Flat signs can deliver a dimensional look

By Braun Bleamer

Posted on Friday, February 3rd, 2023

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Usually when a customer comes into the shop, it’s because they’ve seen some of my dimensional work out in the field and they want something comparable. One foot in the door, they see a barrage of similar signs on display and are now convinced that they must have one along those same lines.

Although the dimensional signs are by far the most eye-catching, I typically try to educate people on the different types of signs and materials available to them. I usually end up working up a price on a dimensional sign because that is what they believe they have to have.

Many times, however, I need to be creative and ready with a Plan B when the reality of the cost of a dimensional sign puts these customers at a loss. A lot of the dimensional signs that I do are for country clubs and resorts whose disposable assets are much more far-reaching than the average customer. Instead of allowing them to possibly walk out the door disappointed and with nothing, I show them how they can walk away happy, within their budget, and with a sign that does the trick.

Today you can print out simulated backgrounds to mimic the look of a dimensional sign. Sandblasted, carved and beveled effects on lettering and graphics make a one-dimensional sign much more appealing than ever before.

Signs don’t have to be a rectangular 4-by-8 sheet of aluminum composite material [ACM] or PVC, either. They can be customized by cutting them to a unique shape and layered to provide a dimensional look without incurring the expense of a traditional dimensional sign.

Fortunately, I am conveniently located next door to a metal fabricating shop where I can design and fabricate custom brackets. This becomes an added feature when displaying a one-dimensional sign.

Ultimately, my goal for the budget-minded customer is to take advantage of the versatility that today’s printers offer while still maintaining a clean design and giving them the most bang for their buck. Utilizing the many features the design tools have to offer, customizing the overall sign shape and pairing it with a unique bracket allows me to satisfy my customers—regardless of their intentions when they first walked in the door.

By providing an alternative method to meeting a customer’s need, I’m able to generate a sale where there may not have been one had I let the customer leave, overwhelmed by the price of a 3D sign.

Here are a few things that I use to give a 3-D look to signs done on flat panels:

Use a panel. Besides helping you manage the copy, a panel in a contrasting color can add a 3-D effect.

Add a shadow. Experiment a little—try a heavy outline with an inshade on the lettering or a cast shadow beside it. Or, a pale pencil thin shadow on the main copy. There are a lot of cool shadow effects to play with. It can be on the lettering or on the panel or both.

Try a layer. Look for one element that could be cut out and applied to the main panel, like the logo graphic. Or create the look of layers on the whole sign by adding a layer behind the edges extending out a little.

Effects can help. Adding a convex effect to the primary copy or a chrome effect outline works well. Using a chrome or gold effect border on a panel does, too. I like to use these effects sparingly, though.

Have something in the background. A pale image in the background can make the lettering appear to be raised, or push the lettering toward the viewer. A fade, blend or texture background can do the same thing.

Cut it to shape. Maybe an interesting panel design, or maybe just slice off something to get away from the standard 4-by-8 format. Or, cut a 4-by-10 down to 3-by-10 to have the same square footage but a different format.

Keep the primary copy strong. This is true for any sign—flat, 3-D or on a vehicle—but it’s worth repeating. It’s the most important copy, so why not make it obvious to the viewer that it’s important?

This appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of SignCraft.

Braun Bleamer’s shop, Jet Signs Inc., is in Palmerton, Pennsylvania.