Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekend Project: Sign Art

UPDATE 01/07/16
This project is by far my most viewed post thanks to Pinterest and also this blog post from Make Magazine in 2014. If you are interested in purchasing a PDF of the words from me, you may do so for $20. Contact me at cheree dot moore at gmail dot com to make the purchase. If you make your own sign, I would love to hear about and see your results!

For some time, I have been intrigued by the idea of transferring printed art to wood. Specifically the transfer of words (or typography). Sign art is all over the internet – be it blogs I follow or Pinterest – and I have had an itch to try my hand at it. 

Daniel and I had some scrap wood from pallets from our move to Alabama that was in good shape and I thought that this wood gave me the perfect opportunity to create a (cheap) sign for our living room.

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to go on the sign and then it took even longer to research how I would do the transfer. Actually doing the project took even longer since 1) I am great at starting projects and not so great at finishing them and 2) I am relegated to doing creative projects during nap time.

For my design, I thought it would be fun to do the phonetic alphabet. For one, my husband uses it all of the time for work and two, I figured that having an alphabet on the wall in plain sight of my son will be a good learning tool later on.

I knew that I wanted to use my typography skills and I also decided that I wanted to highlight the first letter of each word in red to signify that it was indeed the alphabet. Plus red would compliment my large, orange-red painting that is already in the living room. How that painting came about is a story for another day.

Step 1: Daniel and I set about taking apart the wooden pallets and refashioning them into a wooden sign. In the end what started out as an idea for a fairly small sign {initial idea was about 3' tall} grew into an 8' tall sign. The reason for the size increase was 1) we had enough scrap wood available; 2) I wanted the words on the sign to be easily readable; and 3) we have really tall ceilings in our living room and I wanted the scale of the sign to fit the living room.

Step 2: Distress the boards and paint the sign white. 

Step 3: Figure out how to transfer the art. I did quite a bit of research on this. This step included several emails to Daniel asking about different chemicals and what he thought about the process. This warranted the following email exchange between me and my husband: 
ME: Do we have acetone?

Daniel: Probably. Acetone = fingernail polish remover. HIGHLY flamable, not great to breathe, so why do you ask?

ME: Looking up ways to do an image transfer. Acetone is one option.

Daniel: It will dissolve latex paint.

me: k. Does Home Depot carry clear caulk? Specifically Elmer's Squeeze N Caulk? it's latex based. Another option would be to use Xylene (which is sold at Home Depot) but is toxic... would have to do it outside, with respirator. 

Daniel: Xylene is NASTY stuff, it's cold and dark outside, and it might dissolve paint, I'd have to look into it. Are there any transfer options that do not involve chemicals that dissolve either paint or human flesh?

We finally settled {agreed} on using clear silicone caulk {not the Elmer's, just a plain, clear silicone caulk} for the purpose of the transfer.

Step 4: Print the words for my art at a local print shop. I reversed the words and had them printed on a 3'x4' piece of paper from a laser printer for a total of $4. The girl at the sign shop was concerned that my words were backwards.

Step 5: Purchase clear silicone caulk. Cost about $3. With gloves, I used a caulk gun and my fingers to spread the silicone caulk on my board. I then placed the words face down on the board and used my hands to rub the back of the paper and make sure it was adhered to the silicone.

Step 6: Wait overnight for everything to dry. I actually waited several weeks due to having other projects on my plate {or sheer laziness?}

Step 7: Use warm water to remove the paper. The toner from the laser printer stayed adhered to the silicone {for the most part}. I am ok that it didn't come out perfect, this added to the distressed look.

Step 8: Fill in the red letters with a red pastel crayon from my college days {free}. Since I was doing this project as cheaply as possible, I chose to print my words in black and white. I made the first letter of each word gray, so that I could go back over it with a color later. Initially I thought that I would paint over the gray letters, but after looking through my art supplies, I decided that using a pastel crayon would be much easier for application and clean up. I went over the letters with red AFTER Daniel hung it on the wall. Due to the size of the sign, I had to use a small ladder to reach all of the letters.

We are really pleased with how this piece turned out. It gives balance to the huge walls in our living room. I am going to try this process again in the coming year, but I plan to use a photograph instead of words. 

Total time spent on the project: It took several months to complete.
Total Cost for project: about $7 + various supplies we already had on hand {wood, paint, nails, etc.}.


  1. Neat project! Suggestion: Instead of silicone caulk, you can also use acrylic gel medium or matte/gloss medium, such as Golden's, Liquitex, etc. Probably easier to use than silicone and it's water based.


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