What’s it cost to produce this freestanding sign?

By Cody Reich

Posted on Friday, March 17th, 2023

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The Camas Montessori School had a sign that served its purpose over the years, but time and the elements had taken their toll. When the owners noticed the opportunity to brighten up their image, they gave us a call.

Three sheets of ½-in. overlaid plywood: $220One sheet of ½-in. PVC board: $104

Auto body filler and glue: $25

Sandpaper: $6

Paint rollers: $6

Screws, nuts and bolts: $25

Finials: $45

Two 8-ft. 6-by-6-in. posts: $65

Paint and primer: $125

Digital prints: $85

Vinyl mask: $15

PVC glue: $15

Aluminum angle iron: $35

Total: $771


Total: 11 hrs. 10 min

We learned right away that only a modest budget was allocated towards the project, so somehow we’d have to find a way to keep the cost down. The initial interview revealed that the client wanted a fresh look and a brightly colored sign; after all, this is a fun place for kids to visit and learn! It was also important for the client that the sign convey a clean and professional appearance.

After some time behind the computer I came up with a design. Unfortunately, though, I kept going over the budget. That’s when I called on my new friend, Raymond Chapman of Temple, Texas. I met Raymond at one of Dan Sawatzky’s fabulous Sign Magic Workshops. Raymond is a wizard with overlaid plywood signs. Because it’s a less expensive substrate, this project was a perfect chance to utilize that product to keep costs down.

Raymond was quick to suggest a few design tweaks and material changes to keep this project under budget. The customer enthusiastically approved the sign, sent a deposit and the rest is history.

Many thanks to Raymond, Dan and the many others I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and learn from in the sign industry. I hope this sign gives you some ideas or inspiration on your next project, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

 Cody Reich’s shop, Columbia Signs, is in Vancouver, Washington. His Web address is www.columbiasigns.com.

This appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of SignCraft. While the prices have been adjusted for inflation, they may not accurately reflect current pricing for such signage.


Rout the PVC letters and overlaid plywood panels: 2 hours 15 minutes 

We saved all the scraps to use as spacers later; they will add dimension to the sign.

Sand edges of letters and spray letters white: 45 minutes  Although the letters were already white, we painted them white to ensure no fading or yellowing occurred.

Glue up the main panel: 15 minutes  We glued and screwed two 1⁄2-in. overlaid plywood panels together to make the background for the sign; careful screw placement ensures that all fasteners will be hidden later by other parts of the sign.

Fill voids in treated posts: 50 minutes  We used two-part plastic (Bondo) to fill the nicks in the treated posts. The material dries very fast, so we had to make small batches and work quickly.

Cut overlaid plywood post trim: 40 minutes  We used scrap overlaid plywood to wrap the bottoms of the posts to give them a beefier look; edges were cut at a 45-degree angle for a finished look.

Apply spacers to face: 10 minutes  These overlaid plywood scraps are ready to be glued and screwed into place. They will be hidden under the sign face and give the final sign more dimension, and the rounded tops will help the sign last longer by draining water.

Sand and seal edges: 35 minutes  Proper prep is critical to the longevity of any sign, especially overlaid plywood. We lightly hand-sanded the edges of every letter and panel, then coated all plywood edges with a coat of high-quality exterior wood glue. Even though the posts have been filled with two-part plastic filler, we added a final coat of glue to ensure a long outdoor life.

Apply trim to posts: 2 hours 20 minutes  The MDO trim pieces we cut earlier are glued and nailed to the posts, using galvanized or stainless-steel fasteners. Chemicals in the treated wood will cause other fasteners.

Prime overlaid plywood panel: 20 minutes  We primed everything, even though the MDO came pre-primed. Since much of the MDO had been cut, glued and sanded, a coat of primer guaranteed that the material would stay watertight.

Paint panel and posts: 20 minutes  When the primer was dry, it was time to start painting all of the components of the sign—posts, panel and sign face.

Apply mask and background color: 45 minutes  We cut calendered vinyl to make a perfect mask for an outline. We rolled on the purple, then peeled the mask to reveal the background color. Removing the vinyl mask can be tricky; we took our time and made sure to do this step while the paint was still wet. Any mistakes are easy to fix at this point.

Attach the face to the background panel: 15 minutes  The face panel was attached with glue and screws; screw heads will be filled in with wood putty, painted over, then covered with a vinyl graphic.

Apply digital print: 10 minutes  For the sunrise graphic behind the primary copy, we used a high-quality cast digital print with a UV laminate. The black letters are already printed on the sign; they also act as a guide for placing the black PVC letters.

Attach PVC letters to sign face: 60 minutes  This is a quick-and-easy two-step process: first we attach the black letters (which act as an outline), followed by the white letters. We used PVC glue.

Apply vinyl secondary copy: 10 minutes

Apply gold leaf accents on posts: 20 minutes

Here’s the finished sign installed. Customer was very happy!