What’s it cost to produce this 3D PVC sign?

By Larry Williams

Posted on Monday, September 11th, 2023

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We designed, fabricated and installed this 29-by-95-in. dimensional sign for a local developer who also happens to be one of our longest running accounts. The first step in this project was meeting with the client on location, where we took measurements and snapped a few photos. That took about 45 minutes.


1.3 sheets of 1⁄2-in. PVC: $147

Paint: $32

Glue, hardware, sandpaper, rollers, brushes, Scotch-Brite: $22

Calendered vinyl mask: $12

Total materials: $213

50 percent markup: $108

Materials with markup: $321


Labor (11.75 hours):

2.75 hours to design and sell: $447

7.5 hours to manufacture: $1051

1 hour to install: $236

Clerical (1⁄2-hr.): $56

Trip charge: $177

Total labor and travel: $1967

The selling price was $2638, including profit.

Shop rates:

Sales/Design/Craftsmanship: $162/hr

General Management: $140/hr.

Manufacturing/Installation: $133/hr.

Helper: $103/hr.

Maintenance: $103/hr.

Helper: $88/hr.

Clerical: $96/hr.

Travel (trip charge per man): $88/hr.

Per mile (if over 25 miles) per man: $7/hr.

Back at the shop, we began the design process. We designed the sign in Gerber Omega software, proofed it in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, then e-mailed the proof to the client. The clip art we used came from Golden Era Studios [now available from www.LetterheadFonts.com].

Design took just over an hour. Once the artwork was approved, we exported the art as an AI file out of Omega to the EnRoute Pro software.

After fabricating the sign in our shop, we installed it on an existing curved brick wall. We pre-drilled the wall with a masonry bit and attached the left side of the sign to the wall using Tap-It [www.mktfastening.com] spreader pins. We then carefully bent the sign around, following the curve of the wall, and secured it with four more spreader pins. We painted over the heads of the pins, and no touch-up was necessary. Load-up, install, travel and unload time came to just over one hour.

This was one of those projects that went together without any “Oops, I goofed!” moments, which always helps the profit margin. To determine what we can competitively charge, we have calculated various shop operations at different rates based on our overhead and given the level of expertise involved. The rates shown here include a 10 percent profit that is built into the hourly rates. Anything over and above that is what we consider very good profit!

Susan and Larry William’s shop, New Sign Co., is in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

This appeared in the March/April 2007 issue of SignCraft. While the prices have been adjusted for inflation, they may not accurately reflect current pricing for such signage.

Layout and design: 90 minutes

I used Gerber Omega to compose this layout.

Illustrator presentation: 30 minutes

I used Adobe Illustrator to put together a digital representation showing what the sign will look like once it’s installed. I e-mailed this image to the customer for approval.

Export file to EnRoute Pro: 20 minutes:

EnRoute Pro lets us create the toolpaths needed by our MultiCam router to route the elements from white PVC sheeting.

Routing the face and background: 90 minutes

The router cut the face, background and letters using a 1⁄4-in. end mill bit. A 1⁄8-in. bit is used for the detailed scrollwork. A 3⁄4-in round-over bit was used for the edges.

Prepping edges: 30 minutes

Next, we dressed the edges of the panels using sandpaper and a stencil knife.

Sanding: 10 minutes

For the paint to adhere properly to the sign face, we must break the finished surface of the PVC with a palm sander and 3M Scotch-Brite pads.

Mask and glue: 45 minutes

After applying a vinyl pattern/mask to the face of the sign (to help accurately place the letters and to protect the face from glue squeeze-out), we applied PVC cement in a squeeze bottle, and pressed the letters into place.

Mask and paint: 90 minutes

After gluing on the letters, we applied R tape pre-mask to the inner edges of the “bottom” layer of the sign to shield it from overspray. Then we sprayed the face with two coats of Sherwin-Williams exterior latex paint, using a Wagner airless sprayer.

Paint inlay and raised elements: 90 minutes

Once the mask was removed, we painted the incised and raised portions using a foam roller. Again, we applied two coats of Sherwin-Williams exterior latex paint.

Paint back panel: 10 minutes

Since only an inch of the back panel is visible around the face of the sign, we painted the edge (about 2 inches in, all the way around the perimeter) using a foam roller.

Lettering: 60 minutes

Next we letter the sign using 1 Shot Lettering White enamel. Since this was Calvin’s first time lettering a sign, it took an hour to put on two coats—but he did a perfect job!

Glue face to back panel: 30 minutes

Using PVC cement, we glue the face to the back piece. Because PVC cement sets up so quickly, this is a three-person job.

… and here is the finished sign, installed on the curved wall.