The appreciation of a sign

Nowadays we have so much at our fingertips that we are completely spoilt. I truly believe that a lot of new people entering the industry may think that it has always been this way and that we have always had routers, font finders, colour matching systems, rolls rollers and digital printers, just to name but a few. If only this was the case.

I refer to recently when on twitter someone was asking what the name of a particular font was. I had a look and after a few moments i remembered back to my sign writing days and recognised the font as Modern No20. Then i thought i wonder how many other people could recognise fonts. Different when in the design industry as you are using them to create the design. But in the sign industry nowadays you see them every day, but do you know what they are. In fact with the speed of works going through on a daily basis, do people really care?

I remember in the late 80’s looking back through a letraset book to find a font, sometimes this would take an hour or more just so we could then draw it up, by hand of course or but in some letraset and enlarge with an epidiascope. After speaking with some colleagues, not quite as old as me the other day, we said that it would be interesting if you demonstrated how signs used to have lettering applied. Not going back to signwriting but applying vinyl lettering using a scaled drawing that was done off the vinyl machine software or off the clients artwork using a scaled ruler or working out the factor. I am sure they would be amazed at how long this would take compared to applying a digital print with a rolls roller.

So that also made me think of how we make signs, flat panels easy, if you have the appropriate wall saw or flatbed saw. I do remember cutting many a foamex panel by hand and have the scars to prove this. But again with the introduction of routers for cutting letters and shapes and now the amazing and extremely fast cutting tables, this enables extremely quick turnaround of products with excellent edge finishes.

3 dimensional signs have also come on with the introduction of automatic letter builders for  3 dimensional letters, Applelec purchased one last year this eliminates the use of bending and shaping the letter by hand and therefore enabling a quicker turnaround. Again over the years i have seen how this has been done by hand and appreciate the skill involved. Don’t get me wrong many companies still make them this way successfully and may not even entertain the automated option.

So it is all about appreciation, there are some companies that aren’t lucky enough to have such modern technology and some that wouldn’t even go near it. They are just happy with what they have as it works for them and has done for years.

Next time you make a sign, take a moment to think about what the sign means to you, means to the client and more importantly what went in to making the sign as it could have taken 30 minutes or 30 hours depending on how you made it and what skills and technology was used.


About mearnsy

45, married with 3 children living in Woking and working in the sign industry for over 28 years.
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One Response to The appreciation of a sign

  1. Don says:

    Interesting thoughts. I’m part of a sign company that uses both traditional techniques, such as chisel-carving & gold-gilding, as well as some modern conveniences (like the computer, cut stencils, etc.) We’ve especially avoided CNC technology & stuck with hand-tools, but there’s always a computer element to the design. It’s good to see some of the old techniques coming back into the industry & being appreciated & asked for by discerning customers. I wonder if there’ll be a really big comeback of traditional signs!

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