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Brian Robertson (my dad) – the oldest signwriter in Dundee
Painted lettering is alive
Signwriting is more than painting letters with a brush. It’s a craft. And when done well, it’s extraordinary.
Hand lettering has personality – similar to an individual’s handwriting. The appearance of painted letters will add character to an otherwise generic type design. Hand lettering also evokes a mood which is tricky to replicate with the aid of a computer. Countless ‘hand lettered’ digital typefaces are available. But they struggle to emulate the real thing.
Techniques used in producing traditional signwriting take years to learn. Understanding how to master all of these techniques can take a lifetime.
Cutting in the big letters outside Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2018
Make your signs unique
In recent years, interest has increased in traditional signwriting. As well as demand from independent designers, agencies, shops, and galleries.
The craft is recognised as such and injects a special touch for exterior signage, interior displays, and visual branding. In addition to vintage and retro projects, pleasure vehicles, and honours boards for clubs, schools, and organisations.
Traditional signwriting in Dundee is rare but can be used to great effect. Most notably for large exterior wall lettering. Often, there is no other practical or cost efficient method to create large lettering or graphics. Especially on textured surfaces.
Another benefit of choosing painted lettering is that almost any colour can be matched. This enables an identical finish for the lettering when matching with other painted surfaces.
24 carat gold leaf laid on painted plywood
Sign painting effects
Most signwriters have a recognisable lettering style, unique to their own skills and preferences. Unlike computer generated lettering, nuances are apparent when hand lettering is examined. These characteristics can be intentional or due to the execution of the brush painted letterform.
There are also many effects that can be applied to painted lettering. Such as dimension, colour fades, and a variety of shadow forms. In addition, effects can be combined within decorative lettering. Especially popular for that fairground look.
In contrast, lettering can also be closely replicated at scale when necessary. However, there is still the hint of the craftsperson’s individuality and the warmth that the brushed letter portrays. This is the magic contained within.
Choosing finishes such as 24 carat gold leaf is also popular for adding a luxurious quality to the lettering. Glass gilded gold and variated leaf are the pinnacles of hand painted lettering.
Hand lettered enamels on restored Morris van
Restoring original lettering
A perfect complement to the heritage of your vintage vehicle is reinstating hand lettering and pinstripes, especially on commercial vehicles.
The appearance of vintage vehicles benefits from signwriting. Researching the letterforms used in the vehicle’s original era pieces together the original aesthetic. As well as how the lettering and effects were designed and painted. Colour selection is vital for authenticity too. Special attention should be invested in show models that travel nationwide to delight enthusiasts.
Preserving this spirit is a salute to the tradition of all who have lettered these vehicles before us.
Hand lettered on plywood shop fascia sign
Handling brushes and mixing paints
Critical to the success of hand lettered signs is the knowledge of paints and coatings, and how to use them. With so many different surfaces, it’s essential to select suitable materials.
Oil and water based primers, undercoats, gloss paints, and varnishes are readily available for most paint receptive surfaces. But not all are suitable for handling with a lettering brush. Equally, not all colours coat evenly. Nor hold their brilliance in exterior conditions. The signwriters’ experience helps identify available alternatives.
Understanding how long painted signs and lettering can last in direct sunlight or exterior conditions saves time and expense. In addition, it’s wise to schedule maintenance or the inevitable rejuvenation of aged paint.
Refurbishment of an original fibre glass Dundee coat of arms
So much more than painted letters
The signwriters’ knowledge presents opportunities for bespoke projects which don’t include lettering.
Such as illustrations, murals, mirrors, and glasswork. And not forgetting a multitude of lining and striping of surfaces. There’s even the odd occasion when an airbrush can be dusted off for highlights and blending colours too.
Speak with a signwriter in Dundee
Contact me for more information about signwriting.
Or visit Learn Signwriting for expert tips and articles to help you improve your sign painting and hand lettering.