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Shop Talk: Large Letter Project

We do many different sign and graphics projects, from screen-printed pipeline signs and waterjet cut logos to laser engraved tags and hazmat decals. But one of my favorite types of jobs is large cutout logos and letters for building walls, and generally, the bigger, the better.

On metal buildings, larger items are easier to install since they cross multiple corrugations and require fewer spacers for unsupported areas. Some of these jobs are one color of aluminum laminate or powder-coated aluminum sheet, decorated with adhesive vinyl or digital prints. Others are done in layers of powder-coated aluminum, adding more durability to exterior colors than is possible with vinyl or prints of any kind.

This job, for a girl’s softball field house, will have a long and useful life because every part of the sign was made from aluminum sheet, CNC cut, and all powder coated. It involved no paint, no prints, and no vinyl. This was important and highly recommended to our client because this job went on a recently completed metal building wall that faced due west and in full sun.

Any vinyl overlay or digital print would have a shorter life than the customer wanted. Fortunately, this local school system was willing to pay a bit more to have everything solid aluminum with powder-coated finishes done in three colors: white, maroon, and gray.

We own a large router, but I used our old Omax 5′ X 10′ waterjet because I know how to run it better than the router. All the parts were made from mill finished 5052 aluminum, .125″ thick. The front side was buffed or prepped with a fine-grit fiber disk or 220-grit sandpaper and a disc orbital sander. The small, sharp burrs left by the waterjet on the backs of the parts were sanded away as well.

The light gray metal building was a new field house for a local school’s girls varsity softball team. The small city of White Oak, Texas, was built originally by oilfield money, and the boys’ teams are named the Roughnecks. The girls are called Ladynecks. All the letters were done with two layers of powder-coated metal, and the derrick logo required three layers of powder-coated parts.

The design was left totally up to me, and those in charge were given a selection of three design variations. Fortunately, they had the good taste to choose my favorite (it doesn’t always work that way). In this case, only parts of letters or logos that did not land well on the corrugations would require spacers. No effort was made to offset the items from the wall because it might tempt kids to climb on them or pull them from the building.

This job was installed with stainless steel screws that were all powder coated. A light etching in a blast cabinet was all that was needed to prep the screws for coating.

Working from an accurate scale drawing showing spacing distances vertically, horizontally, and between elements, jobs like this generally go pretty much like clockwork. Even so, we often use minimal fasteners initially, just in case any onsite changes are deemed necessary. Once everything is happily placed on the wall and looked over closely for errors, the rest of the required screws are used and countersunk flush with each surface. When the matching screws are installed really flush, the look is clean and smooth.

This large graphic, over 20′ across and 6′ tall, helped make a statement on a new but very bland building. We know that our clients, the Ladyneck coaches and players, were happy with the job we did because within a week, they were posting photos online.

And, for me, this project was a fun and profitable one that will be around for a long time.

Rick Williams

Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business, Sign & Digital Graphics, and GRAPHICS PRO since 1986. Contact Rick via email at [email protected]

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