Sign Fonts

What if you don’t like the customer’s choice?

In December, we asked six sign designers to comment about their decision processes when selecting fonts for signs (see ST, Dec. 2016, p. 60). In that feature, designers responded to a comment from Mike Stevens’ 1984 book, “Mastering Layout,” that discussed the varied use of fonts within a sign. We received excellent comments and recommend you revisit that issue if you missed the story.

However, you may remember that I have a graphic/industrial design background that led me into sign design some years back. At that time, several of my designs were chosen to appear in Signs of the Times magazine and in books. I am presenting two here because they directly relate to one aspect of font selection that our interviewed designers did not address: the customer who chooses a font or presents a logo the designer doesn’t like.

This was the case with the Stone Ridge Village sign shown here. Every aspect was drawn and the final design was almost approved when the sign buyer walked through the shop door with a new font in mind. Fortunately, it was a serif font and similar to the original font, a broadened Times New Roman. I say broadened because electric signmakers often modify channel-letter strokes and serifs to fit the designated lighting system, whether LED or neon. For example, the slab-type serifs shown here were not broad on the original font, but we modified them to allow the back-lighting to illuminate the smaller sections equally. I completed both designs shown here while working as a designer for John Shaw, then-owner of Shaw Sign Co. (Ft. Collins, CO) and now owner of DaVinci Signs (Windsor, CO). The sign buyer said he needed a monument sign near a pond he was excavating at his upscale development entrance. I asked if we could put the sign in the pond instead of alongside it and he liked the idea.

Fortunately, John is good at engineering atypical sign work.

The engineering plans and project planning processes involved feedback from the excavation, electrical, concrete and bricklaying subcontractors. The electrical input was channeled underground and then up through the concrete foundation and pillars, to feed the lighting luminaires and water pump. (Bizarrely, the plans called for adding water instead of the usual dilemma of removing it.) Two thick concrete standards ascended from a standard block footing, all unseen below the water surface. We also had to scheme the hidden PVC-pipe channels that carried and filtered pond water to the three Berthoud Pink flagstone sconces.

The above water sign components – i.e., the brickwork and sign cabinet – measured 11 x 13 ft. The sign cabinet was composed of custom fabricated aluminum with an inset face. The polished brass “Stone Ridge” channel letters were 5 in. deep and halo lit with green mercury/argon tubing. The letters also featured Lexan backs to prevent bird nesting.

One main concern was maintenance access once the sign was in place, because none of the outside crew had scuba training.

Ram Intl. Ltd. wanted a theater-type marquee sign for its new CB Potts nightclub in Cheyenne, WY, but we soon realized we had to design, build and install a freestanding marquee sign (10 ft. off the ground) because the nightclub’s wood-framed building wouldn’t bear the weight. The remedy was a three-cornered sign that supported itself, as evidenced by the two 6-in. steel posts at the sign back and the six 3-in. support posts stylishly ganged at the front.

I immediately disliked the letter arrangement in the logo, but also realized that CB Potts, a national franchise, wouldn’t change its logo for me.

Our design featured exposed classic neon (notice the cool purple tubing along the top) and polished gold aluminum letters with clear faces to protect the exposed neon. The soffit was polished black aluminum sheeting.

Any electric signbuilder will see the marquee components: two changeable-letter cabinet signs, two CB Potts channel letter logos with exposed red neon and face mounted on an aluminum cabinet, and a rounded sheet-metal sign can with a curved neon accent. The sign base comprised upper and lower inset reveals and the soffit, each illuminated by numerous incandescent lamps. The soffit lamps and reveal neon service access were topside, through a trap door. Our install crew assembled the sign on site.

If you don’t like the client’s font choice, you might sometimes negotiate a change. But if that’s not possible, these projects prove you can still design an effective sign.

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