Design & Price: 4×8 overlaid plywood sign

By SignCraft Magazine

Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 2021

In every issue of SignCraft Magazine, we gave a few sign makers an imaginary project and asked them to do a sketch of the sign they might have produced and to quote a price for the job. Most of the details were left to the designer’s imagination. The object was to see how different sign makers approach the same project. Here’s the scenario these sign makers were given:

Two brothers with a background in commercial fishing have decided to open a seafood shop offering wholesale and retail sales. Their shop is small, a weathered dockside cottage, but their business is already off to a booming start. They’re not sure they need to spend money on a logo, but are simply looking for a sign to help customers find them. There’s enough space for a vertical or horizontal 4-by-8-ft. plywood sign.

This appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of SignCraft. The prices shown here have been adjusted for inflation to 2021 dollars. –Editors.

Mark Fair
Mark Fair Signs
Montgomery, Alabama

I priced this one two ways with the vertical design being a little more elaborate. Both designs will be computer-cut, high-performance vinyl. The more complex design features a Gerber Edge print of a blue crab on 3mm aluminum composite material.

The price includes installation on solid wall and a primed and painted background using acrylic semigloss house paint.

The price for the horizontal design is $500 plus $90 for installation. I mark-up the cost of my materials 50% and charge $75 per hour for labor.

The price for the vertical panel with Gerber Edge print crab graphic is $650 plus $90 for installation.

Bob Parsons
Parsons Art and Sign
Anchorage, Alaska

The crab brothers come into my shop, and that means they came by referral—since no one can find me otherwise. They don’t think they want a logo image but they want to have some fun. When I hear “Fresh Crabs” I know what to do, but I don’t tell the brothers. I give them the regular line: “Leave me alone with $175 and I’ll design your sign.” If the design is a go then the 4-by-8-ft. sign will be about $475 to produce.

It’s helpful to look at life from a customer’s point of view. From that standpoint, there’s a lot to be said for digital. The customer always wants it the least expensive way, while maintaining quality.

Quality includes a lot of factors, such as continuity and service. What if he likes the job and wants another one a week later? Or what if the sign is damaged or stolen? When it’s digital, we can duplicate it and have it back up within a week. And digital broadens what we can offer.

When the customer starts thinking T-shirts, vehicles and all the rest, he’s standing in front of the person who can do it all for him.

When I think digital, I think fun—my limits aren’t on shop space or time, but on design and ideas. No matter what I draw or come up with, whether steel letters or a digital print, I can produce that with communication and a mouse click. Although I truly miss lettering and keep my brushes oiled and close by, I’m having a lot of fun in the digital age.

Brian Johnson
Signature Graphics
London, Ontario, Canada

First, I would meet with the customer and figure out their budget. I get a lot of people who come in and say they want a sandblasted 3-D sign. When I tell them the price, they hem and haw and ask what the alternatives are. So I explain that for about half the cost I can do a digitally-printed sign that can look 3-D and give a similar impression.

I give them a quote and then familiarize them with the materials and longevity of the products. That makes them feel more comfortable with ordering the sign from me and lets them know that I know what I am doing, that is, helping them purchase a quality sign for the best value.

Sometimes I give the customer a couple of different price options as well. For instance, if they had their heart set on a 3-D sign, this layout is easily adaptable to that. For a little bit extra they could have the copy or logo as raised letters.

I send them a layout, which usually takes me about an hour to complete. I like having a picture of their building that so that I can show them approximately what the sign will look like once it is installed. I e-mail it to them, they make any changes or approve it and it goes right into production.

Later, I call the customer to tell them their sign is complete and have the bill ready for when they come in. I have the sign on display when they come in the showroom, then package it up for them unless they require us to install it.

I usually price by the square foot. This sign I would sell for around $575, which is around $18 per sq. ft. That price includes layout, labor and materials. The sign would be 1⁄2-in. overlaid plywood with digitally-printed graphics and a bit of cutting to shape and painting edges.

Bob Behounek
Berwyn, Illinois

Processing all the information that clients give us can really help determine how to prioritize all the sign elements into a useable solution. Understanding that Orange River Seafood is off and running is important—a successful business without signage tells me their product must speak for itself!

I like to sketch out a very rough concept as I discuss the project with the client. This qualifies the direction for the design and helps the client understand what they will need to either remove or add, in terms of copy, to the finished product.

After we solidify the finished design and a down payment is secured, it’s time to start entering the elements into a computerized rendering to present to the client.

I would recommend digitally printing the graphics, wrapping the entire surface to encapsulate any imperfections in the substrate.

Sketch A

Sketch A will help customers actually find this establishment. It offers a clear, concise message with the product as the predominant feature. Cost range would be $550 to $600.

Sketch B

Sketch B is a little bit more labor intensive, with a possible cutout logo at the top. It features the special Blue Crab over the actual name of the business in a vertical format. Cost range would be $600 to $775.