Design Custom Metal Signs - Tips by (Part 1)


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  • Let us help you design the perfect custom metal signs.Let us start with how to design your sign: how to use basic sign design principles to make your sign get noticed, read and, when you want, obeyed.This is the first part of the presentation. I’m Blair Brewster, host for this video and President and Founder of MCS. Over the last 30 years. I have made literally millions of signs. And, I hope some of this experience will make a difference to you.In the second part of this presentation on ordering a perfect custom metal sign, we’ll focus on material choices: why larger signs matter, how to select the best type of metal sign, how special shapes get attention and some installation hints.We’ll let’s get started.
  • For outside, metal signs are best. Why?They last longer. In the past, plastic signs were lower cost. But, we have done our best to eliminate the cost differential. Plastic signs craze, have outgassing / bubbling problems, fade in the sun and crack easily. Custom metal signs are proven. This is what cities, highway departments and sign professionals have been using for generations. With 3M’s MCS [matched component system], you get signs that are warrantied for over ten years. And, the warranty is credible. Too many times, you’ll see a plastic sign with an “expected life” of five years – but, what does this mean? Dig deeper and you’ll find a long list of caveats.Why buy plastic – when you can get a metal sign, which will last a multiple of years longer, for the same price!
  • Now that you have decided on a custom metal signs… how do you make sure that your custom metal signs get results?Here are Top-10 Design Tips for Custom Signs:Logos make your design come alive.Specific, personal messages are remembered best.Write in headlines, like a newspaper.What do I do? Tell the viewer he or she have “to do”, a call to action.Use color to add emphasis.Don’t be afraid to ask for professional art to help tweak your design.Borders create a target for your sign and it’s message.Fonts are powerful.Many signs can be paid for by a sponsor. Why not ask?Some of the best signs are fun. We’ll show you some examples.
  • Logos or graphics make your custom metal sign come alive. Of course, a logo provides 24/7 branding. But, for most private property owners, this is not the advantage. The advantage, however, is that a sign with a logo looks professional. It’s upscale. For us, at least, there is no charge to add your logo. It can be a rough sketch, a copy-of-a-fax-of-a-copy or just an idea. We can clean it up. There is no extra print cost.If you don’t have a logo, we can suggest a graphic or symbol. Again, a simple graphic or silhouette of a shape can make a huge difference!
  • See how a logo enlivens a generic sign. Everyone take your message more seriously. A logo means that you are in business (and mean business).Most signs use a single color for their logo – thereby not overly distracting the viewer from the primary message.
  • One of the primary trends in the sign industry is customization. Clearly, the primary advantages of a customized sign is that you can give the exact right message at the exact right spot. This “narrowcasting” means that your message has the highest chance of being read and understood.When designing a sign, then, add details such as a web address, specific instructions to follow, specific hazards, hours of operation or a telephone number.Effective custom signs often use a message hierarchy:HeadlineExplanatory TextCall to Action / Emergency Contact InformationBut, there is a balance. The message needs to be clear, yet a sign with too much information is ignored. See the next slide.
  • A sign that is a legal contract is a sign that is meant to be ignored. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but most effective signs don’t require you to be represented by counsel.Now, what’s the 5-second rule?If you can get the main themes of the sign in less than 5 seconds, you pass. If it takes longer, think of how to shorten your message.Most custom signs are read as you walk or drive by. Most signs [regrettably, to many sign printers!] are not studied like a masterpiece. It’s a “fly-by”. Try to limit the sign’s message to the essentials. Many rely upon a reference to a web site, if the text starts to get too long. Others use a series of signs. The majority of the signs give the vital message (with a call to another more detailed sign posted centrally). This a single, stand-alone, sign can takes over the duties of conveying the legal boilerplate.To save time, when your text gets long, check out our templates.
  • Understand what the newspaper editors from Fleet Street to your local main street all know to be true.“The Punch Line Matters!”Can you simplify the text? Can you take out the prepositions and extra words. Of course, signs cover some pretty dry topics, but the principle remains the same. Build the sign around the headline. The stronger the headline, the better the sign.
  • Signs are advertisements. And, as any good advertiser knows, you need to get the customer to “do something” – e.g. a call to action. Or, in the case of a warning, “not to do something” – e.g. acall to stop.An effective sign needs to have a simple goal. Put yourself in the viewer’s position. In looking at the sign, you want the viewer to be able to immediately answer the question, “what should I do?”.In the examples on this page, you can see a “call to action” that varies from a simple telephone call to keeping your fingers out of the paddock.
  • Color is a powerful element in signs. This circular sun symbol is eye-catching. But, too much color can distract from your primary text message. Savvy sign designers used color to highlight the important message. See the examples of how “reversed out color” is used to emphasize one message, whereas the inverse color scheme is used for the “follow-up” message. Another effective use for color is to make your sign different from all others. When all parking signs are printed in red or green, the Employee of the Year sign is in blue. The color gets noticed.
  • Add some “pop” to the background of your custom metal sign.These fluorescent backgrounds are almost impossible to miss. They are especially bright at the end and at the beginning of the day – times when most signs disappear. These are the same sign materials that you see used by the flaggers in work zones and school crossing signs.Fluorescent signs are ideal when there is a great deal of “visual clutter” behind the sign and you want to make your sign stand out.
  • In the real world, signs are seen against a background – other signs, building, street lights, landscaping, people. You have to spot the sign before you can even read it. This is where borders come in. The border frames the message – like a wooden picture frame and inside matte also frame a wedding picture. Most professional signs use a border – professionals call this a “target value”.Not all borders have to be a plain, solid colored border that is inset from the edge of the sign. Stripes, arrows, etc., are also effective borders.
  • Fonts are the DNA of your sign. Seemingly innocuous, they can pack a wallop. For no-nonsense messages, go simple. Use a headline font like one of the official DOT traffic sign fonts, or one of the fonts specified in the ANSI Safety Sign specifications. Franklin Gothic is used by newspaper headlines.For upscale settings, however, consider a more elegant font.Many corporations have their own fonts (AT&T uses Clearview, American Airlines and 3M use Helvetica, Dell uses a variation of Futura). So, use your own organization’s font for your signs.There is a danger, though…. whereas just the right font helps distinguish your sign, too many fonts make your sign confusing. Most of our templates restrict the number fonts available. But, you can work with our designers to overrule these restrictions. Or, ask us to do a few versions of your sign – using different fonts.
  • An historical review of signs will show, primarily, signs using capital letters. Why? Early signs were hand painted. And, all caps are easier to paint (e.g. less detail). This tradition is hard to shake and, I suspect, due to tradition and a feeling that ALL CAP signs are more impactful, that the percentage of custom metal signs using ALL CAPS will remain constant (and over 75%).But some custom signs get quite complex and this is where we see the use of mixed case type. Here are some hints on when to use each font capitalization option:ALL CAPS. For warnings, headlines. Viewed as “more sign-like”. For signs of 1-20 words.Initial Caps. For consequences, rules, explanatory text and simple sentences. Sentence Case. For paragraphs of text. Sentence case is more readable and approachable.Advantages of ClearviewProven at Penn State, TX DOT and Others.Increasingly used by highway departments.Innovations on how to handle dyslexics and reflective halation.Why is sentence case more legible?There is lots of literature and research that supports this notion. Legibility is a passion of ours. You read shapes, not letters. Capital letters all have the same height – hence the value of reading-by-shape is diminished. More information embedded in a lower case alphabet versus ALL CAPS.More efficient use of available space with lower case letters.
  • From your back-of-the-napkin sketch, to a polished sign – let our professionals help create your design. It could not be simpler.Most signs are designed in one day – you’ll be surprised. You should have your sketch back that next day. And, if you don’t like it, we’ll get another proof for you. It’s all free.
  • Signs are quite public. As such, many companies and other organizations, in exchange for an acknowledgement, are delighted to help pay for your signs. The sponsors get a bit of free publicity and you save some money!
  • Feel free to have some fun with your custom sign design. Everyone talks about the funny Superbowl ads. They create a buzz. Signs are advertisements, too. So, try out a closing punch line, create a little mystery or add some twist on your message. We see tons of signs every day. The signs on the next slide are just a few examples from the last day or two that struck us as memorable.
  • Whether you are a curmudgeon or just having some want to have some fun, the signs that we all remember seem to have a twist. Here are a handful of custom signs that just came out of production. The author’s personality comes through – these are the signs that we’ll remember.“You are your signs!”
  • Design Custom Metal Signs - Tips by (Part 1)

    1. 1.
    2. 2. Why Metal Is BetterYou’re already a step ahead – by selecting metal!• Plastic okay for: o Indoors o Low cost The most demanding customers o Temporary use and signs use metal signs. Our• Metal is better for: metal signs are sold to states and counties across the US. Signs look o Permanence great, even after 15 years of o Larger sizes outdoor exposure. o Reflective options o High wind (corner holes don’t snap off) Plastic• Metal no longer at a premium price Plastic Signs don’t last as long. Common problems are crazing, color degradation in the sun and cracked corners.
    3. 3. Top-10 Design Tips for Great Custom Signs1. Add Your Logo2. Be Specific3. Write in Headline Text4. Add a Call to Action5. Use a Conspicuous Background or Border6. Ask for Professional Help with Design7. Use Fonts for Impact8. Repeat Your Message (again and again)9. Special Shapes – for Special Signs10. Have Fun! Old New
    4. 4. 1. Add a Logo • Adding a Logo has Never been easier. • No cost to “clean up”. • Even “Informational” signs can benefit from branding. • Logos best in 1 or 2 colors. + +
    5. 5. Logos don’t have to be in full 4-colors to be impactful.
    6. 6. 2. Be Specific• A detailed message is best (e.g. that is why so many signs are customized)• A personal message is memorable and effective.• Examples of specific details to include are a telephone. number, a web address, specific hours or in depth instructions. These make your sign not only helpful, but credible. The headline gets noticed first. Then, you add successive levels of information.
    7. 7. But, not too specific!• You shouldn’t have to be a lawyer to read the sign.• Obey the 5-second-sign rule. Do you want your message to be read? Templates make it easy to create a Or, is it important “CYA boilerplate”? professional sign – even if you have lots of text. Just add your text.
    8. 8. 3. Write in Headline Text • Write in Headlines (pretend you are the editor of the daily paper). • A message that is too long will be ignored. • The punch line matters. Compare this to:“Do not stop for our dogsand please do not throw a ball to them either.”
    9. 9. 4. Add a “Call to Action” • Signs are really advertisements – for safety, for following rules. A good sign, like a good ad, goads you into action. • Signs answer the question, “What should I do?”. The most effective signs give the consequences following the “call to action”
    10. 10. 5. Use ColorYour Custom Metal Sign does not have to look like a boring No Parking Sign.• Color is a powerful design element.• Use color to emphasize your primary message.• Reversed out type gives your headline emphasis.• Use color to make your sign stand out from the others – or to stand out against the background.
    11. 11. Fluorescent Signs Get noticed!Common fluorescent color choices.
    12. 12. 7. Use a BorderCreate a “target” for your sign’s message.• Border frames your message (like a picture frame)• Borders show the edge of a sign o Borders ideal for the typical light backgrounds o Borders create initial “target” value o Stripes, too! Many signs “get lost” against the sky or neutral background. Borders anchor your Borders say Borders create a “target”. message. “Look Here”
    13. 13. 8. Try Different Type Fonts & Styles• Signs don’t have to use a boring font o Traffic Fonts vs Designer Fonts o But, for serious signs, your font needs to be serious, too!• Serif vs Non Serif Type Which looks better? Condensed fonts give you Which is friendlier? greater height. They can also be used for effect (like above).
    14. 14. When to use CAPS for Upper & Lower Case• ALL CAPS – like “reading with your lips”. o Great for headlines. o Not for detailed instructions.• When to use ALL CAPS vs Initial Caps vs Sentence Case.• Clearview Font – Legibility Breakthrough.• Sentence Case is more Legible and Efficient. o You read clumps of letters (as shapes). Early signs were hand-painted - o Ascenders and Descenders give more information. hence mostly used CAPITAL o But, CAPS still give emphasis and are more common. lettering, which is easier to paint. Clearview is approved by the DOT. Tested to be more legible, it is finding many uses for metal signs. Note that the footprint (the blue area) for examples #1 and #3 above is identical. The last example (#3), however has a letter height (the Cap Height) that is 12% taller.
    15. 15. 6. Don’t be afraid to use our art team. Let us polish up your graphics or logo. Turned into a professional sign Turned into a (at no extra charge) professional sign (at no extra charge)
    16. 16. 9. Ask for a Sponsor• Sponsors appreciate the chance to help and the publicity.• And, you save money!
    17. 17. 10. Have Fun!• Signs are advertisements.• A fun message gets noticed and remembered. Yes, Photos, too! That tag line is that one that everyone remembers! What’s this? Sometimes a bit of mystery works, too!
    18. 18. Today’s fun signs!Some of the best signs show a bit of the author’s personality.