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Case Study: Bringing graphic arts together with sign arts...

wood signs

Here's a project where no single area of graphic arts could fill the bill. A restaurant chain wanted a display vehicle that would look good, follow their motif, be flexible, and not cost too much. The big challenge was keeping the "homey" feeling while making the sale. I decided an orchestration of several areas of graphic arts was required.

The concept here is bringing a color photo into a wood picture frame affair that would have the client's message and logo included. We could have just as easily used show cards, posters or shelf talkers but they wouldn't have that nice wood flavor. You see prefabricated plastic signs all the time, but this client only needed a few so manufacturing was out of the question.

The prototype was simply made in the shop. A 1-by-12 piece of clear fir was shaped, routed, sanded and finished with a stain/lacquer. A recessed dado was cut into the backside to receive the photo, and non-glare glass. I hand-rendered the graphics using standard lettering paint, and a quill.

Presto, instant display. wood sign

Surprisingly enough, the client didn't mind the $35 ticket price, and liked the effect, so the next step was mass production. I approached several wood working shops, and their numbers looked too high to live with. Once again we returned to our friend with the band saw, and he took the challenge.

The scroll shaped top and square bottom allowed us to clamp five boards together for the initial shape. Working in assembly-line fashion using two routers (with different bits) -- one whisked the outer Roman edge, the other cut the picture ledge. The whole routing process took three minutes per display sign.

We started with nicely dressed white pine this time, so there was very little sanding to be done. The client had ordered twenty of these, so all were sprayed with stain, and then lacquered two days later.

Now, it was off to the local screen printer, with computer generated film positives in hand. A tan ink was chosen, and the graphics were printed onto each frame. I chiseled a deal with the local glass company and got all the glass for $40 including cleaning, and wrapping. (Each pane was wrapped to avoid finger printing during assembly -- the glass was installed with the wrapping, which was then removed on site.)

The photos had been taken by a good local photographer, and sent to Mid-West Photo for duplication. Once again, assembly-line style we popped in the glass, inserted the photo plus a cardboard backing, hit it with four picture pins, and a hanging buckle, and wrapped. This operation took under an hour with two people working. Today we no longer need to order photo prints and can easily print the photos on the local inkjet printer.

The whole job billed out at $875 (not including design or art services) for 25 display pictures with a net cost to us of under $400.

The nice thing about the whole project was within days of launching the program, the client's breakfast traffic increased dramatically and the client swore it was because of those signs. Who was I to argue?

Happy building!

Fred Showker

wood sign
Contents Copyright (c) 1996, Fred Showker for Johnny Appleseed Restaurants, Inc. Reproduction or reuse of parts or all of this manuscript without prior written permission is expressly forbidden.

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