Need for Speed

Skillful routing is about more than your machine’s maximum rpm.
Lee Designs (Ft. Myers, FL) completed this striking sign. Photo courtesy of Philip B. Pugh.

“A well-designed three-dimensional (3D) sign will command much more attention than its two-dimensional counterpart, both designs being equal,” said Gabe Griffin, general manager, Clear Sign & Design, San Marcos, CA. Clear Sign recently fabricated all of the exterior signs for San Diego City College, a sizeable project that required more than 110 hours of cutting time. 

But first, Griffin had to wow the client. “There is nothing better for short viewing than having rich materials,” he said, adding that some of those include brushed, 316 CORTEN Stainless Steel; 3form acrylic; board-formed concrete; stained wood and blackened steel. “[The San Diego City College job] was a build-to-specifications project. All power supplies were installed remotely. [This is] a great benefit to the client and will save them tens of thousands of dollars in future maintenance.” Production challenges included providing a seamless presentation, and 2-4 in. cabinet depths that “created some conflict between structure and illumination.” 

Clear Sign’s router of choice is the 5 x 10-ft. MultiCam 5000 Series featuring upgraded OMLAT 24 amp, 380v bi-directional motor with a 12-tool rotary tool changer. Having the router outfitted with the 24k-rpm spindle allows for the company to conduct its drilling and tapping in-house. “Saved us enough on drill and tap labor to pay for the machine several times over,” Griffin said. 

Clear Sign & Design (San Marcos, CA) fabricated all exterior signs for San Diego City College.
Clear Sign & Design (San Marcos, CA) fabricated all exterior signs for San Diego City College.

In addition, the company uses SAi’s Enroute 6 software to provide two- and three-dimensional design and tool-path capabilities. However, according to Griffin, they also employ its “little brother,” the 5 x 10-ft. 3000 Series MultiCam router. The 3000 Series’ optical registration makes quick work of flatbed direct-print-and-cut applications. “It is not uncommon to have 30-40 sheets of [aluminum composite material] come off of that machine daily, with laser perfect registration,” Griffin said.

For the San Diego City College job, Clear Sign processed more than 3,500 sq. ft. of aluminum sheeting, 1,250 sq. ft. of acrylic, 100,000 in. of lineal cutting, 4,000 LED scribes for positioning and 1,500 drill-and-tap holes into ½- and ¾-in. aluminum letters. “This was a perfect case study for why having a solid CNC [router] can help you raise the bar on the types of projects you are able to produce,” Griffin said.


Clear Sign is not the only sign company routing quality 3D signage. South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale) is home to Expose Yourself USA. Founded in 2006, 30,000 sq. ft. now house its operations. According to Vice President Marco Tiapago, the company produces the gamut of sign requests, including 25-ft. foam props with metal structures among its dimensional sign offerings.

In 2018, Expose Yourself completed a challenging job for EST Global Partners, an event-planning firm. Challenging, Tiapago explained, in that the final product had to incorporate the architectural dynamics of the building. After taking photos of the building and surrounding area, and assessing the wall for electrical installation capabilities, the company’s design department produced a 3D rendering, which was presented for customer tweaks. What resulted was an attractive, three-dimensional LED-illuminated interior wall sign that featured an industrial finish.

This intricate sign was routed by Expose Yourself USA (Ft. Lauderdale, FL).
This intricate sign was routed by Expose Yourself USA (Ft. Lauderdale, FL).

Production obstacles included ensuring the adhesion of the chrome to the acrylic, as well as reverse-cutting the channel for the LEDs. “The adhesion and cutting of the channel for the lighting were done simultaneously,” Tiapago said, with the biggest concern being the router’s rpm speed for taking on the chrome/acrylic. The setting for routing this combination of material required a little support from their Accu-Cut router’s manufacturer, Computerized Cutters, whose rep suggested 20,000 rpm as the optimal speed. “If [the setting] is too fast you can go through the acrylic and damage the metal, and if it is set too slow, you can damage the acrylic,” he said. As they say, measure twice, route once.


Across the lower Florida peninsula, Lee Designs of Ft. Myers has been manufacturing and installing custom signage since 1997. Anthony Warner, graphic/production designer says dimensional signage is still a largely untapped market: “Being able to show customers all aspects of their design from a 3D perspective has easily won us many jobs.” Warner relies on SketchUp and CorelDraw to prepare designs for customer presentation.

Late last year, the company completed work for a car storage company, Vehicle Fortress. Warner created all of the CNC files with VCarve Pro software from Vetric and used an AXYZ router to cut the components for Vehicle Fortress’ signs. Getting to the routing portion of the job wasn’t easy. The customer wanted “a lock and chain type sign… to look like a huge Master lock,” Warner said, but they also considered three different company names and “wanted to go way out of code” with regard to sign ordinances. 

Even after a variance was approved, the installation site presented some permit issues of its own, as Vehicle Fortress is located off of I-75 in southwest Florida. “The sign is seen by thousands of potential customers traveling daily to the Ft. Myers/Naples area,” Warner said. “The permitting requirements did not [initially] allow the customer to have the size of sign that big (65 ft.) set back off the interstate with [people travelling] 70 miles per hour.” However, after more than a little wrangling, permits were granted and production was given the go-ahead.

Fabricating the foam round arch section of the lock proved difficult, plus, “We had to make the round rivets at the top look realistic,” Warner said. These were designed at Lee Designs, then sent to a custom foam fabricator, who created four foam skin pieces to replicate the rivets. 

Lee Designs assembled, cleaned, detailed and painted the foam pieces. The rest of the lock was fabricated with steel for the interior framing and aluminum construction on the exterior, including illuminated push-through copy for the word ‘condominiums’ and 36-in. illuminated channel letters for the main sign. The design was also used on the building wall sign and the rest of the sign package for Vehicle Fortress, making cars feel safe as well as condominium-comfortable.


Signs of the Times July 2020

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