Put the background to work

By SignCraft Magazine

Posted on Monday, September 14th, 2020

One of the things that can create visual interest and draw that critical “second look” that gets the sign’s message read is to have something cool going on in the background. It helps move the lettering to the foreground and towards the reader.

It might be a portion of the logo as a large silhouette or maybe a graphic or texture. That part is up to you. The secret is keeping it in the background where it adds visual appeal without overpowering the primary copy.

There’s no need for the background of a sign to always be a sea of white or a solid color that the letters float upon. With a little creative effort, it can become an essential part of the design, giving the reader’s eye another reason to take in the sign’s message.

Some sign designers do a great job of that. How do they do that? They use a variety of tricks—and here are a few popular ones to help trigger an idea for you the next time you want to ramp up the visual pull of a design.

Try a simple color panel behind the lettering: An interesting shape in the background helps the lettering and graphics move to the foreground, as Jeff Gilfix [Brushfire Signs, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada] did on the trailer for Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ. The subtle gray panel adds a sense of dimension to the lettering, which was printed on a Roland digital printer.


Jeff Gilfix, Brushfire Signs, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Texture adds interest: The lightly sandblasted HDU background on the Hava Java sign, designed by Sandy Paffoon [Boardwalk Designs, Lynn Haven, FL], adds a lot of appeal. With a smooth background, the sign would still look great, but the texture gives that extra bit of cool.


Sandy and Joe Paffoon, Boardwalk Designs, Lynn Haven, FL

3D graphics take texture to the max: The eye-catching stage-blasted background on HDU by Raymond Chapman [Chapman Design Studio, Temple, TX] makes a terrific backdrop to the simple graphics on the Solas sign. A 3D background takes the idea of using texture up a step.


Raymond Chapman, Chapman Design Studio, Temple, TX

Add a subtle graphic: Rob Cooper [Koh Tao, Thailand] is a master at putting the background to work. Using a subtle background as he did on the Islander sign can transform a sign from basic identification to high-impact advertising.


Rob Cooper, Koh Tao, Thailand

Split the background in two: Here’s another technique used by Rob Cooper to get extra mileage out of the background—using the copy to split the background behind Prik Thai.


Rob Cooper, Koh Tao, Thailand

Use a dramatic material: Old tin roofing, barnwood, ceramic tile, perforated aluminum—the possibilities are endless. Jim Lago [Healdsburg Signs, Healdsburg, CA] used purposely-rusted Core-ten steel for a knock-out effect on the Grove sign, and mounted ¼-in. brushed aluminum graphics cut on a MultiCam CNC router on it.


Jim Lago, Healdsburg Signs, Healdsburg, CA

Braun Bleamer [Jet Signs, Palmerton, PA] stud-mounted ¾-in. PVC letters on a pallet wood background for One Ten Tavern.


Braun Bleamer, Jet Signs, Palmerton, PA

Going at the aluminum pan background with a grinder delivered the look for the Berndt CPA sign by Mike Chamberlin [Vital Signs, Verona, WI], which uses PVC letters.


Mike Chamberlin, Vital Signs, Verona, WI

And take a close look at the copper background on Navitus, where Mike used liver of sulfur to create the patina finish. The .040 copper was laminated to aluminum composite material to create the sign face.


Mike Chamberlin, Vital Signs, Verona, WI

Looking for more background ideas? Head over to our Instagram @signcraftmagazine to see hundreds of idea-packed photos of outstanding signs or follow us on Facebook at SignCraft Magazine!