Sign makers design and create signs of all types and sizes, either by hand using wood, paint and other artists' supplies, or with a computer using graphics software. A sign maker might work within the factory of a sign manufacturer, a print shop or even at home as a freelance designer. Though the hours can be long and the deadlines tight, the job involves a great deal of creativity, which makes it ideal for anyone interested in art or graphic design.
Types of Sign Making
Sign makers design and create a variety of signs displayed both indoors and outdoors. Smaller-scale signage, like those you see displayed in store windows or hung from business entryways, might be created entirely by hand or pieced together using both hand-building and computer graphics software. Larger signage -- like vehicle wraps, billboards or convention booth displays -- is typically created on a computer and printed onto vinyl using industrial equipment, then cut and assembled by hand. Other sign makers create revolving, lighted or neon signage and work with chemicals and electronics.
A majority of your time as a sign maker will be spent generating the customer's concepts and ideas into graphics. If working with vinyl, you'll cut and apply or mount printed artwork to a substrate -- a backing made of metal or PVC -- for example. If working with neon or electronic signage, you can expect to spend a lot of time engineering with metal, neon gases and chemicals. Additional duties include proofing drafts with the customer, digital printing, working with lighting effects and other electronic parts, assembly and installation of the finished sign.
Sign makers rely heavily on artistic skills, so it's helpful if you already have an interest in arts and crafts and have experience with handmade artistry like painting, sculpting or paper crafts. You'll need an understanding of mathematics as you'll be continually measuring, calculating space requirements and designing graphics and text that is both balanced and aesthetically pleasing. Strong communication skills help you to interpret and create something tangible out of a customer's ideas. You must be computer savvy as, at minimum, you'll use email software to correspond with customers and graphics software like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to create designs.
Most sign makers rely more on a portfolio that showcases their artwork than a degree from a 4 year institution, but companies will likely focus more on candidates holding a Bachelor's degree in communications, marketing, graphic design or fine arts. Because sign making is typically a learn-as-you-go profession, many novice sign makers begin with an apprenticeship. In other words, they work under guidance from a veteran sign maker. Continuing education might be required by employers, so it's worth checking out before you apply. For example, the International Sign Association (ISA) offers on-line Webinars and video demos as well as training and seminars at their annual ISA Sign Expo.
- International Sign Association: Signs, the Bottom Line
- U.S. Department of Labor: Graphic Designers
- U.S. Department of Labor: Craft and Fine Artists
- International Sign Association: Education and Events
- Zip Recruiter: Sign Maker/Graphic Designer
- Retail Gigs: Sign Maker
- Manhattan Jobs: Graphic Designer/Sign Manufacturer
Based in Tampa, Fla., Danielle Fernandez been writing, editing and illustrating all things technology, lifestyle and education since 1999. Her work has appeared in the Tampa Tribune, Working Mother magazine, and a variety of technical publications, including BICSI's "Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual." Fernandez holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of South Florida.