Drill panel and mount letters: 2.5 hours A drill stop keeps you from drilling through the ¾-in. overlaid plywood panel.
I used clear silicone and studs to mount the PVC letters. The mallet provided a little gentle persuasion to speed the process.
A few dabs of silicone caulk provide enough adhesion to securely mount the letters.
The main panel is 40-by-72-in., and the overall height was 64 in.

What’s it cost to produce this freestanding sign?

Digital printing and cut vinyl film combine to get the job done

By Rocco Gaskins

Posted on Monday, July 2nd, 2018

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One sheet of ½-in. PVC board: $121.54
PVC posts and finials: $68.12
One sheet ¾-in. overlaid plywood: $86.82
Cutting charge: $4.85
Cutting/painting of letters: $270.00
One yard Avery 900 series white vinyl: $3.62
Vectorization of artwork: $8.00
Digital prints: $30.00
Paint: $26.00
Misc. supplies (see text): $74.27
Total materials: $693.22


Sales: 2.5 hours
Design: .5 hour
Gather materials (includes travel time): 1.25 hours
Hand draw curve and cut panel: .5 hour
Painting panels: 1.25 hours
Drill panel and pin mount letters: 2.5 hours
Cut/weed/apply vinyl: .5 hour
Apply digital prints: .25 hour
Make/paint brackets: .75 hour
Assembly/disassembly of sign in the shop: 1 hour
Installation (two people times 3.5 hours): 7 hours
Total time: 18 hours

We typically do electrical signs, but always appreciate the chance to go in a different direction. While this wasn’t something exactly new, it was a welcome change of pace from drilling holes in concrete walls for channel letters. We were referred by another customer so that makes it even better.

This funeral home’s small freestanding sign had seen better days. The letters (originally plywood) were delaminating, the posts were starting to rot and it was time for a new sign. Since this town has a strict sign code, we had to re-create what they already had. That eliminated the chance to be creative but it did cut down on the design time.

The hardest part of the design was trying to match the font that had been used originally. Most likely it was some signwriter’s version of a roman but nothing I had looked right. Rather than spend time running through a tracing routine (and the associated cleanup) or getting a “close enough” match, I sent some good photos to VectorDoctor.com. For their eight dollar fee, it was a bargain. I got clean vector artwork, including the bottom panel copy, which would be cut from high performance vinyl.

For the substrate, I decided on good ol’ overlaid plywood. It’s been used since before I was born and still makes a good sign background. I chose ¾-in. thickness because I wanted to pin mount the letters in addition to gluing them to the panel. The sheet came pre-primed and cut to size, including the bottom panel. I had to draw and hand cut the curve at the top. Had I thought about it, my sign supplier would have cut that on their CNC machine for a small extra cost.

I used flat black exterior enamel for the background. I like flat paint for backgrounds, because it shows fewer flaws compared to gloss or even semi-gloss.

The components The letters are ½-in.-thick PVC. I had a friend with a CNC machine cut the letters from ½-in. PVC board and spray finish them in white. Over time, raw PVC will yellow, so a good coat of Matthews acrylic-polyurethane paint solves that problem.

It’s nice to have a local source to cut your letters. During assembly, my natural klutziness resulted in the letter Y falling to the concrete floor. It broke. One phone call and a couple of days later I had a replacement.

The digital print for the logo came from another local sign shop. There is a lot of back and forth like this between a group of local sign shops with differing equipment. We won’t discuss my failure to double-check the dimensions and the need for a second set of prints. Shhhh!

I priced out cedar 4×4 posts and finials, but these would need primed and finished. Instead, I ordered PVC posts and finials, which were cheaper than the cedar posts and needed no finishing. When I was younger (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I often said that if I didn’t get some paint on my hands that I hadn’t actually worked that day. No more. If I can avoid painting, it’s a good thing. Plus, the PVC won’t rot.

Assembly and installation We added pressure treated 2x4s inside the PVC to screw the mounting brackets in to. The brackets were pieces of 1×1 aluminum angle, primed and sprayed black—both from spray cans. I just can’t get away from paint it seems. They were bolted to the panel and attached to the posts with exterior deck screws.

We do a lot of wholesale installation jobs, so I keep track of that closely. It took exactly three and a half hours from the time I started gathering “the shovels, rakes and implements of destruction” to when we got back to the shop and everything was put away. You really need to include every minute of that time into your installation estimates. The lights are still on and employees are on the clock for it all. The actual digging (we had to relocate it just a bit) took perhaps twenty minutes.

Rather than trying to transport it with posts attached, we assembled the sign on-site. I had assembled the sign face in the shop to make installation easier. All in all, this was a nice, profitable job. The customer was very pleased as well, which is just as important.

12% for miscellaneous supplies: Most of the items covered by Miscellaneous Supplies in the Materials list were in stock or leftovers. (Look up “packrat” in the dictionary and you’ll see my picture.) But they still have a cost associated with them. For this job they include things like roller covers, aluminum angle, painter’s tape, small bolts/screws, partial cans of spray paint, silicone adhesive, application tape, hooks and eyes and more. I also factor in a little for wear and tear on tools, drill bits, plotter blades and such things. To cover these costs, I total the other materials used on the sign and multiply that by 12%. While not perfect, it’s very close on most jobs.

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