New profits: Design in Metal

by Fred Showker

Signs, Signs, everywhere signsOne area usually untouched by the graphic designer or design studio is architectural lettering. However if you've got clients who own buildings, or are planning to move into new quarters this the perfect opportunity to pick up a couple hundred (thousand) dollars with only a couple hour's work. Ask around, and be sure to add "architectural lettering" to your services offerings.

Follow along as this case study shows you how.

First, the computer part.

Here's we've captured a quick digital photo of the site where the client needs lettering. The fun part is taking the photo and then superimposing lettering into the photo to show the client a finished project. Once approved you order the lettering, then install it.

While on the site, take care to measure some feature so that you can produce scale later. In this instance we measured a single brick, and then the total area bounded by the brick inset. (That's the area where the bricks are recessed -- where the lettering will eventually go.) Be sure to shoot the space standing as perpendicular to the opening as possible. The goal is a photo where the location of the letters will be flat, with lines parallel.

Now open Illustrator, CorelDraw, or other competent drawing program. Establish a scale. I usually use points and picas since there are neatly 12 points to a pica which equates nicely to inches and feet. If you're just a little bit more sophisticated, you can use the drawing program's scale functions. (No, you seriously do not have to invest in one of those over-priced, under-developed $4,000-plus CAD programs.)

I'm going to use Illustrator since that's the one I like best, and the one most of you probably use. Option(alt)/Click with the rectangle tool and create the box where the type must fit. Here the space was 131 x 16 inches. Now we import the photo onto a new layer behind our scale drawing, and reduce the image until it "fits" the scale box.

There are many architectural lettering manufacturers -- like Impact Metal Letters, and you need to shop until you find one that is easy to work with, and helpful. Some will have only a small selection of type styles. Generally, I would usually order cut-metal letters, so I can design the lettering exactly like I want it -- rather than using stock letters. This way we can size them to fit the space attractively.

Check Impact's font listing ... from that kind of selection, you can usually find one that works well -- particularly if you select the font before you design!

Impact Metal Letters Once you have the lettering in place, zoom in and use your ruler tool to establish the height of the letters. Here, we saw the letters to be around 8.75 inches tall. Now it's time to get the order going.

Generate a PDF and you're ready to go. Make sure they provide the mounting method and drilling pattern. (You can make your own pattern, but if they do it for no extra charge, go for it!) You will notice that on the various style pages, Impact has a request for quote right there on the page where you can upload your file. (I could simply upload it to Impact's quote request form as shown at left.)

Working with the professionals

There any number of companies you can contact for samples and catalogs of their products. Be prepared to see a lot of really cool signage products you can buy right off the shelf. I've worked with some companies for going on 30 years and can recommend establishing a "trade" relationship.

This particular client wanted his lettering to last "eternity" -- and while I can't guarantee "eternity" -- you can be confident that any metal, like this cast aluminum lettering we're using here, will last at least 100 years or more. We'll all be gone, long before these letters wear out.

This is the legend the client wanted on this brick wall I carefully prepared the drawing by removing the photo and pasting the diagram into a fax for a purchase order of letters 8-inches tall, in caps Times Roman, black. Impact uses baked, industrial quality, powdered resin paint which comes in most any color. You can also get various shades of anodized finish in brass, gold, bronze, or clear silver -- in matt, satin or gloss.

Most manufacturers gladly sell lettering "to the trade" (reputable firms in the signing or design business) at anywhere from 25% to 40% off the retail price sheet. So, you can actually utilize their selling materials and be confident that your 'commission' will be held confidential. The client says "Whew! These are expensive!" Yes, but you say : "Well, you wanted eternity, didn't you?" ... and they sign.

In this kind of work, my rule of thumb is double your cost, then add 20%. The 20% is a bargaining chip in case the client gets testy about price. This job came in at $385.00 and billed out at $924.00.

Now, let's get on with the really fun part ...

... continues on the next page!


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