Design & Price: 4-by-16-ft. plywood sign

By signcraft

Posted on Saturday, September 4th, 2021

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In every print issue, SignCraft gave a few sign makers an imaginary project. We 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:

A towing service whose trucks you letter has bought an auto salvage yard. They want to install two 4-by-8-ft. panels end-to-end on an existing wooden fence to create a 4-by-16-ft. sign. The manager says they want something bold and want to say that they buy cars. Make a sketch of the sign you might have designed for the customer and quote a price.

This appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of SignCraft. The prices shown here have been adjusted for inflation to 2021 dollars. –Editors.


Dave Correll, Brushwork, Faribault, Minnesota

Design A

Design B

I really like doing these types of signs because they bring you back to the basics. The manager asked me to “make it bold” and to emphasize “that they buy cars”, so I thought a separate panel for the “Cash for Cars” would be nice. I offered a separate cutout panel on Design B to allow for extra attention.

Design A:
Processing (Consultation, composition, proofs, bid): $190
Materials (Two 1 ⁄2-in. overlaid plywood panels, paint, vinyl): $305
Labor (About 5 to 5.5 hours @ $100/hour): $550
Total price: $1045

Design B:
Processing (Consultation, composition, proofs, bid): $190
Materials (Two 1 ⁄2-in. overlaid plywood panels 4-by-5-ft. and 1 ⁄2-in. overlaid plywood cutout panel, paint, vinyl): $375
Labor (About 5.5 to 6 hours @ $100/hour): $600
Total price: $1165

Installation and tax are not included in either quote.


David Showalter, David Design, Bryan, Ohio

This is the type of sign work that I cut my teeth on back in the ’80s. I used 1 ⁄2-in. overlaid plywood painted with enamels.

I played up the word “Cash” to get some attention in a reverse panel. I also used the dollar sign for added graphic appeal, and to separate the name of the company name, “Wild Bill’s Auto Salvage,” from what it is they want to buy.

This layout was done in black, white, and gray, but to give it some punch, I played on some hot colors. I used red for “Wild Bill’s.” “Auto Salvage” is black on a pale yellow painted panel. “24 Hour Towing” is lemon yellow reversed out on a black panel, and I put the phone number in red on a pale yellow panel with orange stars.

“Cold Hard” and “For Your Car” needs to be orange, and “Cash” would be hot lime green on a black panel. The dollar sign is blended left-to-right—yellow to orange to red. I would cut and roll most of the copy on the dark panels. “Wild Bill’s” and the phone number is a high performance vinyl. I love to do this type of sign work!

Labor and materials: $2004
Installation: $ 270
Total price: $2274


Renee Anderson, Signs by Renee, Marathon, Florida Keys, Florida

Design A

Design B

We figure a sign like Design A at $28 per sq. ft., which at 64 sq. ft. is $1792. Design B is a little more involved in terms of production because of the blend on the background. It would be $35 per sq. ft., which at 64 sq. ft. is $2240. In our area, the cost of getting any necessary permits is charged separately. These prices do not include installation.


Steve Vigeant, Berkeley Signs, Oakland, California

I started doing trucks for a client of mine, Bill, when his previous sign man retired several years ago. In the Bay Area we often have little choice but to work with the prevailing design tendencies of the client, although I did persuade him to let me use vinyl. Most of our new clients usually have something worked out before they call us, and generally I take the positive stance that they need us to art direct, refine and execute their vision.

When Bill first told me about the salvage yard, I saw an opportunity to branch out a bit with something different. There are several of these yards in town that have the yellow background/block letter look. I felt that a new look could set him apart. I told him that a straightforward color identity and a bold shape could pull customers his way.

I try to boost some unique feature of the client’s business that is outstanding in some way. I find that it helps them visualize their particular market strength, and hopefully become excited about communicating their excellence. When you create enthusiasm the price bracket sometimes becomes more flexible.

To make the sign, I’d paint out the two-tone background with Chromatic Bulletin enamel. The plywood is prime/prime double-faced overlaid plywood. The lettering and outlines would be vinyl with a painted offset drop shadow on the main copy. I always try to sell upgrades and extra tie-ins when possible—the white could be silver paint, reflective vinyl or thin Gemini letters. The red panel could be a separate piece. Clear coating is also an option. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to go “the economy route” if that’s what the customer is looking for.

I might paint an outline on a sign like this instead of using vinyl. We are experiencing 20-to-30-percent price increases in paint, vinyl and panels and painting the outline may be more cost effective. Custom painting enamel receptive film and using masks makes sense.

On this job I like the block out and crispness of white vinyl; however, if the client is interested in silver letters, I’d do a combo of brushing the big letters and paint mask the small. One Shot silver covers on any color. It’s brighter and more legible than metallic vinyl, too.

Shop time (6.5 hours @ $115/hour): $747.50
Materials ($275 x markup of 1.66): $456.50
Installation (1.5 hours with the client’s help): $172.50
Trip charge: $115
Additional 10 percent for unknowns and profit: $143
Total price: $1634.50


Dennis Gerathy, Vintage Signs, Cedar, Michigan

Having established credibility with this customer by doing previous work for them, I have every confidence that I can sell them on a period design like this one. This project lends itself perfectly to a design right out of the fifties. Everything was cool in the fifties—the music, the cars, the dress, and the signs.

With time being my most precious commodity, I don’t waste much of it figuring out a price. My “old school” approach still works well—I double the cost of all my materials and add what I feel is a fair profit.

When I got married in 1966, I was working in a factory for $125 a week at something I hated. Now, to make a thousand dollars for a day’s work, doing something I love, is truly wonderful and I’m deeply grateful.

I’d do this sign on 4-by-16-ft. single-faced 1 ⁄2-in overlaid plywood painted with acrylics, over two coats water-based sealer.

Price of sign: $1324
Michigan sales tax: $79
Delivery and installation: $185
Total price: $1588
Terms: 50 percent up front, balance upon delivery

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