View Full Version : New to signmaking....need information

09-20-2001, 05:59 PM
I need some information about signmaking. I haven't wanted to venture into this area yet because I have been busy enough without it, but the laser engraving company that I do a lot of work for is interested in getting into signmaking and would turn to me for the CNC work. What I'd like to know is..

1) I have in hand, two samples of Sign-Foam II that this company has obtained, one is RPU 2000-18, and the other is RPU 2000-15. I take it that the 15 and 18 have to do with weight and density. My question is, are these good products, is one better suited for for different situations, and why? Is there a better choice?

2) What type of cutters and speeds are recommended?

3) Software opinons. Is a signmaking package a nesessity or (I think I know the answer to this)can a person get by with Vector, TurboCad, and Corel. This company currently uses Corel for all the laser engraving machines, so thats how I would be getting artwork from them. Although, they said they would purchase any special software we may need. What one should I hit them up for? ;^)

4) Finishing? After the cutting is done, what needs to be done? Sealing, painting, etc. Although, I told them that I wouldn't do this part at the moment, but I may need to do so for myself in the future.

5) Any other mission critical information, random thoughts, or ramblings.

I think thats enough for now.


09-20-2001, 06:37 PM
Scott I'm a laser engraver, all I use is coreldraw
both for the laser's and shopbot.
The paint I use is called sign painters' 1shot
lettering paint.
The signfoam I don't recognize the #no.s
but probably density and weight, I use a lot of
MDF for house signage, house no. plaques,
most of the Industrial signs are cedar 4in planks
with only the lettering painted..if you are interested in any tryit's I could make a couple for you, Dan

09-20-2001, 07:49 PM
Scott, try this URL for a LOT of info on the urethane sign foams..Bill P.

09-20-2001, 11:28 PM
Scott, try this URL for additional info on the urethane sign foams available. Great info pkg with samples will be sent free on request.


09-21-2001, 06:51 AM
The numbers refer to density per cubic foot of material. As a comparison red cedar is 22 pounds per cubic foot.

Another company that produces this material (high density poly urethane) is Coastal Enterprizes in California.

It cuts easily and makes lots of dust. It's a very good idea to cut samples out of pink or blue styrofoam insulation before cutting the foam (it's very pricey).

The only packages that I have found useful for designing/cutting signs on a QUICK time budget is Corel draw and RAMS software. Speed is integral to the sign business.

I would suggest that you only do the cutting part. There are many sign companies out there that would be more than willing to do the "finishing" for you. The sign business requires a lot of experience with many kinds of materials and finishes. If you think that you are going to pick up that knowledge by reading about it you are in for a big surprize.

09-22-2001, 05:52 PM
I've been making signs professionally for the last 23 years. (BC=Before Computers)

About foam materials:
The numbers 18 or 15 refer to the density of the material, higher numbers being harder.
The harder materials may tend to resist vandalism slightly better although once people (kids) find out a sign is made of foam and relatively easy to deface, there's not much you can do to prevent it other than stand guard and catch them in the act.

Foams from different companies have one MAJOR difference. This is the size of the pores (bubbles) which run throughout the material. No matter how much you sand it, unless you use a primer which fills these pores, you will never get a smooth surface. This takes a good amount of time and effort. Some of the material from Evergreen (Everwood) that I received as samples had the largest pores I have ever seen. I would not use their product for signs which needed to look smooth when viewed close up.

If what you are making will only be viewed from a distance of say 15 or 20 feet or more, smoothness won't be as much of an issue.

The other difference between manufacturers materials would be the uniformity of the material.
SignFoam claims to have the least "voids" or air pockets contained within the material. This is important when routing or sandblasting - if you run into an air pocket or a line of harder material, the defect will show up and you'll have to spend more time patching it or making it look the same as the rest of the area surrounding it.

Cutting speed can be fairly quick because there is no wood grain to worry about splintering. The foam cuts easily with basically any bit you like. A lot of people hand carve and sand it.

Yes there's lots of dust created. It's a fine gritty powder that gets everywhere. If you have a dust pick-up on the router, make sure it's on.

When you decide to paint urethane foam, this dust is a problem. It likes to remain in the pores of the foam and thus prevents a good bond of the paint to the foam. The key to eliminating this is WATER. Before painting, wash off the sign with a hose or if it's small enough, put it under the faucet in the sink. Blowing and vacuuming will NOT get all the dust off the board because it is attracted right back to it by static. After washing, let it thouroughly dry, then paint.

I know many people who paint urethane foam signs with latex house paint and have never had a problem. Some people don't even use primer because the foam won't absorb the paint like wood does. Sign paint like OneShot will cover in one coat usually, whereas house paint may require several coats, depending on the brand.

Software - use whatever you feel comfortable working with and whatever gets the job done for you. At the least it should allow you to cut on the outside or the inside of the line defining the letters, it should allow you to remove the letters or remove the background, it should allow you to create and cut various shapes combined with lettering, and it should allow you to use any fonts which are suitable for cutting. It should allow you to select various tools (bits) and define parts of your design to be cut with certain bits. It should allow you to make inlaid objects that fit perfectly, taking into account the effect of the rounded corners due to the bit you are using. The software topic alone could take up an entire thread of conversation, regarding what people find most useful about the particular software they use. The main difference would be in the number of steps required to accomplish a given task, and how easy the program is to understand in order to get it to do what you expect.

I agree with Gary that parts of the sign business take a long time to learn to do properly.

09-23-2001, 12:13 AM
Thanks for all the info guys. I really appreciate it, keep it going. I would like to hear a little more on bit selection and possibly software. I'm going to take a little vacation time finally after almost a year and a half so I'll check back in next week.


11-02-2002, 09:23 PM
Question about Software?

We are thinking of getting into sign making with our Shopbot. We are currently looking at Artcam Insignia and some other software packages. Anyone with some experience with any software that has been used with a Shopbot to do signs your input would be greatly appreciated!

I did talk to the Artcam people in Atlanta this past August @ the IWF. I have seen some posts on this forum about Modelmill & Bitcam.

Thanks in advance for your input


11-09-2002, 04:09 PM
Henry to start with a basic software for basic signage look at buying a vinyl cutter to go along with your "bot" at signwarehouse they will sell you a vinyl cutter 24" including vinyl express lxi master software for about 2,500 the software alone cost about 1,200 you can design a sign in a very short time and then either cut it in vinyl or export it as a dxf then run it on your bot. this will give you a good start as long as you have some design smarts. Just a thought.David in Wyoming. P.S. that is how I started.also with turbocad you can very the depth of your cuts by color by inporting the dxf in to it then changing the color values. then save and export that as a dxf. etc.