as well as wide format printers using Epson DX4 and DX5 printhead technologies. The TexaJet ink features intense colors and deep, rich blacks; excellent print quality; outstanding light, wash, and perspiration fastness; and more. A convenient bulk system is also available. (

led mOduleS/tuBeS/StripS Shine On with LEDtronics’s Sunlight-visible, Bayonet-base LED Cluster Bulbs LEDtronics introduces a family of sunlight-visible, bayonet-base 6/7 LED cluster lamps as replacements for incandescent T3¼ miniature bulbs. The BF3126 and BF3127 Series of LED lamps feature a 90 percent reduction in power consumption and are impervious to electrical and mechanical shock as well as environmental extremes. The bulbs are available in a variety of colors (ranging from Aqua Green to Super Orange to Warm White). Both socket- and circuit-compatible for easy installation and interchangeability, the bulbs display a wide viewing angle of 120 degrees. They are rated at 100,000 hours MTBF for color light and up to 50,000 hours for white LED. (

p O St & pa N e l S i G N S POST COATS™ Works with Any Shape Post and Post Material POST COATS™ is a durable (seven-year-warranty), easy to apply, inexpensive alternative to painting sign posts. In less than ten minutes, you can have a “ready-to-install,” seamless, PVC-coated post in either black or white. POST COATS is a heavy-duty PVC shrink tubing designed especially for four-by-four sign posts. It covers knots and splits in the wood, giving you a smooth, attractive finish without the need for curing or drying times. POST COATS is also vinyl-receptive, so you can easily add numbers or logos to the posts. Best of all, POST COATS can be applied to “wet” wood! (


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

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Removable Matte Wall Film New!


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Carbon Fiber Wrapping Film

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Metallic & Gemstone Specialty Films

Hi Gloss Intermediate

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SignSHOW S e r v i c e t r u c k S / c r a N e S / e q u i p. Elliott Develops Sign & Lighting Body Package for Its M43 HiReach Elliott Equipment’s popular M43 HiReach telescopic aerial work platform is now available with a standardized aluminum line body built by Alum-Line and developed in partnership with Elliott’s dealers and sign and lighting industry customers. The toolbox body provides storage for lamps, tools, and supplies in a series of lockable boxes resting below the bed. The Alum-Line body features a 12-foot-4-inch aluminum tread plate bed covered with Elliott’s non-skid coating. The body is composed of one 26-by-45-by-98-inch saddle box behind the cab, two 48-inch-wide underbody boxes, and two 28-inch-wide underbody boxes at the rear. The bed also includes smooth aluminum fender skirting and tie down rails on both sides. Thanks to the minimized weight of the aluminum body, users can carry more on the job site than ever before. Other popular features include strobe lights on the turret, LED lights in the body, and a power inverter in a toolbox to provide steady power to the 110-volt outlet in the platform. (402/592-4500;

S i G N B l a N k S / pa N e l S / S u B St r at e S Laminators Expands Omega-Bond™ Product Line with Two New Colors After discussions with several key industry professionals, high-quality rigid substrate manufacturer Laminators Incorporated recently added two new colors to its Omega-Bond™ sign panel product line—Light Ivory and Bronze Metallic—to meet customers' unique needs. Omega-Bond is a solid-core aluminum composite panel that features a double-sided, painted aluminum bonded to a solid polyethylene core (making them rigid yet lightweight). This high-quality substrate is exceptionally strong and durable and is optimal for direct digital printing, bending, routing, and cutting and can be used in a multitude of new applications—including real estate signage, billboards, government spec work, and more. (877/OMEGA-77;

Latex Unleashed

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888-530-3987 © 2012 Mimaki USA, Inc.

JV400_H_SBI0412.indd 1 16 Mimaki Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

3/2/12 4:44 PM

TOOLS Get a Better Reach with MK Products’ Flex Barrel™ MK Products introduces the Flex Barrel™, which offers the ability to weld in previously difficult-to-reach areas found in aluminum welding. The Flex Barrel can bend from 180 degrees to beyond 90 degrees, depending on the application. It can also be used for hard wire applications. Designed to fit with the air-cooled versions of MK Products’ most popular guns, the Flex Barrel can also use the same cups and tips from the CobraMAX™ and Cobra® MX MAX cup models, in addition to spring-loaded tips. Available in twelve-, twenty-four-, and thirty-six-inch lengths, the Flex Barrel comes standard with a Flex Barrel tip and #8 Flex Barrel gas cup for easier reach in tough-to-weld spaces. (

MultiCam’s Robot Slider Facilitates Jobs MultiCam Inc., has announced the availability of its Robot Slider, which is ideal for high-speed, high-velocity, medium-duty pick-and-place applications, painting, and other related activities. At fourteen inches tall along the track, the low-profile system features a 35 mm precision linear guide rail. Its precision-ground helical rack can support multiple trolleys up to 2 meters in length and equipment weighing up to 10,000 pounds. Optional tread plate covers protect precision components from splatter during welding operations, and its modular design allows for extended lengths. The MultiCam Robot Slider is available with quiet e-chain or conduit rail (Bus bar) connectivity to extend the robot track by one-meter increments. (972/929-4070;

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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated



By MArk roBerts


Creating Pan-formed “Nautical” ENtry SigNS

New signs use today’s materials to achieve a classic look.


e were recently challenged to recreate two double-sided residential community signs that were once made of plywood and two-by-four-inch pine framing and studs. These signs had been up for many years and were heavily weathered (and showing it). My shop foreman Michael and I agreed to keep the original ’60s look for these new, slightly-larger signs—however we would do so using clean, durable materials such as pan-formed aluminum faces and welded aluminum angle framework. Michael is always at home under a welder’s helmet, so he took on the task of creating the

The new community sign retains the original 1960s look.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

aluminum angle chassis. We selected 2-inch-by2-inch-by-1/4-inch extruded aluminum angle for the framework. Taking the twenty-five-foot sections of aluminum angle, we proceeded to chop the angles into the finished-size pieces. For the 4-by-10-foot sign panel, we created two identical side frames and joined them together with 12-inch angles using our heli-arc welder. When completed, we drilled the mounting holes into the horizontal angle sections on the north and south sides of the chassis. We used 48-inch-by-120-inch-by-0.080-inch, pre-finished, white aluminum for the two pan faces. Notching the aluminum sheet with our corner notch press, we were then ready to load the sheets into the metal brake. Carefully lining up the sheets—“straight” being the word of the hour here—we depressed the foot pedal to actuate the hydraulic-powered bending ledge. The top and bottom edges were bent first, and the remaining side edges were bent last. Inside the corners of the pans, we added additional ninety-degree aluminum angle pieces for extra strength. We attached them with pop rivets. (Note: We also created a chassis and pan faces for the second, smaller version of this sign.) The copy for the signs had to resemble a mid’60s style, so we took photographs of the existing signs. We imported these photos into Adobe® Illustrator® and hand-vectorized the retro fonts.This operation was rather quick and easy to accomplish. From there, we sent the files to our Gerber plotter for cutting the 2-mil vinyls used for this project. We applied the vinyl lettering to the aluminum pan faces using transfer tape. For the main text, “Fairmont Park,” we cut full-size drop shadows and laid these onto the faces first using the transfer tape. Then we added the top layer of the lighter blue text on top of these drop shadows. Now for the really fun part—the hand-shaped pelicans! I cut the outlines and details of the

The light blue vinyl lettering and full-size drop shadows were applied to the aluminum pan faces using transfer tape.

With the added “nautical” embellishments, the new sign makes a splash.

The outlines of the pelicans were spray-painted with Krylon® paint.

pelicans on my vinyl plotter. After weeding the vinyl and applying the application tape, we transferred these birds to Precision Board™ high-density urethane. After a thorough adhesion process, I took my low-tech can of indoor/outdoor Krylon® and spray-painted all over the outlines of the pelicans. In a few short minutes, they were dry enough to begin the tooling process. My secret weapons for hand carving Precision Board HDU are my riffler files. These awesome tools make quick work of carving detail into Precision Board. A few scrapes here and a few V-grooves there quickly created a three-dimensional pelican—or in this case, two pelicans (one for both signs). We painted these fine-feathered friends with Coastal Enterprises PB hard coat. After drying, we repainted every bird with Coastal Enterprises FSC-88 WB primer. (Note: Trust me, drying for this product is better achieved with a portable fan instead of the sun).

It was agreed that the new design would still incorporate the original 1960s look.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

Adding to the seaside theme: Hand-carved fishing net floats. The pelicans were carved out of Precision Board HDU using riffler files.

After all the birds were dry, we applied a final coat of Ronan Aquacote latex enamel. We attached the birds to the aluminum pans using high-bond, two-sided 3M™ VHB™ Tape, silicone adhesive, and wood screws fed into the backside of the pans. This triple-threat mounting method will slow down the potential curio seeker who may want a pelican for his or her room. On installation day, we loaded up the trailer with the welded chassis, the pans, and the filler pieces of sheet aluminum that would seal the signs all around. Arriving at the job site, we took down the old signs, cleaned the original posts, and aligned the first sign chassis between the two extreme posts. Thanks to some great job site measurements taken before production, it proved a nice, tight fit. For both signs, we attached the chassis to the two end pilings with galvanized allthread rod and nuts securely tightened to both ends. Once they were tight, level, and square, we added the side pan faces. Using more 3M VHB Tape on the vertical angles, we guided the tight-fitting pans over the chassis. Once they were set into place, we added the top filler aluminum sheet and secured it with pop rivets. Although everything was in place according to the job specifications, something just didn’t look right. Sure the signs were somewhat “nautical,” but I wanted more of a real “seaside” experience. Being the proud owners of several barrels of scrap Precision Board, Michael and I decided to create some fishing net floats to hang onto the large pilings that hold the sign panels. Back at the shop, we cut choice pieces of scrap Precision Board to the rough


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shape of a fishing float on our scroll saw. From there, we hand-tooled the textures and created division lines between the colors using our riffler file set. After creating twenty-four floats in less than an hour, we painted them in no particular order. Then we allowed them to dry overnight. Returning to the job site, we threaded several floats onto four strands of oneinch nylon rope that was just looking for employment in a project. We secured the strands of floats to the pilings of both signs with galvanized deck screws. Now I was happy! With the addition of the fishing net floats, the signs were truly “nautical.” And the client appreciated the valueadded embellishments, which really gave the signs some sea legs.

Mark Roberts is a thirty-three-year sign industry veteran, a seminar and workshop instructor, and a regular columnist for the coolest magazine in the industry—the one you’re reading! Be sure to visit Mark’s Web sites at and

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Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

3/20/2012 1:05:43 PM


By MArk roBerts


Spirit Products for School Sports Teams Get educated on getting involved with local sports teams.


f you’re looking for easy sales, then look no further than your local schools and sports teams. Just like any competitive sport, the rivalry between school teams is fierce and serious. Gone are the days of simple “computerplotted” silhouette decals on white. Today school and league teams are actively looking for fullcolor graphics and photographs on their decals, signs, and banners. We’re enjoying our tenth year of marketing these products to local teams. Currently I’m

servicing three high school and eleven league football teams with my digitally printed window decals, yard signs, banners, and magnetic decals—all printed on my Roland VersaCAMM VP-540 printer/cutter. With good designs, these products sell themselves. The profit margins are nice too. I have six prices for my entire product line of team spirit products—$3, $10, $12, $15, $30, and $50. After setting up the Roland VersaCAMM VP-540 printer/cutter in the shop, I noticed that the improvement in quality over the resin-printed decals was extraordinary. There’s better shading, improved tones, and much easier set-up for printing and cutting. Through this methodology, we now offer car decals, magnets in three sizes, yard signs, room signs, and other by-request novelty team signs and products.

photo yard signs One hot product we introduced this year is the photo yard sign. These signs have a photographic base consisting of a striped-andnumbered football field. The parent must supply a high-resolution photo file or print of their player, dancer, or cheerleader for us to use in production. Step one is to eliminate all the information around the perimeter of the player or dancer. We accomplish this by placing the file into Photoshop and using the Quick Mask tool. We then paint all around the player or dancer’s image. Next we press the “Q” key to turn off the Quick Mask. This reveals the classic “marching ants” surrounding the image of the player or dancer. Now it’s easy to place this closely cropped Yard sign combining a photograph with a striped field.

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


A yard sign can also be as simple as the name of a player on their football helmet.

image onto the base artwork—in this case, a photo of a football field. Next we add the jazzed-up text to complete the sign. Of course, we’ll use beveling, drop shadows, and a few other

assorted tricks to really make the text pop off the sign. When finished, these signs are a true keepsake for the players or dancers— much more so than simple printed or

Adding digital prints to a nylon swooper.

vinyl-lettered signs. In fact, these signs can be as simple to design as a football helmet belonging to a specific player and featuring their name.

nylon swooper flags Another of our latest ventures into team spirit products is the design and decoration of nylon swooper flags. (Note: We purchase the flag kits from an advertising wholesaler in Houston, Texas.) To achieve a high-quality print, you have to begin with a high-quality heat transfer material, such as Roland ESMHTM-50-24. We immediately start by pre-pressing the flag to remove any wrinkles. Our designs are created in Photoshop® and then exported to Illustrator® CS5, where the perimeter cut files are created. After printing out and cutting these designs, we lay out the individual letters and logos right onto the surface of the swooper flags. Next we apply clear pre-mask via the squeegee over each letter and logo. We then set each individual letter and logo into the heat press one at a time for eighteen seconds. After the buzzer sounds, we open the press, remove the transfer film, and advance the swooper flag to the right, where we will transfer the next letter in the sequence.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

Nylon swooper flags involve removing wrinkles, applying the clear pre-mask, and heat pressing letters and logos.

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated



A high school football team in front of their new nylon swooper flag.

We have enjoyed 100 percent success in transferring these digitally printed transfers to the nylon swoopers, and best of all, only one side requires letter and logo adhesion, because everyone can see the reverse images on the back side.

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There are numerous other spirit products you can create for your local spor ts teams—banners, car decals, magnets, etc. We’ve also responded to several suggestions from parents about offering additional products like printed tote bags, spirit towels, and even parent “Game Day” T-shirts—all of which are very easy to create with the Roland heat transfer material. (Note: For T-shirts, we purchase them from a local wholesale supplier, as well.) The market for team spirit products grows every week, and one of the greatest benefits we enjoy seeing is the happiness

Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

With good designs, spirit products sell themselves and provide nice profits. on the children’s faces when they receive their decals and signs. We’ve also noticed a few smiles and looks of relief on school administrators’ faces when we deliver and install their custom-printed banners, parking lot signs, and other personalized items that we print on-demand (sometimes with next-day delivery status). The market for these items will only continue to increase, and every year is another opportunity to branch out to new schools and teams in new markets. Fun stuff, enjoyable work, happy faces, and excellent profits. I mean, really, what more could you want in a career?

Identity Signage / By jeff wooten ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Building Signs is

An Art

Acme Industrial Thinking engineers standout signage.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

All PhoToS courTeSy of Acme InduSTrIAl ThInkIng.


he historical, retrofit West Side district of Cookeville, Tennessee hosts lots of shops, studios, and restaurants that are endowed with more creative and artist-driven aesthetic sensibilities. One of these is Acme Industrial Thinking (, a fabrication studio/metal-woodworking shop that “pairs the latest in CNC mill technology with the individuality of hand-craftsmanship.” Co-owned and operated by married couple Bob and Jen Rhea, Acme Industrial isn’t a “big box” shop; in fact, the two work on everything from custom signs to furniture to movie props to garage doors to anything else unique. While the shop’s name takes inspiration from animated Looney Tune™ “Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius,” Acme Industrial’s real-world creations are the complete opposite of any engineered Road Runner disasters. “We generally do ‘art’ or ‘boutique’ signs with dimensional elements,” explains Bob Rhea (pictured, left), noting they do no can signs and very little vinyl. “People come to us because they want something out of the ordinary—and we really don’t know how to do anything else.” Take, for example, the multi-piece 18-by-44-inch dimensional sign Acme Industrial created for Just For You (JFY), a designer gift shop also located in the West Side district.


The height of the awning meant an 18-by-44-inch horizontal sign.

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


The owner of Just For You, Marcie Ferran, loved the exquisite building-mounted identification sign Acme Industrial had done for nearby interior design firm Lenhart Design Company. This sign featured a “classic, antique feel” that complemented the building’s architecture and lighting— complete with steel elements, matching paints, and fancyscript dimensional letters mounted off the sign panel via stand-offs. Ferran had been leaning a plain piece of Coroplast with a printed JFY logo decal in her window; however she wanted a fun, sculptural piece that could stand out from underneath an awning (and stand out from her neighbors’ signage). So Ferran handed the Rheas her business card and a copy of her circular logo. “We immediately knew the space and height under the awning dictated a horizontal sign,” he says. The owner also wanted to include her tagline (“jewelry, gifts, & accessories”) on the sign, so Rhea decided to add wings with this copy to the circular “Just For You” centerpiece. Rhea checked out the store site to keep the sign consistent with branding. “I try to take in the environment as a whole, before we start doing colors,” he explains, “so I looked around at the signs already on the street and everything else in the environment. We didn’t want [the sign] blending in with the surrounding area. If there’s a lot of black, red, and green around, I didn’t want to make a red, black, and green sign.” Rhea also took cues from the atmosphere and merchandise inside the store, as well as its Web site design. “[Ferran] said she wanted something unusual, ornate, and very colorful, and it was my job to make sure she got it,” he says. Next Rhea created various color samples of the sign design in a proof for Ferran to review. She wanted to keep the turquoise, purple, and green colors as they appear in her logo, but Rhea convinced her to tone down and turn up some shades and combine some of the colors to make a sign that would really “pop” on the sidewalk. “We picked those colors based on impact and distance,” he explains. “Because of the surrounding visual clutter, I wanted her sign, no matter which end of the block you were at, to be the first thing your eye would notice.” With the proof approved, Rhea turned to construction and his trusty ShopBot® PRSstandard CNC router. “The ShopBot affords me the use of digital tools that I was already trained on, coupled with efficiency, repeatability, and speed,” he says. “I can program the mill to drill alignment holes in all of my parts for a surgical fit [Ed. note: which he also did for this project]. My signs go together like a model kit, which speaks to my background.” (Note: Rhea believes the key with any production tool is 30

Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

Color samples originally considered.

Each side of the sign features nine pieces stacked up on one another.

“We used to cut everything by hand and had a lot of trouble. Now our PlasmaCAM does it all, attaining levels of production not thought possible before. It’s run 4050 hours a week for the past three years. It attains incredible detail, is very easy and cost efficient to operate, and requires little maintenance. The bottom line is: this machine

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to push it to do things that most others aren’t doing, while at the same time not letting it replace your creativity. “We’re not doing anything super-complicated on paper, but when you put it all together, the results can be pretty amazing,” he says.) Taking into consideration that this sign would be positioned under an awning, Rhea decided to use PVC for the black “Just For You” letters (placing them on aluminum stand-offs) and Extira® exterior treated panel for the remainder. “PVC cuts like butter on the CNC and renders a sharp, color-fast product,” says Rhea. “Extira is also easy to cut, but it’s also easy to paint and glue and is fairly stable outdoors. It was very cost-effective for this project.” Before cutting, Rhea first had to completely rebuild the JFY logo using the SolidWorks® CAD program. “The mill can be a finicky thing,” he says, “and when customers give us artwork, it’s generally not clean enough. If there are a bunch of little squiggly lines in the design, the CNC is also going to cut every single one of those little squiggly lines.” The sign’s body was cut from Extira exterior treated After cleaning up the design, Rhea exported the panel, and the letters were cut from PVC. image over to PartWorks CAD/CAM software, where he created all the text and verbiage for the sign and wrote the cutting program. He then sent this file to the graved words “Jewelry” and “Accessories.” Rhea then cut the structural base pieces next, then the frilly pieces, the cog ShopBot PRSstandard for clean, precise cutting. Each side of the sign features nine pieces stacked up on one gear designs, and the letters. Acme Industrial applied five colors of paint to the pieces. another, so Rhea stepped each of them. He first cut the background pieces, which took a little bit longer (and required To make it pop, they used high-gloss satin and flat Sherwina little more post-processing) because they feature the en- Williams® A100 exterior-grade paints and XIM varnishing ITS_ViewStation_spray paint_7x4.125_Layout 1 3/9/12 9:50 AM Page 1

it’s guaranteed to deface your display. we guarantee it won’t. When you make the leap to digital signage, you need to protect your investment. With over 27 years of experience, ViewStation from ITSENCLOSURES is guaranteed to protect your displays from rain, snow, extreme heat, frigid temperatures, theft and even the teenage vandal. From stadium to transportation terminal to drive-thru, ViewStation offers customized solutions for any display – large or small, inside or out. And each unit is installed by trained experts, made in the USA and comes with unparalleled customer support. To learn more, call 1.800.423.9911 or to view our entire online gallery of products, visit



Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

For more inFormation

about Acme Industrial Thinking, check out “Shop talk” on page 60. primers. (Note: For other jobs, they’ll also use TJ Ronan and 1-Shot paints, but never house paints.) “This was pretty timeconsuming,” says Rhea, “because we had to let one layer dry before we could add the next layer. Assembly of the individual sign pieces into a whole was made quicker by the milled locator holes. “A little gluing, a little welding, and it was complete!” states Rhea. Rhea describes the “six-minute,” on-a-ladder, crack-ofdawn install of this sign as a “dream.” He used threaded rod “sandwiched” through the center of the sign and then utilized U brackets with the existing awning structure. “It’s located in a windy corridor, so I didn’t want to hang it from chains or anything that caused it to move around a

lot and get mangled,” says Rhea. (Note: Since the sign weighs twenty-two pounds and because it was originally attached to a tubular awning frame, he later returned and installed a custom-made bracket to help support its weight.) Because of the many different elements, Acme Industrial ended up working on building and installing this sign over a three-week period—a little longer than normal. “There was quite a bit of mill time for each of the parts, as well as the carving,” says Rhea. “Then because of the elaborate color scheme, we had to wait for the paints to dry.” But in the end, Just For You now has a unique, one-of-akind sign that stands out and can be enjoyed (and noticed) by everyone!


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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


CNC Routers / By Stephen Glad ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

New Opportunities for

Routing Sign tools produce ice sculptures and amusement park fixtures.

In your current sign making process, do you use computer-aided design software (CAD) and computer-aided machining software (CAM) for a CNC router? These typical tools for dimensional signage are also used in a wide range of other industries that may present possible opportunities for sign builders. This article will look at two applications: ice sculpture and amusement park fixtures, where tools and techniques used in the sign making industry are being used to make major improvements over traditional hand-crafted methods. Sign builders looking to expand their market potential should be aware of these developments and be open to the potential for utilizing their skills and equipment in them.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

photo courtesy of ice sculpture inc.

Have you ever thought you could be doing more? Well perhaps you can.

////////////////// ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

The ice sculpture business has seen rapid growth in recent years, as increasingly detailed carvings are becoming a sought-after centerpiece for a wide range of special events (such as weddings, business meetings, birthday parties, etc.). The ice carving business has matured from relying on a few highly experienced master carvers to one in which designs are produced via CAD software and reproduced to a high level of accuracy on CNC ice routers. One of the leading companies in this business is Ice Sculpture Inc. (, founded by Jim Duggan. Duggan saw CAD/CAM methods being used in sign making and thought it could be applied to his industry in a similar manner. One example of a typical commercial project for Ice Sculpture Inc., is producing a 1/3-scale carving of a NASCAR racer. Duggan does this for the Atlanta Motor Speedway VIP Club. The company made a model of 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart’s car (pictured, above). The car and display stand consisted of nine blocks of ice (each measuring 40-by-20-by-10 inches and weighing 300 pounds). The routercarved car included logos for Chevrolet, Goodyear Tire, Old Spice, Office Depot, and yes, Ice Sculpture Inc. This car would have taken several days to produce using the traditional method of drawing a template to define the profile of the sculpture, gluing each template on a block of

ice, removing the excess ice with a chain saw, and cutting out the logos with chisels and hand power tools. (This traditional method is not only time-consuming but also prone to inaccuracies). Duggan instead imported a raster image of a side view of the car into his ArtCAM software ( and converted it to the vector format required for producing CNC programs. He then scaled the template to the 1/3-size of the ice sculpture. Duggan also obtained raster images of each of the logos that appear on the car and converted them to vector format. Next he created a standard-size ice block and copied it six times. He moved and trimmed the blocks until they fit together to make up the body of the vehicle. Then he generated the four tires of the vehicle from another ice block and combined two blocks together to make the display stand. Duggan used the ArtCAM Center Vector feature to center the logos across the width of the vehicle. Next he used the software to generate CNC code for his Ice Bulldog Pro CNC router from LSI Automation ( to produce very crisp and exact ice sculptures. “The car took about four hours to design and about four hours to cut on the CNC router,” said Duggan. “We can now produce the highest quality ice sculptures in half the time that would be required to produce them by hand.”

To create Krusty the Clown, 400+ sheets of foam were cut.

The sections were bolted and attached to a space frame.

photos courtesy of adirondack studios.

photo courtesy of ice sculpture inc.

Carving on Ice

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


photo courtesy of adirondack studios.

Hey, Hey, Hey, Kids!

Setting up Krusty’s head at the ride’s entrance.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

Another company using CNC and CAD/CAM capabilities to help with their interesting designs for themed environments, theatres, arenas, exhibit halls, restaurants, malls, and casinos (to name a few) is Adirondack Studios ( in Argyle, New York. Recently the company used this software technology and its wide set of tools to model a CNC program and produce a 35-foot-tall-by-35-foot-wide rendition of Krusty the Clown’s head that can today be found at the entrance to The Simpsons Ride™ at the Universal Studios Florida® theme park in Orlando. The client provided both a clay model and a STL surface model of Krusty’s head. Using the STL file, Adirondack Studios built an AutoCAD solid file, which was used to prepare shop drawings and then sliced into forty-six vertical, four-inchthick slabs (the thickness of the EPS foam used for the full-scale model). These slabs were then used to build forty-six STL files. Bob Gregory, senior router operator for Adirondack Studios, imported and positioned these files into an ArtCAM model that was 40-by-40 feet square. Using the Machine Relief tool, he built tool paths for each slab and then followed up with ArtCAM’s tiling engine to slice the model into slabs four feet wide and eight feet long (the size of the EPS foam stock used to produce the positive full-scale model). Over 400 sheets of foam were cut, in order to build the model on Adirondack Studios’ CNC machine with its 10-by-5foot bed. Adirondack Studios’ carpenters then glued the slabs together to make a full-size positive mold. They used a shop-built hot wire knife to cut the mold into shippable chunks. These chunks were then shipped to a fiberglass shop that used chopped fiberglass to make 1/4-inch-thick fiberglass sections of the shell. The sections were then bolted together and attached to a space frame built by Adirondack Studios that supports the shell. Krusty’s eyes were cut out and attached to a motor so they move back and forth. After the entire model was assembled, painted, and approved by the client, it was disassembled again so it could be shipped to Orlando.

Wall Graphics / By Lori Shridhare and Jeff Wooten ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

a gallery of

Wall Coverage There’s an art to selling, designing, and installing wallcoverings.

Today’s wallcoverings

“Soofteninthepast, wallcoveringshadbeenused andreferencedasasimple background,butdesigners arenowcreatingfantastic expressionsandusingwalls astheircanvas.” peter spotto, manager of international sales at dreamscape (, a wallscape company in rockaway, new jersey

Wide format digital imaging allows designers to become intrigued with the idea of designing walls, rather than simply covering them. And a variety of materials are available for smooth and rough, textured surfaces (brick, concrete, stucco, etc.).

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated

roughrap photo courtesy of mactac graphic products.

have expanded beyond the safe, boring floral patterns of grandma’s days. Now you can incorporate high-definition art, imagery, or photography—such as jungle terrain in elementary school classrooms, custom artwork reflecting the seasons in hotel rooms and bedrooms, or fine art paintings in corporate lobbies—into truly creative design patterns that bring rooms and hallways more to life.



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Designing Wallcoverings: From Start to Finish When beginning a wallcovering project, envisioning the final mural is as important as the materials chosen. Located in suburban Chicago, Mdc Wallcoverings (www. specializes in ecofriendly wall finishes, digital imaging solutions, and handcrafted wall designs. According to Marketing Manager for Digital Imaging Mike Scott, there are three stages in the wallcovering process: > Discovery. “This is where we listen, in order to learn about the client’s ideas and goals for this project,” he says. ”We discuss design development, image selection, and possible materials/substrates. “At this point, we’ll provide a project estimate based on the project parameters shared.” > PrePress/Design. “We work with the client to fine-tune their design concept and provide submittals for approval,” he says. “This may be a simple image re-size and crop or a collaboration

between [our] design team and the customer to develop an original artwork. “E-proofs are provided for the customer to review for overall content and dimensions. Strikeoffs (physical print proof) are then provided, depending on the substrate and the project requirements.” > ProDuction: “After all approvals are received, the project is then set up for production,” he says. Recently MDC completed a wall mural renovation project for a prestigious restaurant. The client wanted to use an original oil painting created by a West Coast artist. “[We] contacted the artist, explained the project parameters, outlined our image requirements, and negotiated the image use license,” says Scott. The lesson learned? “We achieved a balance between fulfilling the client’s vision and maintaining the intellectual property of the artist,” he says.

terralon Photo courtesy of DreamscaPe.

Call your Chemical Concepts Sales representative at 1-800-220-1966 for more information or visit us at

1.800.220.1966 38

Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

Customizing Graphics Customization is a key appeal for wallcoverings, since the imagery that can be used appears limitless these days. Take New Era Portfolio ( of Austin, Texas. This fine art publishing/printing company works with top interior design firms and sells artwork to a broad range of hospitality, corporate, and retail clients. Equipped with three HP Scitex LX850 and two LX600 latex printers, they saw the “big picture” and became one of the first companies to add HP Wall Art technology and services to their portfolio. The “New Era Walls by HP” solution allows designers to select and create customized wallcoverings for their clients. Designers can select from a seemingly unlimited supply of exclusive images in New Era’s database (7,000 original art works from the company’s exclusive collection, a stock image bank with over 12,000,000 images, an abstract art collection, vintage art, photography, or even browsers’ uploaded imagery) to create a customized wallcovering to fit the unique dimensions of their clients’ rooms. “The convergence over the last couple of years of cloud computing and the availability of more powerful cameras has allowed us to morph into a digital provider role,” says Joe Garcia, CEO/president of New Era. Garcia’s company produces full or partial (wall accents or appliqués) wallcoverings based on customers’ selections. “The HP Online Design tool on our site allows users to replicate their room onscreen,” he explains. “You put in your wall size and have the ability to very precisely place doorways, windows, or other obstacles into the room setting. You customize the image to your room, and within forty-eight hours, we ship it out.” New Era can even effectively reproduce wall artwork taken by the average pocket camera and digital SLRs. “Even if you took a photo with your iPhone™, there’s a maximum size at which we could still produce that,” says Garcia. “Although the files we produce from our image databases are massive—whether it’s artwork or photographs—we’ll still spend a significant amount of time optimizing artwork provided by our clients to get a big, clean file that’s perfect for


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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated



inyl materials as wallcoverings provide some key benefits. “One is dimensional stability,” says Peter Spotto of Dreamscape. “This means a vinyl wallcovering doesn’t shrink or stretch after installation, so it can be butt-seamed. “Vinyl also offers long-term durability and is fire-rated to federal standards.” Spotto points out that one of the few disadvantages to using vinyl is that it’s not permeable and therefore can create a moisture barrier on a wall system. “A moisture barrier isn’t a problem in and of itself, but if installed in a very humid environment and moisture is held behind a wall, these conditions can lead to mold or mildew growth,” he says. Typically this problem happens to wallcoverings hung in the climate of southern U.S. states. “To eliminate this concern, the vinyl wallcoverings need to be perforated (punching thousands of tiny holes into the surface) and combined with the right moldinhibiting adhesive,” explains Spotto. And for those concerned about vinyl’s impact on the environment, DreamScape vinyl wallcoverings are recyclable through its reclamation program. Speaking of green, HP’s Wall Art wallcoverings are unique in that they’re printed on HP PVC-free Wall Paper that contains 10 percent recycled content from post-consumer waste with HP Latex Inks and are GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certified. These


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

wall coverings can easily and safely be installed in indoor locations, as well as earn LEED points. You need to determine if the graphic is going on a smooth wall or a rough wall and then select the media and laminate specific to that surface.. For example, DreamScape supplies fourteen different options (including glossy smooth luster surfaces and medium and deep textures). Meanwhile MACtac’s lineup for wallcover applications includes IMAGin® DecoSatin™ (a topcoated fabric with a repositionable adhesive), IMAGin wallNOODLE™ (for wall cut-outs like sports stars or celebrities), IMAGin ROODLE™ (similar to wallNOODLE but with a standard removable adhesive instead of a microsphere adhesive), IMAGin RoughRap™ (for textured walls), IMAGin B-free® Gruv™ GV429R (with an air-egress removable adhesive), and IMAGin digiTrans™ (featuring a black, semi-permanent adhesive for absolute blocks with removability). “We recommend laminating ROODLE, B-free Gruv, and IMAGin digiTrans to protect the ink and to add body to the material for ease of installation,” says Jeff Stadelman of MACtac. A lot of media and laminates are being developed to fit the market’s need for something different. “Sometimes it’s just that little bit of extra, dazzling finish that will give the print provider an edge in their market,” says Stadelman.

new era wall art photo courtesy of hp.

Selecting Wallcovering Materials

wallcoverings. It can be done!”

Designing Layouts Meanwhile two recent DreamScape projects illustrate the range of design effects that can be achieved with wallcoverings. A bank office in Bermuda requested a long-lasting, eco-friendly wallcovering that would look great and meet its desire to have a clean and safe working environment. They contacted local printer Bermuda Blue Print, who chose Dreamscape’s lighter weight Terralon for two reasons: (1.) It would save on shipping fuel because of its lighter weight, and (2.) it passed the CA-1350 indoor air quality test. “This large job involved multiple walls on several different floors in the bank headquarters,” says Spotto. “Throughout the long hallways, they installed full wall murals with colorful underwater and landscape scenes that featured corporate responsibility messages.” Elsewhere, at the new Hard Rock Casino in Panama City, Panama, DreamScape’s Bling wallcovering showcased classic rock stars using images taken

from the 1960s to the present. “They wanted one common look that would appeal to a modern eye yet wouldn’t detract from the nuance of the blackand-white photography,” says Spotto. “The designers printed the images in sepia tone, in order to yield some dazzling, gold metallic effects that would appeal to their hip clientele.” Sometimes it helps to think of these projects on a higher scale. For example, Garcia never views nor markets his output as a “wallcovering,” instead referring to them as “floor-to-ceiling artwork” (a “new genre” of art). “‘Wallcovering’ makes it sound too much like ‘wallpaper,’” he says, “but this is really so much simpler to install. It’s also easier than lining up four to six framed paintings on a wall or painting the walls.” Spotto believes the process of creating a wallcovering can be relatively simple, if the client chooses a print provider with a design staff already onboard. “The client can then either provide their own file or share an idea that the design staff can create or source for them,” he says. “Design approvals can happen

Markets for Wallcoverings Some markets best suited for wall graphics/coverings include: > Corporate lobbies > Healthcare settings > Museums > Restaurants > Retail > Schools and universities > Sports venues A little thinking “outsidethe-box” can also be employed. “In hospitals and medical centers where patients are lying down on a table, we’ve seen graphics covering the ceiling or placed in light boxes,” says Mary Ann Kucera of MACtac®. “This gives them something pleasant to look at, instead of just ceiling tiles.”

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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


quickly through email. Then the printer can demonstrate what the art will look like printed on the chosen wallcovering material.” (Note: Since texture is an integral part of many wallcovering designs, some printers will provide small proofs or sample swatches so the client can feel the texture of the wallcovering.) Spotto points out that it’s essential to know the dimensions of the walls and any possible challenges in the space (such as the location of windows, doors, and fixtures). Most importantly, the designer must envision the final look of the design before beginning the project. “For example, large text on a graphic that is adhered on a door may read differently when the door is opened versus when the door is closed,” he says. Working first-hand with a client during the early stages can also be beneficial for financial reasons. Mary Ann Kucera, product marketing manager for MACtac® Graphic Products (www., adds, “During this design stage, the print provider can also suggest to the customer about adding floor

graphics, window graphics, etc.”

Installation Concerning installation, the first step is making sure the wall is clean and free of dust. “Wipe it down with a damp isopropyl alcohol rag,” advises Jason Yard, marketing specialist for MACtac. “For textured surfaces, use compressed air or a fine bristle brush to remove any loose dirt or mortar from the channels.” Actual installation is straightforward using the hinge method. “However the wall must be above 60°F,” states Yard. The primary tools you’ll need are squeegees, measuring tape, and a sharp knife. “An exact measurement is required for tiling. A minimum of oneinch overlap is recommended for seams and borders,” explains Yard. “You should use a sharp knife for trimming. “If you get the first panel straight, then you’ll be good to go.” For application to textured surfaces, you’re going to also need a heat gun and a foam or rubber surface roller. “Enough heat has to be employed to allow the material to conform but not to melt,” says Yard. “It

> Laminating Wallcoverings

The Writing on the Wall The trend of customizing dynamic wallcoverings is still in the infancy stage, so there’s a need to create more awareness amongst clients about these offerings. “You need to be able to help clients understand the potential of the available media,” advises Jeff Stadelman, technical marketing manager for MACtac.

that lamination of latex prints is unnecessary. “We have to get them soaking wet to apply,” he explains.

Maintaining Wall Graphics > If wallcoverings ever do need cleaning, Jeff Stadelman of MACtac advises to be careful, since digitally printed media can be scratched. “We recommend a soap, a dishwashing detergent, or a mild cleaning solution,” he explains. “Spray a soft cloth, instead of the graphic on the wall. Wash the graphic with this wet cloth and then come behind it with a dry cloth and take off any solution or dirt. “Don’t saturate your graphics with a cleaning solution and leave it to dry!”

Photo courtesy of DreamscaPe.

Although laminating is always recommended for outdoor wall graphics to protect them from UV, dirt, and moisture, not all materials require lamination (particularly partial, repositionable cut-outs and those made from fabric). “But lamination does increase ease of application and the durability of the graphic and inks,” says Jeff Stadelman of MACtac. Mary Ann Kucera of MACtac adds, “Solvent-based printers need twenty-four hours of open drying time before lamination, regardless of the media used.” Joe Garcia of New Era Portfolio, though, points out

takes some practice, but graphics will look like they were painted on the surface!” Spotto points out that the positioning of seams is critical in respect to architectural properties. “Keep seams a minimum of four inches from wall corners, door frames, and window frames,” he urges. “And avoid placing seams in critical areas of the art; you don’t want a line through the middle of a model’s face.” Garcia says that New Era Walls by HP isn’t like traditional wallpaper. It’s output by latex printers and is easy to install and remove. He first pencils in guidelines for the first panel, then installs each panel (wet, fold, unfold, and smooth), and trims any excess. For easy removal, he just wets the material and takes it down.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

/////////////////////////// Video Displays / By mike antoniak //////////////////////////////////////////

The Message Makes

the Medium Content creation and management are the key to realizing the power of digital signage.

photo courtesy of daktronics.


ED video displays empower sign makers and their enduser customers to be able to put up dazzling messages that combine colorful graphics with text, animation, and motion. But tapping all those options doesn’t necessarily translate into the most effective use of the medium. “People look at video displays in places like Times Square and think that’s something they can do on a smaller board,” observes Walter Sanchez, sales manager for LED sign and display manufacturer Grandwell Industries (www.grandwell. com). “But we always tell our customers to first find out what is and isn’t allowed by applicable local codes or ordinances.”

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


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18 Epson America Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . 8-9


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Lattice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Sign-Mart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Sign-Mart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Signs By Tomorrow . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 SloanLED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C2 Small Balls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Southern Stud Weld . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Superbright LEDS .Com . . . . . . . . . 47 Techno Inc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 TriVantage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Universal Laser Systems . . . . . . . 25 US LED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5


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Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

Codes Before Content

photo courtesy of grandwell industries.

When these types of signs are installed along roadways or at intersections, regulations may stipulate the type of content that can be displayed, as well as how often the message can be changed. Once those parameters are established, the focus can then turn to developing appropriate and effective content. “There are different factors to consider, depending on whether the display is something people will drive by or walk by,” notes Austin Lao, project and business development manager for sign manufacturer Pro-Lite, Inc. ( “If the sign will be installed along a road, you have to think about drive-times and viewing angles, as well as [the amount of time] people will have to see the message.” The setting should determine what content will be most effective. At an intersection with a stop light, content can play a little longer (and be more animated). Along a busy roadway during normal traffic hours though, that message has only a few seconds to do its job when reaching commuters.

A video display is only as good as its messaging, so shops should offer their clients assistance in creating effective content. This can serve as a new revenue stream for those shops willing to put in the work.

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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


photo courtesy of daktronics.

photo courtesy of daktronics.

photo courtesy of watchfire signs.

An effective message requires a combination of the right color, graphics, font size, and display time.

The setting will help determine the most effective content to use on an outdoor video display.

On drive-by displays, users should include no more than four lines of text in their content.

Fortunately these displays are fully programmable. This allows the owner or content manager to precisely control what’s up, how long the message is displayed, and what appears when. Still some general rules apply. “The biggest mistake I see is people using way too much white or pastel colors as a background,” states Gina Peterson, manager of creative services for display and message board manufacturer Daktronics ( “Those colors can be way too bright and actually repel the eye.” Ryan Smith, creative director for LED sign manufacturer Watchfire Signs (, agrees. “You can get away with a lot more indoors, but outside, a white background can just overpower your text,” he says. “You only have a certain amount of time for people to see your message here.”

the text with graphics for easy recognition and easy readability,” he says. “From 500 to 1,000 feet out, you want to win their glance with pleasing colors that attract the eye,” adds Peterson. “By the time a driver is within 250 feet, they should be able to understand your message through a strong graphic and text—maybe only three words.” Industry consultant and advisor Bob Klausmeier of Klausmeier Associates ( says requirements aren’t that different from traditional signage—even though more can be delivered on-screen. “There’s a tendency for people to put up way too much information on these displays,” observes Klausmeier. “You want to have your message conveyed and interpreted quickly, so say what you need in just a few short words and graphics. “If you think things through about who you’re trying to reach and what you want to say, you should be able to display an effective message in just three seconds.” For roadside displays, Smith estimates that drivers have one second to read and absorb each line of text. “We recommend

no more than four lines of text for driveby displays and to keep it simple, so it can be quickly understood,” he says. Viewing distance, traffic speed, and even the time of day should all figure in the text. “Don’t use small fonts or scripted fonts,” advises Smith. “Keep the text large—at least one-foot-tall for 300 feet of viewing distance.” Where the power of the display really comes into play is in the ability to rotate several messages on the same board and to vary the message with the time of day or immediate goals. “You can easily put up whatever you want to sell or promote at that particular time and put together three or four messages that play as a sequence,” explains Smith.

The Right Combination An effective message requires the right combination of such variables as color, graphics, font size, and display time. Sanchez suggests keeping the message as simple as possible—and the larger the better. “You want to combine 46

Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

Message Loop Approach content as a loop of several marketing messages of three or four seconds each, with other content to draw attention to the display. “I always recommend including time-and-temperature and community service information, along with whatever product or service you’re trying to promote,” explains Peterson. “

and-temperature should rotate every third or fourth sequence. This gives people a reason to look at your sign, even if they pass that way every day.” Smith advises that you can combine as many as ten or twelve screens for a two-minute loop that continually plays throughout the day. Content management software even allows display owners to filter RSS feeds for adding fresh content to the mix. “Pick elements that give people timely information: local sports scores, stock quotes, the weather, news headlines, etc.,” suggests Smith. “A radio station can use this capability to display whatever song they’re playing at that moment, while a restaurant can display something from their breakfast menu in the morning and their dinner menu at night.” Users just need to be sure they have allocated the creative services necessary to properly create content for these signs. “Each manufacturer has its own propriety software for developing and managing the content,” notes Klausmeier. “The problem is that people who

buy these signs often underestimate the creative resources required, the complexity of it, and issues like dwell time.”

Content Specialists Software allows many end-users to assume content development and management for themselves, at least initially. Over time though, some ultimately turn to their sign supplier or an outside vendor for these services. “When people come to us, they often say they had no idea there was this much work involved,” notes Deb Tracy, owner of LED content development and management specialist Sign Programmers ( “Or they say the content they’ve been able to put up just doesn’t look as good as the demonstration that convinced them to purchase a video display system.” For those who prefer to handle content in-house, Tracy advises to assign this responsibility to a staff member who already enjoys working with computers. And no matter the message, always refresh it periodically. “Every three

to five days, do something a little different—even if it’s only changing the color or moving the text and graphics around—so that it looks new to people who are passing by,” says Tracy. For those who don’t want to assume another responsibility, turnkey content services ensure a better return on the investment in an expensive display system. Professional services can also project the best image on the display, for the good of all. “When people put up messages that just don’t look good, it hurts everyone involved—the manufacturer, the sign producer, and the sign owner,” says Tracy. (Note: Tracy has also developed content for sign companies to show in their sales presentations.) “The best thing a sign producer can do is have some examples of well done content to show when selling these systems,” advises Klausmeier. “Some are finding they can develop a new revenue stream for themselves, if they sell those services when they sell the systems.”

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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


///////////////////////////// Channel Letters / By jan fletcher ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////


Channel Letter Appeal Channel letter fabrication ups a family-run shop’s capacity.

Automated technology notches and flanges the channel letters and, as it comes out the other end, bends and creates the form of the letter.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

The in-house design team uses Enroute software to lay out the channel letter and prepare it as vectorized art for production.



pendent contractors to meet the shop’s production quotas. “We’ll also work in-house on vinyl projects like banners,” she says, “but when it comes to digital prints, we’ll outsource those to third parties.” One of the niches to which Schlosser Signs has grabbed hold is internally illuminated channel letters, which have become a much-sought-after option for many businesses. One reason is their versatility. They can be crafted in all shapes and sizes. And the variety of lighting components available also allow for a variety of colors. However, because Schlosser’s company’s handles an increasing amount of sub-contract installation work as well,

All photos courtesy of schlosser signs, inc.

ver since opening its doors in 1999, Schlosser Signs, Inc. ( in Loveland, Colorado has evolved from a small, family-operated business into a thriving family-run operation with twenty-three employees. The sign company designs, fabricates, and installs, and its current facility boasts about 10,000 square feet of space. “We mostly focus on exterior signs,” says co-owner CEO Carla Schlosser. (Note: The shop was founded by two brothers, T.J. and Bernie Schlosser, and Carla was instrumental in helping set up the company as well. “We do [both] electrical and non-electrical work.” Schlosser says her firm also taps an assortment of inde-

After the design has been sent to the machine, automated technology improves turnaround times and reduces material waste.

According to T.J. Schlosser, hand-forming channel letters can take up to forty minutes to produce, while automation can do so in five to ten minutes.

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


Schlosser recognized the need to be able to increase production capacity in order to fulfill channel letter requests. The ability to quickly and efficiently manufacture channel letters in-house has always been a two-fold goal for the company: (1.) Improving turnaround time for clients, and (2.) developing a new revenue stream. “We have a revenue stream that has a certain type of client in it—and we knew this was a service these clients would benefit from, if we could provide it for them,” says Schlosser, “so it just made sense.” But instead of hiring a person to handle this, they utilize an Accu-Bend Lite machine from Computerized Cutters that notches, flanges, bends, and forms channel letters. “We’re now able to produce channel letters much faster—in as little as four to five minutes for each letter,” says Schlosser. “We typically use materials that are 5.5 inches deep with 0.40 aluminum, and we’re able to eliminate waste entirely.” Moving away from labor-intensive hand-bending to quicker automation has also allowed the sign company to pass the savings on to their clients. And this transition to automation didn’t prove especially daunting, as Schlosser Signs had already experienced plenty of in-shop success with its CNC

LEDs are used in acrylic-face channel letters at several Golden Spoon locations in Colorado (top), while open-face neon letters are on display at Johnny J’s Diner in Casper, Wyoming (bottom).

An Easier Way to get Your Message Across Advertise In Contact Jeff Sutley (East Coast) at or 212-620-7233 or Kim Noa (West, Central U.S.) at or 212-620-7221

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Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

router and the software that runs it. For channel letters, an in-house designer uses Enroute software to handle all the layouts and construction drawings and turn them into vectorized art before sending it to the Accu-Bend Lite. Sometimes this involves a little tweaking. “Customers will hand us AI, PDF, and EPS files, and our designer will turn them into a DFX file,” explains Schlosser. The depth of Schlosser’s involvement in the design process depends on the client. “Some clients—like chains or national contractors—already have the spec work done when they give it to us,” says Schlosser. “We won’t create any new designs or make any changes to their layouts. We will however create construction drawings for fabrication. “But for local customers and our direct sales, our in-house design team uses software to come up with [ideas] for them.” Schlosser has also tackled a pernicious issue for sign shops—doing free design work in the hopes of closing a sale. “[When I started] in the industry, I was really keyed into hearing and learning as much as I could from the people who were in it,” she says, “and the same kind of thread kept coming up—throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and hope some of it sticks. “I had such a problem with that, because I’ve always focused on being efficient and productive. So I did the math and tracked it for about a year and found we don’t have to pour thousands of dollars into design just to hand them over and then [have nothing happen].” For its electric sign work, Schlosser Signs doesn’t discriminate. They use LED, neon, or fluorescent lamps to get the job done. “When a customer wants to use neon these days,” explains Schlosser, “for the most part, they want the look of neon. It’s also the choice for open-face channel letters.” Schlosser points out that her shop uses commercial-rated fluorescent lamps in large sign cabinets. “We do this for the sake of cost and manufacturing methods,” she says. Schlosser says the appeal of LED lighting comes down to cost efficiency and reduced maintenance. Her company generally recommends this technology to those who want a lighted sign. In acrylicface and reverse-lit channel letters, they

regularly use modules manufactured by AgiLight, SloanLED, and US LED. There are times when Schlosser Signs uses a combination of mediums. For example, the company worked on a project for Jake Jabs’ American Furniture Warehouse in Firestone, Colorado (top photo, pages 48-49). For this client, red LEDs were employed in the channel letters, while due to the size of the large, stylized “A,” fluorescent lamps were utilized in it.

When it comes to design advice for LEDs in channel letters, Schlosser has learned that you need to notice placement when working with narrow letters or in Serif fonts. “At times, you cannot get LEDs into the very tip or end of the letter and you can end up with a shadow or a dark spot,” she says. “Sometimes you’ll have to go back and modify the design of the letters to give the bestoverall, even lighting. You need to let clients know about this possibility.”

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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated




Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012 Sign Builder Illustrated April 2012

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Handcrafted / By Ashley BrAy ///////////////////////////////////

A Captivating Signage Project

The use of

mosaic tiles

leads to a unique distillery sign worth toasting to.

approach—one that involves precise measurements, a bit of chemistry, and even some alchemy. And the team at Alpentile kept all of this in mind after the owner of Captive Spirits, a new distillery in Seattle, Washington, approached them about a sign for its premises. “It’s a handcraft distillery that [the owner’s] starting up, so we wanted that to be represented in the signage,” says Amy Denny, who together with Luke Denny owns Alpentile (www.alpentile. com), a company that specializes in glass mosaic tile installation in Phoenix, Arizona. Captive Spirits needed a two-sided, hanging sign that would display its logo. Alpentile decided its hand-cut glass tiles would be a perfect fit for the sign. “Since our goal is to communicate the handcrafted nature of the distilling process at Captive Spirits, we opted to hand-scribe the letters, cutting in each individual tile with painstaking attention to detail,” says Denny.

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated

Photo courtesy of alPentile; diagram courtesy of grizzly iron.

The art of distillation requires a hands-on


Photo courtesy of alPentile.

Using a jigsaw, Luke Denny cuts out the circular body of the sign from two-inch-thick Wedi board.

Due to space and permit restrictions, the sign couldn’t be too large, so Denny focused on color and contrast to make it stand out. “We had to maximize the impact, and highest contrast in this situation was the right choice,” she says. Alpentile considered a variety of metallic and iridescent finishes for the sign, but all of them obscured the logo in different lights. The company also tried using a pewter color for a metallic effect, but it reflected too much light, as well. Alpentile finally went with the “less is best” mentality and chose to use black and white tiles. “We wanted to go with the high contrast because it’s going to be an [outdoor] sign,

and we wanted it to be visible from a farther distance,” says Denny. (Note: With the sign installation taking place in Washington, Alpentile was unsure of what the environment would be like. Black and white was a safe bet, since its contrast is easy to see in any light.) With the design finalized, Alpentile set to work creating the sign. The circular body was cut from two-inch-thick Wedi foam board with a jigsaw. The foamcore allowed for the proper thickness without the associated weight. The Wedi board contains a waterproof, fiberglass-reinforced layer of resin, but Alpentile further protected the

Photos courtesy of grizzly iron.

Using a variety of blacksmithing tools and techniques, Grizzly Iron fabricated the bracket for the Captive Spirits sign.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

board from the elements by applying Custom Building Products RedGard® membrane along its exposed foam edge. “We do a lot of mosaic installations in swimming pools,” says Denny, “so we used the same method and theory essentially as what we’d use for a submerged application with glass tile.” The black and white glass tiles come in bulk as 3/4-by-3/4inch modules, so Alpentile cut them to size using a combination of a pair of glass snippers and a wet tile saw with a glass-cutting blade. Then using a latex-modified version of Custom Building Products MegaLite® thinset as an adhesive, Denny started to install the tiles. Denny placed the black tiles in a concentric spiral using a dot-n-dash pattern. She used larger, white tiles in an offset oneby-one pattern for the outer perimeter and the “C” and “S.” “One of the things that makes mosaic work more interesting and dynamic is when you play with the scale of the tiles and change them up,” she says. “It’s just more interesting to see large pieces next to small pieces. If everything was the same size, it can become a jumble.” The difference in tile size also helps to make the sign more noticeable. “Contrasting colors and sizes all help in readability of the sign,” says Denny. Size also matters when it comes to grout color. “We wanted our white tile pieces to be as large as possible, because we wanted the minimum amount of black grout in the C, S area,” says Denny. After waiting forty-eight hours for the thinset to dry, Denny sign project

In an age when digital, turnkey, and perfectly routed signs abound,

a return to handcrafted signage creates a captivating result.

continued on page 59

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


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Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012



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April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated


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Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

sign project

continued from page 55

scraped the joints and cleaned the sign. She then applied the Custom Building Products Prism® SureColor® Grout in black. “Because it rains in Seattle, we wanted to use black grout, so the background would be very dark. If we were to use regular grout, the color would wash out over time,” she says. From start to finish, the fabrication took about seventy hours—and then Denny had to repeat the entire process on the other side of the sign! When both sides were complete, Alpentile turned to ironwork specialist Grizzly Iron ( to fabricate the sign bracket. Denny knew the shop’s artisanal background would be a good fit on this handcrafted project. “They’re absolutely in it for the artistic value,” she says. Grizzly Iron is a family-run business that has been creating architectural iron-

work for twenty-five years. Founder and Owner Rodger LaBrash specializes in organic ironwork (including pine needles, leaves, flowers, and more). This work caught Alpentile’s eye, since it wanted to specifically incorporate a juniper branch (an ingredient in Captive Spirits’ first gin spirit) into the bracket. “We thought it’d be kind of cool to make a homage to their first spirit that they’re releasing,” says Denny. Grizzly Iron took the juniper branch idea and supplemented it. “I added a combination of a few different brackets that we had found,” says Jason LaBrash, vice president of Grizzly Iron and Rodger’s son. “[Denny] already had the circle shape and described what she wanted to hang it off of. “So we just came up with something kind of simple.” The circular sign sits in an iron ring

and was secured using a combination of adhesives and mechanical fastenings. The places where the ring bolts together are visible (adding to the handcrafted appearance of the sign). To craft the bracket, a variety of blacksmithing tools were used—a hammer and anvil, a power air hammer, a hand punch machine, paint, and a forge to heat the steel. The biggest fabrication challenge was the organic juniper branch elements. “There’s a lot of little pieces to those,” says LaBrash. “The other parts are standard, basic blacksmithing skills, but the juniper branches are going to be something that’s a little more specific and different.” All in all, the bracket took between thirty to forty hours to fabricate. In an age when digital, turnkey, and perfectly routed signs abound, a return to handcrafted signage can result in something that “captivates” and stands out.

To create a dynamic and noticeable sign, Denny placed the tiles in two patterns: dot-n-dash and one-by-one.

The sign will be used outdoors in rainy Seattle, so Alpentile chose to use black grout, which won’t wash out.

Denny removed excess grout from the tiles to complete the fabrication of one side of the sign.

Photo courtesy of alPentile.

Amy Denny cut the glass tiles to size using a pair of glass snippers and a wet tile saw with a glass-cutting blade.

April 2012 // Sign Builder Illustrated



B y J e f f wo ot e n

Unique Signage: Acme Industrial Thinking

Bob & Jen Rhea: It Takes Two to Create

One-of-a-kind Signs


n page 28, we covered the one-of-a-kind signs being designed and built by Bob and Jen Rhea, owners of Acme Industrial Thinking in Cookeville, Tennessee. But the story as to how they got involved in this industry is just as inspiring as the projects they’ve been working on. The artistic successes of Acme Industrial Thinking can probably be traced back to the couple’s background. Bob and Jen took courses in art, graphic design, engineering, and photography in college and parlayed that into art-related careers. They later bought an existing café in Asheville, North Carolina, remodeled it themselves, and even created the interior and exterior signs and fixtures for it (which is how Acme was eventually spun off). Acme’s success led them to close down the cafe and expand the studio to its full-time operation. Four years later, they made the move to Tennessee to be near family and tap into the

busy Nashville market. A two-person shop, the Rheas are committed to getting the job done, no matter the hours. “Although we always shoot for the quickest possible turn-around on projects, we’re careful to manage our clients’ expectations,” says Bob. “We usually become fairly close with our clients and try to keep a line of communication going throughout the entire process.” With her photography background, Jen takes photos along the way for marketing purposes— and to keep clients abreast of progress. “It keeps them excited about the project while they wait,” explains Bob. Bob remarks that it’s really hard for the couple to create plain, basic signage. “Art is in our genes,” he says. “We rarely do the same thing twice, which keeps things challenging but fresh. “The big payoff is seeing the clients’ faces when they realize that they’ll never see another sign like theirs!”

At Acme Industrial Thinking, you won’t find run-of-themill designs. Bob & Jen Rhea are a picture-perfect example of the success small sign shops can enjoy.


Sign Builder Illustrated // April 2012

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Sign Builder Illustrated: April 2012 Issue  

The April issue of Sign Builder Illustrated features new opportunities for routing, pan-formed nautical entry sign creation, spirit products...

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