Designing Award-Winning Signs: Nuts, Bolts and Washers

Building a fastener library -- prepare to be amazed

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Over the years I’ve worked with half-complete clip art collections of parts and pieces of various nuts and bolts and fasteners that I borrowed, bought and begged for from other sign designers and graphic artists. As a result, adding in fastener details was a pain as it generally took longer than necessary to “make them work,” and if a new fastener was needed it was difficult at best to modify a similar fastener so it resembles the Heinz 57 collection I was working with. Although they always looked good by the time the job went out the door, getting them to that point was a time killer. It was time for a solution.

What I have always envisioned was a system or process for building a set of bolts, nuts, washers and anchors that are quick to resize and scaleable, without bitmap fills or outlines to worry about. So, after nearly a quarter of a century of procrastinating I finally decided that last year was the year I sat down to create this imaginary fastener building system that would change my life for the better, and it worked! Once I figured out how to build them, it took much less time than I anticipated. I now have a library that allows me to easily and quickly modify and build just about any type and size of fastener used in the sign industry. Prepare to be amazed at how simple this system is to build and use in CorelDRAW, and how this step-by-step guide will help you quickly create your own.


Using CorelDRAW X7 (including X5 and X6) I have put together this step-by-step tutorial for a quick and easy way to make fully scalable, quickly changeable fasteners that look great at any size.  

First and foremost, start by taking a walk through the shop and collecting examples of the actual bolts you intend to draw. This is key to understanding how to illustrate the fasteners’ head, body, thread count, washers and self-tapping tips graphically, so that it’s visually recognized as the fastener it’s intended to be. Including too much detail will make the file size unmanageable and will slow down quick modifications. Too little detail and they look hokey. The beauty of this method is that each element and shape is independent and very small in file size. Each element enlarges and reduces flawlessly while grouped together with no outlines, no bitmaps; just clean vector shapes that look great at any size.

Step 1 – building the parts and shapes
Lets start out with building the threaded part of the fastener. (see Build Guide) (see Build Guide Graphic) I started by creating the thread that will be used to build the shaft of the fastener. I am not worrying about size or scale at this point; only that I have the threads wrapping around the shaft in the correct direction! Next, I have filled each shape with either a solid or fountain fill, per the Fountain Fill Guide. (see Fountain Fill Guide) I have listed the fill percentages for each of the attachments’ shapes and elements as they appear here, but you can easily adjust these to your liking. Based on your likes and tastes, you may prefer to design your set in CMYK, or in spot colors, or a little darker half-tone pattern. Play with it a bit to find the fill pattern that provides you the best looking fastener.

Step 2 – building the self-tapping drill tip
Next, every fastener has a slightly different bottom or business end. For this option we will create the self-tapping drill tip that is necessary for attaching trim cap to a channel letter. Simply put, I looked at the fastener and interpreted the shape. This graphic illustration of the drill bit tip provides the visual understanding that this is a self-tapping screw. (see Self-Tapping)

Step 3 – The hex head and washer
Now let’s create the crown or neck of the screw, along with the washer and the hex head. Note how each shape is independent, and can be grouped together as segments. The washer and hex head can be resized to accommodate any size of necessary fastener. With a tip, threaded shaft and head you can build any type, size or style of fastener, and even match the thread count if necessary. (see Hex Head)

Step 4 – Customize in a snap; How to make a wedge anchor
I start by taking a good long look at the fastener I am going to illustrate and I examine it. What about it makes it unique, and recognizable from all the other fasteners out there. I’m not talking abou the particular finite details printed on it, or the finish, what I am looking for are the overall dominant features of the fastener. What makes it an anchor, and not a fastener? In this case, the large cylinder and the shorter wedge at the end seem to set this apart from the others. The same is true for the Toggle Anchor that springs open to prevent it from being pulled back through the anchor hole. In the illustration provided (see Wedge Anchor Build) I have created a wedge that has the general, overall appearance of the actual fasteners wedge feature. Not every detail, just the overall shape and concept for this one and for the Toggle Anchor. Notice how much more detail there is in the real toggle anchor photo. I simplified this detail significantly yet it’s clearly identifiable for what it is, and how it works.

Next, I save this graphic as a master CDR file, with the appropriate name, scale, and per whatever file naming protocol I happen to be using. Most important is keeping the originals organized per type and scale so that you can easily find them, import them, use them.

Building your library
Now, congratulate yourself on creating your first fastener. Not to mention, you now own this little graphic of a self-tapping fastener that you build from scratch, and can use it without fear of violating someone’s licensing or use issues. As you come across the need to have an illustration of a special anchor, you will now be able to quickly and easily create the anchor and save it for future use.

I can’t stress the importance of being organized in your file naming and saving of these fasteners. Regardless of how deep you want to get with the hundreds of types of fasteners on the market today, you must be able to quickly find the fastener and import it into your drawing. You may want to create bolts with specific thread counts, and/or in metric sizes with very specific specifications. If you don’t have a place to store them, you will lose them, bury them, misplace them, delete them or bitmap them by accident. I have done this too many times. Please, take the time to develop a way to save these with a file saving protocol that will make sense now, and later on down the road.

Step 5 – Bitmap, Bitmap, Bitmap… Always Bitmap
Unless you like giving away all of your hard work for the competition to steal, make sure you bitmap your sign design work prior to making your final presentation PDF for the client. It’s easy and fast, saves file size and protects all of your work from thievery. I create a “Save As” file with JPG as the last three letters in the file name. By selecting just the fastener, I create a high resolution 600 dpi+ bitmap, separate from the background or sign image that sometimes look better on screen than the native CDR or PDF version.

Take the time to build your own set of fasteners. It took me less than an hour to build every type of fastener I use on a daily basis. Best of luck!  

You may download a free PDF of these nuts and bolts for your own use, especially in CorelDRAW (version 14 or newer). Simply go to my website www.charboneausigns.com/#!drawings/cmim and click on the FREE FASTENERS PDF icon. It will open your PDF viewer on your computer or device, and allow you to save it to your desktop, or email it to yourself. Remember, there are no outlines on these, so it’s easy to enlarge or reduce them to fit the scale and size you need.

I hope you find the document useful in building your library of fasteners. I welcome your feedback at Matt@CharboneauSigns.com.

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Matt Charboneau

Since 1985, Matt Charboneau has owned and operated Charboneau Signs in Loveland, Colorado. He is a consultant and designer for monument, channel letter and pylon sign projects. His book, "The Pre-Sale Sign Survey Field Guide - The how-to guide on sign surveys for the professional sign salesperson" can be ordered on his website: www.CharboneauSigns.com or by emailing him at Matt@charboneausigns.com.

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