The New Craftsman's Vinyl
Written by: R. Thomas Boyd
This guide has been designed & created to optimize
graphic presentation potential as well as to insure the most cost
efficient outcome. Using specific methods developed over many
generations by many qualified craftsmen this guide outlines time
honored skills and techniques originated by tradesmen known a Sign
Writers. In their time they were highly paid, union & non union
Journeyman. The following will state the reasons for & the purpose
of this guide.
Over time the skill set of the Sign Writer adapted to the tools &
materials available at that specific time. In the early days they
used natural brushes, pigments & hand tools to create beautiful,
practical & profitable graphic presentations for their customers. As
the industrial revolution arrived the range of available materials
and tools changed in many ways. This change was for the involved for
the most part across the board benefits for both the Sign Writer &
his customers allowing for faster production, an increase in options
and longer lasting products. However, sometimes these changes
brought about new unexpected, negative changes such as in the case
of lead based paints, which caused a variety of illnesses that befell
several generations of craftsmen.
As we entered into the
computer age the age of the old world Sign Writer came to a virtual
end (no pun intended) due to new technologies including the personal
computer, computer aided design programs, robotics, adhesives and
plastics. All of the newest changes resulted in the loss of the
artist in the art form, ultimately standardizing layout, fonts and
artwork. In effect the graceful and artistic Sign Writers of by gone
days has been reduced to not only a mind boggling array of fonts,
clip art, machines and materials designed to eliminate the need for
the highly paid craftsmen. All and all this has been mostly to the
benefit of the consumer, making available inexpensive products that
for the most part result in mediocre and misguided results, you
could say it has become "cookie cutter" like.
As one of the last of the
old world Sign Makers I have decided to make an effort to share,
more precisely the excellence and artistic craftsmanship of the old
world Sign Writer while implementing the technologies of the present
day. I would ask that you keep in mind the artists/craftsmen who
inspired this effort as you gain the very valuable knowledge,
benefits and profits from the information presented.
Make it amazing...
One of my mentors used to say that it
took 15 years for any apprentice Sign Writer to learn proper layout & I agree.
With the technologies today certain issues are prevalent when making layout
choices. I must mention most importantly that computers do only as they have
been told and without extra effort in the design and layout stage the standard
font styles, kerning (letter spacing) & line spacing are more then likely to
prevent the proper execution of any given layout, causing it to be more then
likely disjointed, bland & less effective then it should be. Note also that
color choices are also something to be reckoned with (but we'll address that
later). Reference images 1 & 2.
(for image reference
only. This is not a special.)
This is where the old world
sign techniques can make the greatest difference. These things
cannot be taught in a guide book and are only available through
years of practice and experience. Issues such as logos & practical
copy, size, placement as well as outlines, shadows and
embellishments are the key to completing the appropriate
presentation for any given purpose. To address this issue you
must insure that any vinyl graphics provided to you are designed by
an appropriately trained craftsman and that you have received some
basic layout training or at least read this guide completely so that
the final installation of your graphics will be completed properly.
Most people don't realize
that the preparation of a vinyl graphics project is the most
difficult and time consuming part. Here I'll outline the
1. Make general decisions on overall size,
sizes of lettering, letting styles, logos & additional graphics
and colors. Finally add some creativity and or consider what the
final presentation must feel like to suit the people and purpose
2. Evaluate the finished design for material
usage for all, adding a bit extra for changes, tech problems or
mistakes. Inventory in house stock of materials & tools. Order
tools & the appropriate (quality 1st!) materials then setup time
schedules for the shop and customers.
3. Use the computer and plotter systems to
print vinyl, cut vinyl and draw plans or patterns.
4. Weed vinyl (remove excess vinyl around or
in vinyl to be applied). Tape vinyl (apply transfer tape to the
surface of the weeded vinyl to prepare for transference to
surface receiving the lettering & or graphics). Cut/separate
vinyl into appropriate sections, Mark all centers and any other
helpful marks onto the pre-applied transfer tape. Make sure to
do as much preparation as possible to minimize time of
Note: The above steps
are all to be done by a highly trained professional with
specialized equipment and that this guide states them only to
give the reader the perspective not only of what goes into the
graphics they are about to apply, but also to clarify the
guide's final purpose, which is to teach those who wish to learn
some simple techniques to do an excellent job applying vinyl
lettering and graphics themselves. If you wish to get more
involved in the step listed above just call me or another
qualified Sign Writer and set up an appointment. Don't forget to
show up bearing very expensive gifts=).
Now there's a reason
I'm still writing in the "Layout" chapter of this guide. This
reason is that the final application of any vinyl graphics must
concern the consideration of the surface of & space shape it is
to be applied to. I'll start by listing the materials & tools
needed to prepare the surface and apply said vinyl.
1. Your copy of
"The New Craftsman's Vinyl
Installation Guide". Keep it handy, it can help you do the
best job possible!
2. Cleaners are a bit of a trick.
Surface contamination such as tar, wax, oil, grease, salt
residue, bugs, tree sap, bird dropping etc. are all made up of
all sorts of tough contaminates which can compromise your
graphics installation. The only way to resolve this problem is
to make sure you've cleaned the surface very thoroughly.
Certain solvents can be very
caustic and hurt the finish of your surface so read all labels
and directions well before using them to prep your surface. I
tend to stick with such products as Kleenz Easy (sold at
Napa parts stores) or any comparable product used to remove wax
or grease from painted surfaces as your first wash. Use these
sparingly. Rinse with water well after each cleaning,
Take your time here and do a good job, it make a big difference.
For the second wash I use alcohol and or soap and
water. Again rinse well and in the case of alcohol make sure
to buff the surface to remove any excess residue.
3. A Stabilo pencil (available at any
art supply store) or other light grease pencil though stabilos
are the standard and my recommendation. If you have a white
Stabilo pencil and a blue Stabilo pencil you'll no doubt have
all you need in most cases. Always press lightly and clean off
exposed makes on completion. Leaving lines on too long can make
them very hard to remove later. Don't use black, they can leave
marks on rare occasion.
4. A good wooden
yardstick. Use wood
only to protect the surface from scratching. A tape measure can
be useful as well but must be used with caution as to not mar
5. A Squeegee in the vinyl application
field is unlike one you might use for cleaning a window. It's
(as a standard) an approximately 3.5" to 4" plastic tool used to
press the vinyl down to the surface (I'll tell more about this
tool later in the guide).
6. Masking tape. Get the good kind.
cheap masking tape can lead adhesives behind and cause problems.
7. Application fluid is used in certain
instances which I will illustrate later in the guide. There are
many brands available on the market though almost everyone uses
a large utility spray bottle filled with water and One (that is
1) drop of dish soap added. Shake well and let sit in advance.
8. Some good, clean, lint free
9. An Exacto knife or a
Make sure the blade is new and sharp.
10. A scrap or two of extra vinyl in
the correct colors for the job your doing.
Don't let this list
distract you. I'm very sure you'll be able to collect these
things more easily then you might think.
applying your vinyl you should first take a few thing in mind.
Make sure that the temperature of your work area is between 40
and 90 degrees. Below 40 degrees the adhesives are to cold to
work well. (a heat gun used sparingly can overcome this if its
39 degrees, but don't push it). Over 90 degrees the
application fluid can evaporate and make things problematic. You
might have to resort to a dry application although this may not
be possible in certain applications. Consult a professional.
Another consideration is the workspace. Make sure you have a
large clean table or other flat surface to work from as well as
helpful things like low stools, A-frame ladders & or planks to
help you get face to face with your work the job. It is an
understated fact when installing vinyl lettering and graphics
that you must make an effort to have a head on view as you
apply. Proper alignment and straightness counts. Lastly keep
your work area clean as you go along. You'll find it makes for a
better job. Oh! one more thing... the Wind! If you're outside or
exposed in any way to the outside make sure its not to windy.
Wind can blow up dust, cause you to loose grip on your vinyl
during application and cause alignment issues. A very
experienced vinyl installer can apply in a wind but it make it
Now that we got the logistics out
of the way its time to get to work. After thoroughly cleaning
your surface comes the time to add layout lines. Depending in
the area you're applying the vinyl to you may have to implement
certain rules and considerations. There are so many varieties of
surfaces that one might apply vinyl lettering and graphics to
it's impossible to state them all. With sign faces and other
standard surfaces we often are presented with rectangular or
square shapes to work with. The vinyl graphics you have must be
pre-designed to fit accurately or at least generally into the
area, though some spaces can be somewhat enigmatic. Consider the
case of vehicle doors, window and even the entire side surface.
When approaching surfaces such as this we notice that there are
many associated curves, lines, curving lines and obstructions
such as handles, locks and latches. There are also other
important things to note such as the angle of the vehicle itself
to the ground. Many vehicles tend to be lower in front then in
back. This is where making a good decision is imperative and
where you the vinyl installer must focus you attention to the
layout. I'll call this the "final layout". It can change and
will from one side of a vehicle to the other. It can need to
bend over an arching glass surface and more. Considering these
variables is without a doubt your biggest challenge. Discussing
these issues with you're Sign Writer can help in every tricky
case but in the following passages of this chapter I'll try to
address most of the issues.
To complete the final
layout you will be drawing marks & lines using your Stabilo
pencils and measuring devices (wooden yardstick). As a first
step I often recommend that you use your masking tape to
temporarily place you vinyl. Do not remove vinyl from the
backing paper at this point. This step is only to establish
final placement and give visual cues so that you can accommodate
any angles or obstructions before the final placement. If your
surface in poorly painted or has recently been re-painted use
low tack tape and don't press it down to hard. A gentle hand is
a great thing for a vinyl installation in almost every instance.
Upon establishing the
placement of your vinyl make marks to indicate the bottom of the
outermost (left & right) flat bottomed letters and make
reference marks to remind you which lines of copy go on which
lines as shown in Image #3 below. Remove the vinyl and
connect any points to create the final placement lines, not
forgetting to write gently. Note: if the surface you are working
on is curved you may have to arch the copy to accommodate the
curve and if there are multiple lines of stacked copy you may
have to gradually "un-curve" the lines as the come down in
sequence, Reference Image #4. An artist would say that
here you must practice "artist license" which would be to
visually give and take the space to achieve the proper
appearance. Do your best to use your measurements to keep the
lines equally or more so appropriately spaced above and below.
This is often the case when lettering the rear windows of mini
vans and SUVs. Just make sure to place your marks and lines
accordingly & I'll explain how to apply that vinyl soon.
Image #3 Image #4
As you consider
the final placement of your vinyl lettering you should keep in
mind just a few rules of thumb:
Refers to the space not occupied by any graphics or lettering.
There are some age old rules that involve each type of negative
space. The types includes letter spacing, word spacing, line
spacing and graphic spacing.
The rule for
letter & word spacing is to imagine marbles or balls of some
sort between the letters and or words. If you space letters
using an equal amount of balls between each letter in a word or
between words you will achieve consistent spacing visually.
Reference Image #5. Note to all the engineers, draftsmen
and font designers out there: "put away your rulers". This is
the realm of the artist and to date I've yet to see the computer
that can get this right completely. Although when setting up the
final placement of you vinyl you most likely won't have to
concern yourself with letter and or word spacing it is a very
useful skill to develop for the moments when an issue arises
(and they do).
is the space above and below any given line of copy. This is an
imperative issue. Appropriate line spacing is again the realm of
the artistic eye and addresses concerns such as letter height,
consistency, accent and readability. If you neglect proper
consideration when it comes to line spacing you can completely
compromise the final outcome. Reference Image #6 & #7.
Make sure that you increase or decrease the space between the
lines to accent important statements, keep multiple line
statements together and allow for enough negative space to
achieve optimum readability.
Image #6 Image #7
refers to the space around all lettering and graphics in any
given design. Having the appropriate amount of negative spacing
in an overall sense is the issue here. if you make spaces to
tight or to loose your final presentation will look disjoined or
crowded and thusly become less effective. This is a biggie.
Reference Image #7 & #8.
Image #8 Image #9
layout from a technical perspective we can finally finish
marking the lines and move on to application. as a final note in
reference to layout, please remember to question your decisions
and experiment with your thoughts before making your final
are a few variations when it comes to applying vinyl
lettering and graphics. These include squeegee technique,
wet application, dry application, freehand placement and the
hinge methods. In this chapter I'll outline each method and
how they differ as well as relate to each other.
Squeegee technique is a very important thing to keep in
mind. Doing this right or wrong can make all the difference
in the world. I've found that depending on the size and
shape of any given piece of vinyl your best bet is to go
from the center out. some folks like to push the squeegee as
if they were scraping paint, see Image #10. I prefer
holding it a about a 30 degree angle and pulling it like a
paint brush would be pulled. Considering the vinyl has been
set into positioned lightly to start and that you overlap
your strokes in opposing directions you should be able to
adhere it flawlessly, see Image #11. If you should
have a problem such as a wrinkle, crease or bubbles I
have a few tips. To remove a wrinkle or crease you must be
sure not to squeegee that area down after the wrinkle/crease
appears. Complete squeegeeing the rest of the piece and very
carefully remove the transfer tape. You can now gently lift
the wrinkled area and squeegee it back into place smoothly.
Be careful not to stretch the vinyl in the process. Wrinkles
and creases are usually only a real problem when doing dry
applications due to the fact that
wet applications allow for more movement. Bubbles however
can appear in both wet and dry applications and in many
cases can be carefully squeegeed away. However there always
seems sooner or later to be some stubborn ones that won't go
away so easily. In the case of stubborn bubbles you must
carefully pierce the bubble using you exacto or razor blade,
then squeegee it down. You'll find that if you leave small
bubbles or creases behind and they get to heat up in the sun
over and over again they go away on their own.
Image #10 Image #11
One last remark in
reference to squeegee techniques. From time to time you may find
it necessary to go over a raised object, such as rivets, panel
seams or other raised areas. Dealing with these things requires
a bit of extra work and thought. In the case of rivets I've
found that piercing a small hole and using a heat gun works
well. See Image #12 & #13. Don't imagine you'll get a
perfect rivet every time. This is why you have that extra vinyl
with you. You may have to make a small overlapping patch to
cover any substrate you expose. They also make special vinyl for
this issue. It's a bit more expensive has some other limitations
I won't go into but can make a difference. As for seems and
raised areas. Just be careful to squeegee the vinyl down as
completely and evenly as possible. If you're pressing along a
seam be careful not split the vinyl. If you do make sure to make
an overlapping patch with at least a 1/4 inch overlap on all
sides (vinyl shrinks over time and if you don't make an overlap
of 1/4 inch or more when splicing or patching, you would find a
space would appear later.
Image #12 Image #13
is applying your vinyl using an application fluid such as is
described in the previous chapter. The application fluid is
sprayed lightly onto the surface that your lettering/ graphics
will reside as well as the back of the vinyl you're placing. The
application fluid allows the installer to move the vinyl to get
sure positioning. It also helps the vinyl to evenly adhere to
the substrate. When the wet application vinyl is in position the
installer must use the squeegee to remove excess water from
behind the vinyl and adhere it to the surface. This is done by
dragging the squeegee at about a 30 degree angle across the
transfer tape covering the vinyl. Refer to Image #14.
When the vinyl is well in place wait a few minutes before
removing the transfer tape and completing the install.
Dry application is exactly what you might assume.
That is, it is the application of vinyl without the use of
application fluid. Dry application requires a bit more skill
and practice. If your feeling confident and don't mind
making a mistake, by all means.. go for it! There is some
wiggle room when it comes to dry application. Being as if
you haven't yet placed it down completely and your substrate
is anchored well and is sound, you can pull it away with a
quick movement and still re-align your vinyl. This is as
risky as it sounds but it's done every day by experienced
vinyl installers. In the next paragraph you can read how to
use "the hinge method", which allows you to use the dry
application method more safely.
hinge method is an excellent way to insure as perfectly
as possible the correct installation of vinyl lettering or
graphics. As illustrated in Image #15 & #16. Using a
piece or pieces of masking tape along an edge of the vinyl
to be applied, you can pre-attach the vinyl in place. By
"hinging" the piece of vinyl away from the surface to remove
the backing paper, you can then hinge it back carefully into
place and squeegee it down.
Image #15 Image #16
The previous pages
complete a study in basic vinyl lettering and graphics
installation. For very large or complex applications seek the
help of a seasoned professional, preferably us. We're here to
supply you and yours with the best options in Design, Vinyl
Lettering & Graphics preparation, Knowledge & Service.
R. Thomas Boyd
P.S. Please feel free to call me...
815.403.7885 or e-mail me... firstname.lastname@example.org
The New Craftsman's
Written by: R. Thomas Boyd
Certain jobs require certain treatment. In the following pages I will address
some great ways to optimize your Graphic presentation.
"I believe that the most important statement that can be made to introduce
this guide and it's contents must be that which addresses "Image
Cultivation". Although it is the secondary focus of any sign writer worth
his salt, being as the appropriate skill, application and execution must of
course come first for the artist/technician. This "Image Cultivation"
however is of ultimate importance in reference to serving the customer. Any
and all content within these pages will concern accomplishing both".
The above statement is
an altered version of something I wrote on the first page of our web site. I
hope you enjoy & appreciate the following. I have a good idea you might make a
big impression after you've taken it in.
Note: For a while I'll be adding content here, so visit often!
Ok lets start
with... Wait try this...
Books & CDs, They Have All The Tricks!
contact us at