The secrets of killer truck lettering design

By SignCraft Magazine

Posted on Monday, August 26th, 2019

Good design never goes out of date, and that’s as true of vehicle graphics as it is about architecture or furniture design. Recently, I came across the original images from Bob Behounek’s book on vehicle lettering, Trucks!, which was published by SignCraft in 1992 and is long since out of print. They’re great examples of timeless, effective vehicle graphics. We’re sharing a bunch of them right here, and we have been posting even more on Instagram.

Look these trucks over and watch for some of the hallmarks of Bob’s Chicago-style approach to vehicle lettering. Panels, contrasts, well-prioritized copy and bouncy scripts combine to make high impact, high value advertising for small businesses:

Panels help manage the message. Besides adding interest, they break the sign’s message into easy-to-read groupings to ensure easy reading. The goal is to make sure the reader gets at least the important message, then can choose to go on to read the secondary messages if they want.

Contrast abounds. Compare letter sizes, letter styles, letter weight and colors. Bold text often plays off very lightweight copy, stiff formal letters against whippy script, bright colors against dark.

The main message is BIG. Bob often devotes half or 2/3 of a sign’s area to the primary message. He edits the copy for the reader by minimizing the secondary text, pushing the primary message in a big way. This approach adds drama to the layout.

Script adds energy. Bob loves loose, bouncy scripts—sometimes for the main copy, other times for secondary text. Other times it’s just for the ampersand! Script also provides another contrast against more stiff typefaces.

The design is efficient to produce. Almost all of these vehicles were hand lettered, though some used vinyl for secondary copy. Because of that, Bob had to avoid effects that would have added time that the customer would not have been willing to pay for. Even shades and outlines were used sparingly, if at all.

Icons or graphics are clean and simple. When Bob uses a graphic with the lettering, it is usually stylized—nothing too detailed, as that would add production time. A coffee cup for the food truck, a funky flower for the florist, and geometric trees for the landscaper add interest without stealing any thunder from the primary copy.

This approach never goes out of date. Trends in colors, typefaces and panel shapes may change, but the result is still the same: Powerful advertising that a small business can’t get anywhere else—especially at the low cost of vehicle lettering.

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