Scale your graphics for the viewing distance

By Joe McKernan

Posted on Saturday, March 23rd, 2024

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One of the reasons many people come to our shop for a sign is that they like our painted and/or sculpted pictorials. An effective pictorial is more than a pretty picture. It also must be easy to recognize at whatever the sign’s “viewing distance “ happens to be.

Occasionally, we have made indoor signs or “walk-by” signs for a storefront where most viewers are on foot, walking by. On these signs the viewer is free to stand in front of the pictorial and look at all the details for as long as they wish. An intricate landscape or other art-gallery-type subject works fine.

But most of our outdoor signs are seen from 20 to 70 yards away by viewers who are also driving. Immediate recognition is needed from a long way off. For these situations, one technique we use is to take a small subject and make it larger than life.

This means that when seen at a distance, the picture appears closer to its actual size and is easier to recognize. A subject with an easy-to-recognize silhouette and contrasting background also helps make the pictorial more effective.

You’ve probably seen pictorials that were absolutely beautiful up close, but seemed to be lost once the sign was up and viewed from a distance. Flip through past issues of SignCraft and notice how many of the designers use larger-than-life pictorials. That makes the pictorials powerful when a sign is viewed from a busy street or road. They do their job—luring the reader’s eye so that it can be guided into the text.

The 10-by-24-in. sculpture is carved, gilded 18-lb. SignFoam high-density urethane board on a hand-carved, gilded redwood sign mounted on wood posts. Newstead is a historical Australian property known for over 100 years of sheep shearing. The old-fashioned hand shears were created large enough to be recognized by moving traffic on a road some 40 yards away.

The 18-by-18-in. fish is sculpted and painted 18-lb. SignFoam HDU board, on a 32-by-48-in. hand-carved, gilded high-density urethane board sign panel that is mounted on a backing of PVC board. The viewing distance for this sign is 10 to 30 yards.

 

The 24-by-26-in. grape cluster is sculpted and painted 18-lb. HDU board on a hand-carved, gilded high-density urethane board sign mounted on wood posts. At 100 yards it is easy to make out the grape cluster. At 75 yards distinct individual grapes with highlights and shadows can be seen.

The 27-by-34-in. sculpture is carved, gilded 18-lb. high-density urethane board, on a hand-carved, gilded high-density urethane board sign mounted on a steel post system. This sign hangs close to a busy suburban street. From 150 yards it is easy to recognize a “bird in flight” and to read “Hawks.” From 75 yards the unique club logo of “hawk and rugby ball” is unmistakable.

The 14-by-16-in. leaf sculpture is carved, painted 18-lb. HDU board on a sandblasted redwood sign. The approach to this house is on a long walking path. The size and contrast of the leaf make it easy to recognize and enjoy from up to 50 yards away.

The 16-by-22-in. relief carving is sculpted and painted 18-lb. HDU board, on a hand-carved, gilded HDU board sign mounted on a steel post. This sign hangs part way up a long winding driveway on the property of a family of Tolkien fans. Approaching from 50 yards, it is easy to see the branch, leaves and blossoms. At 25 yards it is possible to identify “apple gum” as the specific variety of branch.

This appeared in the November/December 2003 issue of SignCraft.