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How did you get into sign making?

Discussion in 'General Chit-Chat' started by shakey0818, Jan 16, 2011.

  1. shakey0818

    shakey0818 Active Member

    Aug 12, 2010
    I figured this would be an interesting thread.How did you get in to sign making?Did you work for someone?Did you buy the equipment and jump right in?What made you do it & are you glad you did?I myself went to a business expo with my pops when i was @ 20 and seen a sign franchise and i was really interested.My pops would have helped me get into it,but i was too young and didn't want that responsibility.Like a year later i tried getting a job at a sign shop but the jobs were few and far between and the only one that wanted to hire me paid crap and i was making real good $ at what i was doing for my age.I thought to myself ill take a chance and i bought the whole graphix advantage package and all the comp.equipment from Garston Sign Supply.I think i over paid a lot for the comp. stuff but i didn't mind.I really liked it and did ok at it but my other career took over and that was that.I wish i would have stuck with it,so much has changed.My journey will be along one but but i am enjoying it so far.
  2. john1

    john1 Guest

    About 5 years ago i worked at a sign shop in a nearby town, He fired everyone due to money issues and here i am 5 years later doing this for a living. It has not been easy and it still isn't but i have picked up a ton of knowledge on this forum and from hands on experience.

    I've always liked art and vehicle graphics so it has lead me to this point and i'm not looking back.
  3. wetgravy

    wetgravy Guest

    I was doing lots of graphic design that was going straight to sign shops for years. knew a good portion of reqs for what to send, how to seperate things out if needed, etc but really didn't know any of the production side ... so I went to work for a sign shop that knew I was working to learn. been doing it since for ... 6 years now I think.
  4. mortil

    mortil Member

    Oct 30, 2010
    i went to a media education about 13years ago, did not get any jobs at that. so started working with my father as glazing ingeneer/installer . whitch did let me do a lot of window tint/stickers mounting when repairing windows at schools and gouverment buildings and hospitals. but been dreaming on having my own company for long time and last year a friend of mine dropped by my place with about 50 pieces of 126cm rolls in different colors with vinyl, told me that the signshop he worked at had went out of buisness because investing too hard and much. So i got my hands on a cheap cutter from the same company (spare one they kept). and after a few month of making stickers for diffrent clubs and friends and to my regular work i thought i should give it a try. first as evening/weekend project so i will keep my regular job for a year or two .
  5. Locals Find!

    Locals Find! Very Active Member

    Oct 17, 2010
    Fort Myers
    Was running a promotional products business. Needed some desk space rented it from a buddy of mine in the sign business. After hanging around a while I kinda got the hang of what he did. Then worked for a shop for a while. Helping out Inside and doing outside sales.

    Moved on back to doing my own thing. Combined all my knowledge into my new company. So far so good.
  6. visual800

    visual800 Very Active Member

    Aug 4, 2010
    montgomery, alabama
    started out at lamar advertising, no experience NOTHING! worked there a year and loved it, got into airbrushing and that led to working for several sign compnaie sin my town, after being laid off from the last one I said thats it and broke out on my own

    started hand lettering and airbrushing! LOL took a damn week to letter a vehicle back then and for some odd reason customers had no problem with that!
  7. Gene@mpls

    Gene@mpls Very Active Member

    Jun 17, 2003
    Blaine, Mn
    Restored and repaired Corvettes for 30 years-sold out and went to a
    franchise fair and connected with Sign*a*rama. They checked my
    pockets (apparently deep enough) and showed me all their shops and
    let me talk to their managers in the Twin Cities. At that point I was
    convinced i could do it on my own and bought $40k of equipment and
    rented a great location and my daughter and I were in business. First
    year or two we worked for nothing and built the business and never looked
    back. Now own the property and the one next to it and am well pleased.
    I had never been in a sign shop previously BTW. And being a freakin'
    workaholic helped.
  8. Cross Signs

    Cross Signs Active Member

    Mar 30, 2006
    Clearwater FL
    A friend was lettering used car windshields and making a lot of money doing it (this is the used car capital of the world) and he got me started doing that. Then I met a second generation sign writer from England and he taught me how to me how to letter signs properly (not just flash).
    I bought the Graphics Advantage package when it first came out about 1990-91. I think it cost $20.000.00
  9. Jillbeans

    Jillbeans Major Contributor

    Dec 24, 2003
    Butler, PA
    I think it's been asked before, and I think I've answered.
    Too lazy to type it all out again and can't find it via search.
    In my 26th year of sign making.
    Still learn something new every day.
  10. Craig Sjoquist

    Craig Sjoquist Major Contributor

    Jun 18, 2004
    Had a retail shop in 1974, painted my own sign, was asked to help another sign painter that used airbrush he gave up and moved, I kept selling work and doing it, after a year I realized going to sign school for this would be best, after realizing architectural school and work would not interest me anymore and signs did.
    So schooled at St.Paul Voc. Tech.worked as a sign painter for 10 years for self and other shops.. ahh the good ol days collect a deposit if you showed up with in 30 days you were quick, finish get payed, next .. Had 6 people working 4 were sign painters and we were busy.
    Then a friend says lets go to Florida... ohhh yeahhh gone been here 25 years still hand lettering, and enjoying it just a small amount is vinyl.
  11. round man

    round man Active Member

    Oct 16, 2005
    I was always talented at art in school and received several awards in high school including a scholarship to the NC govorner's school for the art dept. During Jr. high my dad made me work in a sign shop one summer to keep me off the streets in the seedy working class neighborhood I grew up in.After that I knew I could always make some money from time to time painting signs in my spare time. After High school I attended art school at East Carolina U and went for a couple of years till Nixon abolished the draft. Stuck my thumb out and bummed around on an old harley for a couple of years and was working in a chopper shop painting tanks when the owner found out the city said we had to have a sign of some kind. well I painted it. wasn't making alot of money at the chop shop and the ex was expecting so I went out and found a job at a local billboard shop. that was it,..I found something I could excel at and had potential for me to earn more than just weekly wages. two years after starting at the billboard shop I went out on my own and never looked back. spent twenty plus years on the Nascar circuit and all total well over twenty-five in major motorsports sanctions(nascar winston-cup ,ihra,arca,busch grand national,monster trucks etc.) painting graphics. well the vinyl jockey's eventually won out and underpriced me to the point they took all the work and I retired from racing,..never looked back,...it was fun while it lasted and most of it is down in the history books now,..go figure, these days I do walls and murals and attend ECPI institue of technology soes the vinyl jockey's here will have to pay me thru the nose to fix and maintain their equipment.
  12. "Deposit Please"

    "Deposit Please" Active Member

    Sep 17, 2009
    Urban Art

    Started my own sign crew when i was a teen. I Didn't get paid for my signs ... actually i had to pay for it in a big way. lol ...Spray paint was my tool palette & subway trains/ walls was my canvas. I called myself a Graffiti Artist, but most identified me as a vandal. My target audience was everyone, especially other graffiti writers. We had a crew called SRT "still rockn trains" Here we are 20 years later and some of my work still exists. It's funny because back then, that kind of art wasn't accepted by the mainstream...and now, you see it everywhere I think that was my foundation for creativity and interest. From there on, i continued to be creative through photoshop ..etc and one thing led to another. Here i am today creating signs

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 16, 2011
  13. MikePro

    MikePro Major Contributor

    Feb 3, 2010
    Racine, WI
    grandfather started a neon sign business out of his garage after returning from Iwo Jima (4th Marine Division), my father eventually took over the reigns and, instead of paying for a babysitter, he would take me to work with him and give me graphic pens and foamboards to play with. My first job was working for our sign shop scrubbing toilets and mowing the lawn when I was 12 and then every summer after that I began working in the graphics department. I knew how to cut, weed, and apply graphics before I knew how to drive! ...and 16 years later I'm still loving every minute of it!
  14. signcrafters london

    signcrafters london Very Active Member

    May 22, 2010
    London KY
    My dad was a signmaker when I grew up in the 70s. My brother and I vowed we would never get anywhere near the sign business. Too many cold days climbing scaffolding, coating out boards, trying to get old lettering off so dad could re-letter truck and van doors and other even worse jobs I'm sure my mind is repressing.

    I went to journalism school and was a sportswriter/editor for 12 years. At the end of that time my brother was just getting out of the Air Force. We decided to open our own sign shop. Been here 15+ years.
  15. Pat Whatley

    Pat Whatley Major Contributor

    Sep 29, 2003
    Wetumpka, AL
    College for graphic fine arts, went to work for an ad agency. Wasn't a good fit for me. Got offered a job at Ad-Arts, a sign company, in their fairly new vinyl sign division running a Gerber 4B. I took it as a temporary job until I could get another job in advertising. 17 years later I was still there. When the opportunity came up to buy the business I jumped on it, made the business pay for itself, and three years later I own it free and clear.
  16. thinksigns

    thinksigns SnowFlake

    Nov 28, 2010
    I was one semester from getting my degree in Graphic Design from The University of Memphis and I was let go from my part time job at a rubber stamp company. Scrambled and got a part time job at a sign company. The plan was to work there until I got a "real job" in advertising. I went on a couple of interviews, but no luck. Worked at the sign company for 5-6 years and went out on my own 8 years ago.
  17. Edserv

    Edserv Member

    Feb 22, 2009
    We've been serial entrepreneurs (my wife and I), and were looking for a great opportunity that would offer so many of the things our previous businesses didn't do for us (residual orders, referral customers, customer service premiums, consistent demand, "high satisfaction," easy to market, etc (there's about 100 more reasons- well, maybe not 100,) but after researching, we stumbled upon wide-format printing and decided to go for it. We researched the market and decided to start with easy banners and vinyl signs. We use a Q60 and VJ1204 (plus GBC cold/hot laminator, Xerox Work Station, and several plastic card printers.)
    Well, I can't explain how happy we are to have dived into this industry. There are SO MANY opportunities to market and service our customers. The thing that's really mind-boggling is that almost every single day we discover at least one or two new demands that our customers have. It really keeps it exciting. And with internet marketing (80+ percent of our new client leads come from internet nation-wide,) we are constantly finding new areas to expand into.
    I know the economy is challenging right now, but we started in 2008 a few months before the market crashed and have been growing like crazy. Can't wait till it gets back to "normal!"
    Sign making is a "noble" business. We should all be proud to be involved in such a great industry! Ben Franklin would be a sign maker if he were alive today!
    Lets Go Banners
  18. Barber

    Barber Member

    Dec 2, 2004
    Blairsville, GA
    I was a volunteer at are local fairgrounds. The boss bought a Gerber 4B about 25 or so years ago. No one new how to use it so I was asked if I wanted to try to use it. I had a little bit of a background in page layout in advertising, so I read the manual and become the Sign Man. I read everything I could on making signs, subscribed to all the magazines and went to all the shows that I could. I run that shop for about 20 years. In the process I opened my on business and never looked back. And I still learn, as Jill says, something new every day.
  19. Billct2

    Billct2 Major Contributor

    Mar 12, 2005
    New England
    This has been covered before...but I got to know the local sign painter/carver and he suggested I go to Butera Sign School in Boston. That was 1974. I then worked at an assortment of sign shops, mostly as a letterer but doing everything from digging holes to building electric signs, and snapped on the side till I landed in this shop 20 years ago.
  20. SignManiac

    SignManiac Major Contributor

    Mar 25, 2006
    Mars Florida
    Like Bill I told my story before. But with cut and paste, I'll throw it up one more time....

    How I came to be in the sign business…

    I started out like many here; I fell into the sign business quite by accident. That was thirty six years ago in Montauk, New York at the ripe old age of nineteen, in the famed Hampton's of Long Island. I was working at a marina one weekend pumping gas on July 4th weekend fueling boats, for some under the table cash money. Five bucks an hour was good money back in the early 70's, I had a wife, two kids, a house to take care of, with nothing more than a high school education. The only thing I had at the time was a passion for art.

    Well by 1:00pm all the boats were out to sea, so I headed back up to the ships store to ask the owner if there was anything else that needed to be done. She said not at the time so just hang around in case I need you. Noticing a cardboard sign halfway done that someone started and hadn’t completed, I volunteered to finish the rest of it. The owner asked if I knew how to make signs and I replied "It doesn't look that difficult to me." I considered myself a fairly accomplished artist, what could be so hard about painting a few ABCs? Well after I was done, the owner was so impressed; she asked me if I could paint another sign the following day. I said I would be glad to give it a try; it was just fun to me and not really work.

    It seems they had been waiting months for a real professional sign painter to come and paint another sign for them. He lived a couple of hours drive away and was very much in demand and hard and very hard to get a hold of. They already had a cheap piece of plywood painted brown; it only needed to be lettered. They supplied me with some mop type brushes and all the paint in an assortment of colors. It took me eight hours and they liked it, even the misspelled words. I didn't have a spell checker back in those days. That night I thought to myself, imagine, getting paid $40.00 to have fun for a day’s work. This was the start of something great. I actually got paid to have fun!

    The next day they asked me to paint one more sign for them, and a guy in the store was watching me from behind, he complimented me on my natural talent. He said he was impressed by how much money sign painters made. It seems he had a friend in the business and he told me he couldn't believe that his buddy would get paid $150.00 for a sign like that? Hmm, $150.00 and I was only charging $40.00, no wonder the owner was so happy with my work.The owner made out real good on that deal. Anyway, another local marina owner in town was complaining to the first marina owner that he needed a sign for his shark tag tournament coming up the following weekend. The marina owner I did the first sign for told him to call Bob the Sign painter and that was the beginning of my new found career.

    Well this guy gets my number and calls about doing his sign. He was someone that I knew from my past and did not like. He fired me one summer when I was a teenager working for him. I had to go to a wedding that I had requested time off for two weeks prior and on the day of the wedding, he said I couldn't have the time off. I'm pretty sure I told him to his face that he could go **** himself. Boy did that feel great telling that S.O.B. off.

    So when he asked me how much to paint his sign, I swallowed real hard and said $100.00 figuring it was still cheaper that the $150.00 the stranger in the store told me it was worth. He agreed to it only if I could finish it by the following weekend. Well I took that 4’x8’ sheet of a/c grade plywood which is really cheap **** plywood home to letter. It was already painted with one coat of latex white, and I proceeded to letter it laying down flat on my living room floor. Ten hours later, it was done. Wow, simple arithmetic, $10.00 an hour and I had fun even though my eyes felt like they were bleeding from the eye strain, and the lousy light from the one lamp in the living room. Now I'm starting to like this sign thing. I delivered the sign and got paid. While dropping the sign off, a boat owner saw me carrying the sign and yelled over, hey you, sign guy! Stop and see me when you’re done, I need the name painted on the back of my boat. Well, one thing led to another and it snowballed into the monster that it soon became. The word spread really fast that I was a sign painter and the phone started ringing off the hook.

    That's really how I got into it. I was in the right place at the right time. Well, I read everything I could get my hands on. There was no school that taught sign painting and no other sign painter would be willing to teach you their craft for fear that you would become their competition. Because I loved painting signs so much, I put in the incredible hours and practiced, practiced and practiced. Through sheer stubborn determination, I taught myself how to paint signs. It wasn’t that bad because I was pretty much getting paid to learn. As the years went on, I needed more challenges and learned to make sandblasted and hand carved signs. I learned to pinstripe, airbrush and lay gold leaf. Computers came on the scene in 1982 and I had bought the very first one ever invented. I never doubted the decision even thought it cost me over $20,000. I just instinctively knew this was the future of sign making and I jumped at the opportunity and capitalized on it. The industry was about to change overnight, and I wanted to part of it. I blew my completion out of the water by offering two week service instead of the typical six week turnaround time it took to produce a custom sign.

    Like everyone else, the long hours and neglect of my family for six months at a time during the busy season was taking its toll on me. I was nearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown and considered quitting the business. The computer helped me catch up and gave me more time to spend with them. I've always had a home based business, except for two years that I had to commute five miles to the shop and I absolutely hated that. My shop was in my 800 square foot basement and I cranked out more work than my competitors in their big shops. I was extremely organized and efficient with my time and ran my business like a well oiled Swiss watch...I would take twelve weeks vacation time a year and made some serious money. I took great pride in charging ridiculous prices and found I could get it. I learned a long time ago to charge enough for your work and then some. Screw being that starving artist you always hear about.

    Speeding up, I divorced and decided to leave New York for a fresh new start. Everyone said I was crazy to walk away from my little gold mine, but money didn't matter much anymore as I was very unhappy. So I packed up and moved to Florida, to start my life all over again from ground zero. I left New York basically with the clothes on my back and enough tools to start over. When I first moved down, Disney offered me a job, but I decided to turn them down. I could never fit in with an organization that had rules and procedures, time clocks to punch and white uniforms. And no way in hell could I take orders from anybody else after being my own boss for so many years.

    The only thing left to do was open my own shop again. Skywatch Signs was born in May of '92 and the first six months were slow going. I lost many jobs because I refused to lower my price. I stuck to my guns and slowly built up the clientele I wanted to work for. Now I only deal with clientele that appreciate high quality work. I have a reputation for being the most expensive shop in the area. My name and work have become a status symbol. The cheapskates don't waste my time and I can concentrate on the premium work. I do very little advertising and most of my business is by referral only.

    I was told that I could not make it here in Florida by other sign professionals and that people won't pay for good work in this area. I came down here and proved the other sign companies wrong. I was determined to get what I did in New York and I didn't see any rational reason to charge less for my talent and abilities. So here I am, charging top dollar and doing more work than I can handle at times. Experience has taught me that when things get that busy, I'm not charging enough. Time to raise the price even higher...

    Skywatch Signs is currently located in a 6,000 square foot shed in my back yard and my commute to work; barring traffic is about thirty seconds. I have all the necessary tools to fabricate any type of sign right here. I've paid a heavy price in these last thirty six years and I refuse to let the customer dictate what my skills are worth. It upsets me to see talented sign artists just getting by when I know they could get so much more for their efforts.

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