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The secrets of high-impact 3D signs

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In a world of flat signage, 3D graphics can really catch a viewer’s eye. But have you ever worked hard to create great-looking 3D signage only to have the effect almost disappear once the sign is up on the storefront?

Peter Poanessa, Keene Signworx, has been making 3D signs for almost three decades. He found his carved storefront and freestanding signs sometimes lost impact when seen from typical viewing distances and searched for a better approach.

“In the quest to get more dimension—and to make a living—I looked for new ways to add dimension without using carvings,” says Peter.

It worked, as you can see in these examples of Peter’s work, and in his article 3 powerful ways to add even

 more dimension to your signs, in the November/December 2013 issue of SignCraft.

One of the techniques Peter uses is to use separate layered pieces to get the dimensional look he wants. So a sign may be made of four, five or six layers: base layer, background panel, panel behind primary graphics, outline

panel around graphics, then finally the raised graphics. It sounds like a lot, but the production side of this is easy. And since much of the assembly is done with state-of-the-art adhesives, the signs go together quickly, layer by layer.

An outline layer is easy to produce on a CNC router, and that extra layer can really heighten the effect of the dimensional graphics. He often uses double outlines on lettering in contrasting colors to add even more interest.

With the layered approach, his material options increase. High-density urethane board, aluminum composite material, plywood and PVC board all get into the act. It also gives Peter the opportunity to use unique finishes on

panels and components to create further appeal. You’ll see copper, rusted steel, barn wood and a variety of textures in his work.

In the November/December issue of SignCraft, Peter outlines the other principles that help him create these remarkably appealing signs efficiently. You’ll also see more idea-packed examples of his work there.

“There are more ways to create 3D signs,” says Peter, “than simply carving a design into a two-inch thick panel. We try to think outside the box. The result is high-value advertising for the end user and a tidy profit for our shop.”


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Comments  2

  • Kevin Collins 08 Nov

    The first question is, what is the purpose of the sign?  Usually, the client wants the sign to mark a location, convey a message, or advertise a product or service.  In all these cases, clarity should be a top priority.
    Too often we get caught up in craft, and put form before function.  These dimensional signs are lovely, but I question their effectiveness.  Dimensional letters can be hard to read from an angel (Natural Foods, Colony Mill), especially when closely kerned.  Backgrounds can be too busy (The Works), and images and letter style choices need to work together to convey the right message.
    In a pedestrian friendly retail district, dimensional signs like this can attract attention.  I would caution sign makers (and their clients), however, that clarity and simplicity should not be sacrificed for ornamental embellishment.

  • Russell Jackman 10 Nov

    I personally love dimensional signage when it's done well!.  It has an indefinable quality and I feel it adds a  tremendous boost to the prestige of the business. Given a choice, I would patronize the Cafe with the dimensional design rather than one with the same layout done in vinyl on a flat substrate.
      Kevin is right about the layout though; if it's a bad layout when it's "flat", it's just a more expensive bad layout in 3 dimensions. Indeed, (and slightly off topic), the worst thing that has happened to the Sign Industry, (IMHO) is vinyl printers. Never before in the history of graphics has so much totally illegible garbage been pasted on so many vehicles at such high cost, with negligible return to the owners. If vehicle owners really want to frustrate and alienate potential customers,  just paste some pages torn from a phone directory and some postcard sized photos on the side of your vehicle. You'll still get nil response from customers but you will save a packet!
     "Mike Stevens" should be compulsory reading before anyone is legally allowed to buy a vinyl printer!

    Russell Jackman
    Wizard Words and Pictures.
    Thomastown, Australia

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