Don’t let creases and seams control your layouts

By Bob Behounek

Posted on Friday, January 5th, 2024

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I have always been a believer in using imaginary borders when it comes to sign layout. Readability will always prevail when enough unused or “negative” space surrounds a given message. I never cram or jam copy out to the far reaches of the outside edges of a sign.

Yet most vehicles have many edges, creases and seams. Look at the sides of any cargo van at the local truck dealer. There are deep creases, semi-deep or slight dimple-crease areas that could be cut out for future windows if needed. There are bumps, door jambs, sliding door rails with slots, door handles—the list goes on and on. There are more obstacles on some trucks than you would find on most mountain ranges.

You can see how some customers would have a concern as where to place their logos and copy. When a client feels his logo or message will look best fitted between areas bound by vehicles creases, he is thinking about that area as we would consider any other kind of signage with a natural edge. But this is one of the few times that I often pull out all the stops and push everything to the absolute limit.

If you have ever lettered a racecar, you know how fast they go and how hard it is for copy to be read at a fast speed along with all the other cars competing for your attention. Yet most racecar graphics disregard any edges.

Why? There will be plenty of unused areas to balance the areas that are full of numbers and sponsors—fender curves, roof posts, etc. Cargo vans have the same areas to work with, but much more open, flat useable space.

Keep in mind that this van is also moving and competing for your attention with hundreds of other trucks—thankfully at a slower speed. No one will ever see the creases, seams or indentations, especially when lettering or graphics are spread over them. The eye will go to the higher contrasting message without hesitation.

Think what would happen if we were to keep a client’s message confined between all those pesky indentations. Guess what? We’ll draw attention to all those outside edges and creases. Unlike the one-dimensional flat sign surface, the vehicle is three-dimensional and can be viewed from many angles. Even the roof is used in large cities where people in high-rise buildings read them from high above the streets.

Look at the yellow areas in the Bulldog Tools sketch shown below. These become our imaginary border, but are not consistent with the way we would normally utilize a border on a sign.

You’re probably familiar with the three types of layouts: formal, semi-formal and informal. This layout falls somewhere between semi-formal and informal. None of these layouts are centered on the vehicle. The copy/logos are placed to accommodate clear readability and lessen clutter, keeping the main message and products understandable.

Looking over these examples you’ll see there is nothing tricky here. But they all have one common element. The lettering, logo or graphics ignored the seams, creases or indentations. Every bit of space surrounding these used areas balances the area used for the graphics.

I know what you’re thinking. Do we have to go over all those dreaded valleys and bumps? No, you don’t have to, but it sure hides them and reads better at 50 mph!

Bob Behounek has spent over 40 years as a sign artist and pinstriper in the Chicago, Illinois, area.