Design & Price: 3D sign for a vacation home

By signcraft

Posted on Saturday, January 20th, 2024

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In 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:

A local physician who owns a quail hunting plantation in Georgia asks if you could make a sign for the front porch of his vacation home. He visits the plantation frequently through the fall and winter and is looking for a sign that will help his guests and friends identify with the old home’s heritage. He says he’d like something small but nice, maybe 2-by-3-ft., and asks if you could “fit a quail or a bird dog in there somewhere.”

 Make a sketch of what you might suggest and quote a price.

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


David Hassan

Hassan Sign, Cohasset, Massachusetts

This sign is a fairly typical project here at Hassan Sign Company, although I probably sketch at least a half dozen of these for every one I sell. A lot of people don’t seem to perceive the amount of time involved in this type of project and think it should be a $400 or $500 sign. This type of sign, even though it is fairly small, can eat up a lot of hours.

Generally when someone comes into the shop I have him or her look through our portfolio and tell me what signs, colors and shapes they like or don’t like. This gives me a pretty good idea of a design direction. As the good doctor peruses the photos and we discuss size and color, I work up a fairly quick little pencil sketch. He seems to like the design, so I work up pricing. I offer pricing options based on different production techniques. Once we have established the price I receive the 50% deposit, we computerize the design and production begins.

We would build this sign out of 1 1 ⁄2-in. high-density urethane (HDU) with a piece of 1 ⁄2-in. medium-density overlay (MDO) pocketed and epoxied into the back. We would add a piece of HDU onto the right wing of the quail carving in order to really bring it out of the scene.

With the router table I set up different levels for the quail carving and route out the diamond background around the pinecone. This really helps to speed up the hand carving.

This is a fully carved sign, with the quail scene and pinecone sculpted and hand painted, and the lettering in 23k gold leaf. The price would break down like this:

Stock, including 100% mark up: $240

Design, program and tool-path: $300

Routing: $ 185

Build, prep, prime and paint panel: $285

Carve and paint quail scene and pinecone: $880

Paint borders, gild and outline letters: $190

Total: $2080

As a less expensive option, we could eliminate the carving and painting on the quail scene and pinecone and apply digital prints. This option would bring the price down to $1240.


Shane Durnford

Shane Durnford Designs, Creemore, Ontario, Canada

In our initial meeting, we work with the client to set a rough budget for the sign. At this time we gather as much information as we can about the plantation, its surroundings, and the traditions associated with quail hunting.

We request a non-refundable $1000 design deposit to proceed. After some research into quail hunting and plantation architecture, we put together a design and price and meet again with the client. If all is well, a 50% start deposit is required in order to schedule the project.

I designed the sign as a classic frieze to fit above the front porch entrance—this approach allows the sign to become a piece of the architecture rather than a sign placed on the building as a separate thought.

The color scheme is inspired by the light of an early autumn morning, which is the ideal time for hunting quail. Native grasses figure heavily into quail habitat and biology, and therefore, into the aesthetics of quail hunting—so the grass in the background seems to belong there. The colors also serve as a warm welcome and softly contrast with the white exterior of the plantation house.

The rising quail are high-relief carved, with the surrounding background shaped into a concave half oval—this feature lends additional dimension to the carving. The grass is also carved, supplying a gentle texture down the length of the sign.

The metallic gold letters (gold leaf would be too brassy and overstated in this setting) are mounted so as to project from the sign face. The overall design is simple, warm and classic. Price would be approximately $8124US, including design. I would also supply treatment options that would allow some flexibility with the cost.

As a side note, I would suggest that the client commission us to develop a logo/insignia for the plantation which incorporates the sign design; it would be used for house stationery, guest towels, glass etching, etc.


David Showalter

David Design, Bryan, Ohio

For this type of single-faced sign, I’d start with a 2-by-3-ft.-by-1 1 ⁄2-in. 18-lb. high-density urethane panel. I’d cut the panel to shape, mask it, then sandblast it using a Grain•Fraim from SignArts Products to simulate a wood-grain background. Next I’d bevel the edge with a router. On design A, the inner border would also get rounded over, and the triangle would be beveled.

I base my prices for sandblasted signs on $110 sq. ft.:

Designs A and B 6 sq. ft. @ $110/ft: $660

Cut to shape: $65

Add for 23k gold: $170

Bird art rendering: $125

Total: $1,020


Both the inner border and the triangle would be 23k gold. For the background I’d use dark green latex paint, and the text would be a rich cream-colored latex with a dark gold latex paint outline. Pines would be medium gold latex. I’d paint the bird artwork by hand, using latex paint.

The border on Design A would be a black-green latex paint mix. Design B would be finished the same—the only difference is that I’d gild the inner border only.

Prices for both designs would be the same; if this turned out to be more than the customer was willing to spend, I’d omit the 23k gold altogether and lower the price to $850.


Bob Burnett

Spring Valley Signs, Farmington, Pennsylvania

The sign face, edge and back would be painted, along with the chip-carved area behind the pointing dog. Quail and ferns would be hand-sculpted and added to the sign face. The overlay panel would feature carved and gilded text and bullets, and a painted background.

Our signs are sold by the square foot, and this 2-by-3-ft. single-faced sign would sell for $1020.


Dennis Gerathy

Vintage Signs, Cedar, Michigan

For all the years that I’ve been in the business, I’ve always loved doing any sign than pertains directly to cottage themes. Hunting, fishing, boating and lodge-related are always fun projects. Living in a lovely tourist area of Northern Michigan affords me the opportunity to do jobs like this on a regular basis.

Materials: $68.00

Five shop hours at $75/hr: $375.00

Subtotal: $443.00

6% sales tax: $26.58

Grand total: $469.58

Terms: 50% in advance, balance upon delivery

I would use a 24-by-36-by-1-in. high-density urethane panel. Only Ichaway Pines would be sandblasted; the graphics would all be hand-painted in enamels.