Design & Price: Sailboat transom

By signcraft

Posted on Friday, June 9th, 2023

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For every issue, SignCraft gives a few sign makers an imaginary project. We ask them to do a sketch of the sign they might have produced, and to quote a price for the job. Most of the details are left to the designer’s imagination. The object is to see how different sign makers approach the same project.

Here’s the scenario these sign makers were given:

The owner of a newly reconditioned wooden sailboat is ready to have the transom lettered. He’s quick to point out that the restoration was very costly, and he’s concerned about the cost of the lettering. He doesn’t specify gold leaf, but says he wants something tasteful that will show well on the boat’s dark wooden hull. Make a sketch of the sign you might have designed for this customer and quote a price.

This appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of SignCraft. While the prices have been adjusted for inflation, they may not accurately reflect current pricing for such signage.


David Showalter

David Design, Bryan, Ohio

Since cost is a factor on this design, we’d come up with something simple with a touch of color. We’d do the lettering in the shop.

Design A:

This is a Mike Stevens font [available from], which is one of my favorites. By dropping the capital K & E, the lower-case text seems to fit well with this layout. We added the stylized triangle, which would be cut and rolled, and would letter “Demere Key, Florida” (in another Mike Stevens’s font) over the triangle.

The black outline and shadow on the graphic would be hand lettered. “Katie E.” would be cut and rolled, finished in ivory 1 Shot lettering enamel. “Demere Key, Florida” would be HP cast vinyl.

Design and layout: $91

Cut and roll: $175

Vinyl film: $68

Outline and shadow: $122

Total: $456


Design B:

This is a simple layout that uses another Mike Stevens’s script font with a shadow and outline. Once again with cut and rolled script and hand-painted shadow and outline. “Demere Key, Florida” would be HP vinyl.

Labor and materials: $342


Rob Cooper

Koh Tao, Thailand

If this hand-lettered design were beyond his budget, I would explain politely that there are literally hundreds of one-stop vinyl shops that would gladly put red Helvetica on his boat for half the price.


Hand-lettered ivory with black shadow and thin burnt-orange outline: $759

Gold leaf with black shadow and maroon pin line around lettering: $1139


 Bob Jahnke

Island Graphics, Merritt Island, Florida

I prefer to meet the customer at the boat on this kind of job. Then I can get an idea of the customer’s taste for nice or expensive things—like the car he drives, etc. This will let me know if I need to push the up-selling to gold leaf.

Along with showing him the sketches, I’ll also pull out my portfolio and show him a few examples of lettering on natural wood. I’ll also direct his attention to my truck’s tailgate, which is a hand-gilded, gold leaf job with an airbrushed sailfish on a solid piece of mahogany with several coats of clear over it.

Now it’s time to discuss the pricing. Since most sailboats have transoms considerably smaller than the big sportfisherman, you can emphasize that the cost will be much less than what it would be for the sporty sitting on the blocks next to it.

Design A:

All vinyl film: $281

Hand lettered with 1Shot enamels: $372

Design B:

22k gold leaf film: $532

Engine-turned 23k gold leaf, with drop shadow and clear coated: $836


Christopher Maylone

Bijoux Sign Studio, Chicago, Illinois

As I sat around thinking about the project, I wondered what could be done for a client who wanted something traditional but would endure the aquatic environment. It’s been my experience that people who own wooden boats don’t mind a bit of maintenance, but this solution will give the client a bit more time to polish the teak and mahogany.

The sternboard is 1⁄2-in., 18-lb. SignFoam high-density urethane board with a smalt background. The lettering and outline are raised, and the copy is painted and gilded. The sign is attached to the stern with stainless-steel fasteners and marine adhesive.

Price: $3800

I could also do a flat painted version of the same design, hand painted and gilded with all the bells and whistles: $2508