Posted on Monday, February 27th, 2023
Randy Howe, Getzumexposure.com, Port Dover, Ontario, Canada
So the customer walks in your shop and says his landlord allows a 24 sq. ft. single-faced sign. He hands you the copy on a sheet of paper and says he’d like the sign in a vertical format. After a brief conversation, you propose a 4×6 sign with a dark blue background. He says he will pick the sign up and install it himself. What price would you quote for this project?
We asked SignCraft.com readers what they would charge to do a 4×6 sign like this one by Randy Howe [Getzumexposure.com, Port Dover, Ontario, Canada]. Signs like this one are common projects in most sign shops. Often they are the primary advertising and identification for a small business and there’s no logo involved.
Nearly 300 sign professionals participated and the average selling price was $551.
But the averages don’t give the whole picture, so let’s take a closer look at the prices and the shop owners who helped out on the survey.
How the prices break out
While the average selling price for all respondents was $551, there was a wide range of prices. But 50% of the estimates fell between $400 and $650.
How they would make it
Most, 65%, said they would handle the graphics as a digital print. 23% would use cut vinyl.
What substrate they would use
Aluminum composite material was the top choice for the substrate, with 75% saying that’s what they would use for the sign panel. Overlaid plywood came in second at about 19%.
About these sign business owners
Most participants, 69%, were owners of commercial sign shops (primarily non-electric signs) and about one quarter (24%) owned full-service sign shops (both electric and non-electric signs). 77% said that they make three or more signs similar to this one each month.
They were experienced—77% had been involved in the sign business for 11 years or more:
Here’s how they described their markets:
Close to half have 1 to 3 employees, and just over a third work alone:
Experience and volume affected the average selling price
Let’s start with experience. As the experience level went up, so did the selling price. Those who had been in the sign industry for two years or less quoted an average price of $410. Those with over two years of experience quoted an average price of $562.
Shops that did more of this type of sign were apparently able to produce them more efficiently—and at a lower selling price. Those who did two or less signs like this per month averaged a selling price of $604. Those who did three or more such signs each month averaged a selling price of $516.
It’s interesting to note that 17% of the estimates were for $700 or more, and most of the shops who would hand letter the sign were in this group.
What they had to say:
There were a lot of great comments from those who helped out on the survey, and we appreciate every one of them. Here is a sampling:
“I teeter between vinyl on overlaid plywood and a print on ACM. The thickness and look of the overlaid plywood has a more solid appearance. If we decided to go with ACM, the pricing would be similar or just a bit less.
“My price assumes it’s only single-sided, and includes a $150 design/layout fee with one revision. Get paid upfront for your creative work and stipulate the number of free revisions you’re willing to provide.”
“It’s been my experience that customers don’t know what they want or like until they see your design, then they want to play art director and insist on changes in color, fonts and arrangement…. But ‘time is money.’”
“With the advent of large format printers, signs like these are more design and sales time than production time. The most profit comes if you can eliminate a lot of revisions and emails back and forth with the customer.”
“Price would greatly depend on the client. If it’s a mom-and-pop shop and I’m given creative control then I’d give them the lowest dollar amount after materials and time. If it’s bigger clients and they want more say-so in design or to use their branding, I’d likely charge by value at the higher end.”
“We’d charge additional fees for custom layout, design, rush service, delivery/shipping, etc.”
“I typically price flat digital print signs based on square-footage, but I check based on actual costs for materials and estimated labor. Currently, my shop is averaging $20/sq. ft. for digitally printed, laminated vinyl applied to ACM with minimal cutting.”
“I included the cost of a full sheet of plywood because who knows when I’d next need a 2×4 piece that I cut off. Paint has become quite expensive lately as well. And I compared my calculated cost against SignCraft’s Sign Pricing Guide. I’m only over by less than $10.”
“I’ve been in business for 35 years this year. I’ve seen lots of changes but one thing that hasn’t changed is the appeal for a well done, well laid out sign. One of the biggest things we have noticed—and more importantly the customers we serve have noticed—is how these hand crafted signs stand out in all the digital noise of today.”
“That’s what keeps us going here and we still love what we do, and our passion for it rubs off on our clientele. It’s evident by the smiles on their faces when they come to pick up their sign.”
“This type of customer is going to want economy so I would lead them to the product that would get them what they want and take the least amount of my time.”
“I would suggest painting or putting vinyl post sleeves on posts. Doesn’t look finished without that. For another $250, we would charge for an all-purpose logo to keep his image consistent on all branding, from vehicles, ads, business cards and apparel.”
“We don’t include artwork. So a 4×6 ACM sign, printed and laminated, would be $300 plus art. In this scenario, it also sounds like the client needs a logo design since he does not have one to supply.”
“We build these types of signs all the time, not just on PVC board but also on aluminum composite. To be honest, we probably see more of these types of signs than anything else. There is good profit and not a great level of difficulty.”
“I do these mostly for realtors. This one would cost more than I charge realtors because of the design time. I have to charge a little extra for the cutoff. The UV flatbed printer doesn’t care what it prints—the money is in the installation.”
“My price is for a one-sided sign on 6mm ACM with good quality vinyl and laminate. The price does not include frame hardware. We would discuss this with the customer to find out more exactly what he needs and wants. We would also try to sell the customer a logo separate from the sign. This sign price includes more than basic design. We would likely include upgrade options with this being the base option. Upgrade options we would offer would include custom shape, painted, and adding dimension. We would also ask them if they would like reflective film for the lettering.”
“I consider the ‘CR Auto’ a logo, so a little design/layout time is built in as we have to create that part. The price would be closer to $480 to $500 if this is a repeat client (vehicle graphics, banners, business cards, etc. are also requested). If this is a ‘one and done’ project, it would be $600.
“I would add $150 for the design sketch. A hand-painted sign should bring a higher price, but it’s a challenge to be competitive with local shops producing digital and vinyl signage in a smaller suburban town where small business owners are in the majority.”
“From the raw wood posts, I’m guessing this is possibly a small body works, family-type business that may not want to spend too much on a sign. Does the pricing include the time to design a sign for them?
“The example looks like a hand painted or vinyl sign. I would do it digitally-printed on DiBond ACM . It’s the most efficient priced material and is a sturdy, reasonably-priced substrate. I’m sure that there are other companies who may choose ¼-in. thick aluminum with a composite of background paint and vinyl. Other companies may even use coroplast at 10mm or less to do a cheap sign and more profit.
“We often attempt to make the sign more dimensional with lasered or routed letters. We also would typically try to incorporate painted or sculpted posts as part of the overall design.”