DIY- Hand Painted Sign (for calligraphy challenged people)

Hand painted signs are all over the place these days.

I love the look, and wanted one for my upcoming craft shows so I looked into having one made.

There were a few issues with having one custom made for me, however.  One was I needed it to be BIG.  I wanted my sign 5 feet wide by 2 feet tall.

The size of the project alone was putting it out of my budget and then add to that what it would cost to ship it to me was crazy.  Also, I wanted to use my own logo and had a very definite idea of how I wanted it to look.

In the end, I just decided to make it myself.  It turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and I got the whole thing done for under $50.

It took some time, but was easy as far as technique goes.

Here’s how I did it:

Supplies needed:

  • 5 fence pickets (Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc)
  • four colors of paint or stain (I got sample quarts to save $)
  • paint brushes, saw
  • 1″ screws
  • drill
  • sander or sandpaper and block
  • pen
  • print out of design (Office Depot or the like)
  • fine detail paint brush.

The first thing I did was cut my wood to size.  I think my fence pickets were 6 feet long so I needed to cut them down to 5 feet.  I used a miter saw, but if you don’t have one, you could either use a hand saw or have them cut at the home improvement store.  Once I had my four boards cut to size, I needed to cut three back-bracing pieces the height of my sign.  Mine was 22 inches tall.


Once the boards were all cut, I used a drill and one inch screws to assemble the whole thing.  This part was super easy.  I recommend pre-drilling the holes with a smaller drill bit than your screws.  If you don’t do this, you could split your wood.  It only takes a few minutes and saves a big headache.  The sawing and assembling of this sign only took me around 15 minutes.

I lined all four boards up evenly, then placed my back-bracing pieces on the ends and in the center of my sign.  One screw into each board through the bracing wood and I’m done.


Next step was to sand the front of the sign.  I actually bought a palm sander because I have been wanting one for other projects, but you could easily use a sanding block and sand paper.  You just need to get the rough pickets smooth enough to paint delicate letters on.  Those fence pickets are pretty rough to start out.


After sanding, it’s time to paint.  Be sure to get the saw dust off the wood before you paint.  Use canned air, or wipe it down well with a rag.  I chose to do my sign in four different colors.  I think this sign would have looked super cute in one color or even two colors alternating.  I have a bunch of wood crates in various colors that I am trying to unify with the sign, so I went with four.  After the paint was dry to the touch, I used the dark stain on a rag to distress and dirty up the other colors of paint.  I also sanded a few random areas just for an added aged effect.


Let the paint dry overnight and then you’re ready for the lettering.  This was the tricky part.  I know many of the sign makers actually just free hand their lettering, but I am not skilled enough for that.  Besides, I wanted the font to be the same as what my business logo uses and there is no way I could free hand that.  I thought of buying vinyl letters and using the outline part of the vinyl as a stencil to paint inside.  But, for a vinyl sign this large, the place I went to was going to charge me $65.  That was more than I wanted to spend on a stencil so what I ended up doing is having Office Depot print a 5 foot wide paper print of my design.  Just black ink on white paper.  It was just $5.

I centered my image on the now dry wood sign and taped it in place.  Then, using a ball point pen, I traced around my design pressing hard enough that I left an impression in the wood beneath.


This was the least fun part of the job.  My hand got a bit sore from the pressure I needed to use to make a good impression, but I toughed it out.   You should be able to see the clear impression of your design.


Once I had my entire image traced, it was time to fill in with paint.  For this job, I used a thick, gloss paint that is like what you’d use on a model car.  It goes on smooth and doesn’t require multiple coats.  I used a fine brush so I could get into the small areas.  Take your time here.  You should be able to just fill in your outline.  The grooves even act as gutters for your paint.


After the design paint dried, I applied a coat of satin finish lacquer to seal the whole thing and give it a uniform finish.  It is exactly how I wanted it to look and I really think it’s an eye-catching part of  my display.


I won’t lie to you.  This took some time to make.  But I love it so much!  I almost want to hang it in my house.  I hope this tutorial will inspire you to create something for your own booth set up.  I haven’t had great signs in the past years and my goal this year was to really step up my game in that area.  I want people to remember who they are shopping with so they can look for me and recognize me in the future.

Happy Painting!


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