View Full Version : Government Signage

Jeff Belany
06-24-2008, 12:33 PM
I will start by saying that I am not now in the sign business. I have run a laser engraver for 10 years and was a printer for 20+ years. So, I have made a fair number of small signs, mostly for interior use. The area my boss has his eye on is the outdoor sign market for government agencies, i.e. trail signs for cities, counties and state (such as DNR)

One question is this -- how many of you are into this type of business? Those that are, what methods do you use -- laser, sandblast, screen print, other? I assume any of the engraved items are all paint filled. How do you feel a laser would handle this type of work. We would be looking at a new larger laser. Any suggestion on size of machine for this work?

Just starting this research -- got to keep the boss happy. (and maybe get me a new laser)

Jeff in northern Wisconsin

Joe Pelonio
06-24-2008, 12:47 PM
I was in the sign business before the laser, started in 1993. Most of my work continues to be done with vinyl, requiring a plotter. Since getting the laser 4+ years ago probably less than 10% of the work I do on it is signs, the rest custom cutting and engraving to make items, plus some name badges and desk plates.

Over the years we have done a lot of screenprinting, but as the cost of large format digital has come down, the popularity of full color has gone up, reducing the demand for screen printed signs, except for political around election times and the good old parking lot towing signs.

Here in our local area even trail signs are being printed, allowing for more detailed and colorful graphics and small print. I still use one of my wholesale customers for that, they do my printing on their 60" and I do their vinyl and laser cutting. A decent solvent based ink printer runs $20,000 and up. Inkjets are a few thousand less, but for durability require a
laminator for UV protection, and those run $4-5,000.

I also have done sandblasted wood signs from the beginning, but they have become far less popular lately, for some reason, limited mainly to the more rural residential developments. We used to do a lot of them for office parks
and urban apartment/condo signs.

Scott Shepherd
06-25-2008, 8:33 AM
I agree with Joe, I think most of that stuff is printed these days. There are several magazines out there, like "Sign Business" that show those types of signs being made and installed for city wide projects.

Joe, I went to a show last week and they had an HP9000 (I think) and it was about $23,000 (I think- I wasn't listening that well), and I mentioned the HP8000 (older model that's slower) and he said "Oh, we have those in stock and they are going for about $13,000 each now.

$13,000 for a large format printer, slow or not, ain't a bad deal! Not that I want one, but it did catch my attention.

Keith Outten
06-25-2008, 9:13 AM
I read somewhere that the large print media will only last about 5 years when used for exterior signs. Give such a short lifespan and initial cost I can't say that I would favor printed signs over traditional designs.

For large format signs I favor CNC Routing.


Joe Pelonio
06-25-2008, 9:48 AM
I read somewhere that the large print media will only last about 5 years when used for exterior signs. Give such a short lifespan and initial cost I can't say that I would favor printed signs over traditional designs.

For large format signs I favor CNC Routing.

You are right, of course. Still, when told that, people say that's fine, because the price is less, and styles change so they can do something different in 5 years. I remember, for example, back in the early 90's when everyone wanted signs in teal and hot pink. Then in the late 90s it was burgundy and forest green. Now it seems that blue-gray and browns are dominating.

Here's an example of what they are doing with trail signs. Printed on vinyl and applied to PVC. This would be hard to do and costly with CNC, and I wouldn't try it in vinyl.

With limited colors screen printing would work, but then each is different when you add a "you are here" to it.

(This is a place we sometimes go hiking)


Doug Bergstrom
06-25-2008, 6:57 PM
We have been in the sign and print business for years before getting the laser. We bought our laser just to cut acrylic lettering for our commercial interiors that we do and I would say that in the beginning about 90% of our business on the laser was just producing acrylic letters. Now we have found so many other areas that we have gotten into that I just waiting to see which one will pay off. As for signs more that half of our sign are solvent printed and laminated. We have had signs out for about 5-6 years here in Vermont that look as good as the day they were put up. With the new mount materials we use if the customer wants to change the sign or there is a failure we just print another graphic and go right onto the same sign. Works great!

As for new printers, we have been looking and there are two new models coming out HP has a latex printer and Oce has a toner based printer. I have heard the new Oce will blow the doors off the solvent stuff in speed, cost, and durability. I am waiting to see it! It is suppose to be introduced at DRUPA this fall.

Keith Outten
06-26-2008, 6:26 AM

I can see your point about people wanting to change their signs. The price point between the two mediums could go either way depending on the design.

I have three building directories, one for each floor of our Student Union, on my sign list. These will be produced from the AutoCad floor plans, depending on the size they can be laser engraved or CNC Routed on Corian and they will be multi-colored. I plan to paint the lines and text which will be sub-surface engraved/routed then just sand the top surface the same way I have been doing most of our regular signs. I recently made some award plaques that were painted with three colors. it was simple to do and they looked great. This technique doesn't work on most materials but it sure works well on Corian.


Larry Bratton
06-26-2008, 7:25 PM
I too was in the sign business with a CNC router and a wide format ink jet printer (Encad 6 color). Since I bought the laser, a whole new world opened up. I am constantly improving my methodology and I get more business due to the visual appeal of what I can produce that is laser cut. A CNC router, a wide printer and a laser is a dynamite combination of tools for making signs. I can say for a fact that their are lots of customers out there that still want to buy non-printed dimensional signage.

I have a Canon 8000 series printer that is primarily for indoor use, but uses pigmented ink (12 color-44" wide). I can print a sign on vinyl media and use a liquid laminate on it and it's probably good for a couple of years outdoors..It's a $5000 printer! Not a $15-40K printer that's going to only give you five years anyhow. Indoor is another story, Canon Lucia inks are rated for 100 yr longevity. Just a matter of what your planning to do as to what you pay for it.