What’s it cost to make this 24-sq.-ft. sign?

By Mike Jackson

Posted on Friday, July 16th, 2021

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Materials (excluding markup) 4-by-8-ft-by-3⁄4-in. overlaid plywood: $80

Five foam roller covers: $5

Edge sealer: $2

Latex paint for back: $8

Block-out primer: $15

Finish enamels: $21

Vinyl and application tape: $60

Misc. blades, tape, prints, etc.: $8

Total materials: $199

Labor: 4.5 hours

We’ve made a lot of signs like this one over the years, where the panel is cut down from a 4-by-8. When asked, we explain we charge the same for a 4-by-8, 3-by-8, or a 4-by-6-ft. panel. It takes the same amount of time and virtually the same amount of materials for any painted sign panel that uses most of a 4-by-8-ft. panel.

Actually, I prefer to do a full 4-by-8-ft. panel, because it eliminates the time it takes to make the saw cuts. When we do produce a 4-by-6-ft. sign for a client, we end up with a very useable 2-by-4-ft. piece of material, but I still charge as though we used a full sheet.

It seems most sign projects involve some sort of snag or adjustment, and this was no exception. I had designed it, and the layout and colors were approved. We had already sealed the edges of a 4-by-8-ft. panel, given it one coat of white primer and coated out the back.

Then we got a call from the realtor. She had just learned the maximum size she could legally use was 24 sq. ft. Instead of redesigning the panel, I suggested we just scale the sign down to 24 sq. ft. using the same proportions.

When the first coat of primer was completely dry, I made the two extra cuts using our small circular saw. Then the fresh edges were sealed and coated with a new layer of primer, followed by the final primer and finish coats. Luckily we had not cut any of the vinyl so the change did not cost us any additional money. From that point on, everything went smoothly.

Mike and Darla Jackson operate Golden Era Studios in Jackson, Wyoming, and do a variety of sign-related projects. His Web site is www.goldenstudios.com.

Design and e-mail for approval: 25 minutes I did a fairly straightforward design for this project and sent it for approval. We had already done work for the company so we didn’t have to recreate their logo for this project.

Prime and paint panel: 60 minutes After sealing the edges with paintable caulk, and applying three coats of black latex to the back, Darla applied the first coat of Chromatic High Viscosity Block Out White primer, using a foam roller.

Layout and cut down panel: 20 minutes After the first coat of primer had been applied, the client called to say we needed to reduce the sign from 32 to 24 sq. ft. That meant we had to cut a few inches from each of two sides. For the 4-ft. cut, I used a 4-ft. square to draw the cut line, then moved it over about 1 3⁄8 in. to mark two guide marks. The guide on our small Porter Cable circular saw is 1 3⁄8 in. from the edge to the blade. That offset is marked permanently on our square, as seen here.

This Clamp ‘N Tool Guide comes in handy for guiding either a saw or router for cuts up to 48 in. There are other manufacturers, but this brand came from a mail-order woodworking store. They adjust quickly and snap firmly in place for quick saw cuts.

For the long cut, I marked the cut line, then offset that mark by 1 3/8-in. to compensate for the blade offset on my saw. Using handscrew wood clamps, I clamped down a long strip of straight overlaid plywood to serve as a guide. After the saw cuts we had to seal the fresh edges and apply a quick primer coat to catch them up to the rest of the panel.

Paint maroon panel: 20 minutes In the end, the sign had two primer coats and one coat of light tan background enamel, followed by a maroon panel and small stripe at the bottom. The two edges were masked with 1⁄4-in. 3M Fineline tape, and protected with another layer of 4-in. application tape. That way, the two areas could be easily rolled with a 9-in. foam roller.

Cut and apply graphics: 2.5 hours Once the backgrounds were painted and dry, the rest of the sign was fairly straightforward. The black outlines and shades were applied first, followed by the main lettering and layered logo. The bottom lines were established using the original design from our layout, which was done in Gerber Omega software.

From SignCraft, November/December 2005; prices have been adjusted for inflation.

Mike and Darla Jackson operate Golden Era Studios in Jackson, Wyoming, and do a variety of sign-related projects. Mike’s website is www.goldenstudios.com. His email address is golden@goldenstudios.com. You can see more of Mike’s photos at www.tetonimages.com and www.goldenstudios.com.