Our family room is decorated to express, well, our family. There’s an old Disabled Vet license plate that was my dad’s, a football, locker baskets with tags whose numbers are our old house numbers, an old Clue board of my mom’s and more. For years now I’ve been collecting old sign letters of our names to display. I FINALLY made the shelf a few weeks ago and began putting my sign letters up. I sent my daughter a pic and she informed me that I had left out her husband’s initial. OOPS! In my defense, I collected most of the letters before they even met.
So, I needed to add some N’s pronto. I began looking around and, although I found a couple, I couldn’t find a sign letter that was just right. Everything I saw was too large, or too expensive, or too small, or not a good color, etc. I have this “T” for my daughter Toma.
It’s from a changable letter sign — the kind you see on businesses or theaters. What I really needed was one about that size, thin like it, and in white. I hunted for several weeks and couldn’t find anything. Finally, it hit me — I could totally make that! I know, DUH! It was actually pretty easy and inexpensive, especially for the size. Let me show you how I did it.
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- A piece of plexiglass/clear acrylic in the size you want for your letter — I got this one on Amazon in 12″ x 18″, but you can also find them at home improvement stores and sometimes the craft stores. It just needs to be able to lean against the wall and not bend.
- Spray paint in the color you want for your letter. I’m using white.
- Vinyl for a stencil — I’d use a color that’s not the same as you want your letter to be. That makes it easier to tell if you’ve got good coverage with your paint. Leftovers are great here. If you know how to cut it well, contact paper works. Technically, you could just use vinyl on the acrylic and call it done. Totally up to you.
- Weeding tool (I love the set from Harbor Freight)
- Transfer media to get your vinyl onto the plexiglass
- Painter’s tape or masking tape
- Vinyl Squeegee or old gift card
- Scissors (to cut the transfer media)
Step 1: Measure your plexiglass
Measure your piece of acrylic so you know the size. Trust me — don’t just assume that if you bought a piece that’s supposed to be 8″ x 10″ that it really is.
Step 2: Set up your file
Open a new file in Silhouette Studio. Set the page size to the size of your piece of acrylic. That helps you see how big to make your letter. Before you cut, I’ll remind you to make sure it will fit into your machine. To make it larger than the standard size for your machine, just select None on both machine and cutting mat and turn off the Show Cut Border.
Add the letter
Now add a text box and type your sign letter. Mine looks 3D because of the font I used and because I made portions halftone. I would like to recommend a font to you, but I couldn’t find a free one that wasn’t garbage. I ended up having to do quite a bit of adjusting. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment below.
Modify as needed
I wanted it to be similar to the “T” sign, but not exactly the same, so I used dots instead of lines. I drew a circle, made copies that I spaced evenly, then subtracted them only from the parts of the letter that should be the halftone (what’s gray in my pic).
HINT: If you find a font you’re working with that has these types of pieces, ungroup and then use Release Compound Path to separate the pieces.
Then I made that a compound path with the background piece.
Resize it until it’s the right size for your piece of acrylic. To make it look like an authentic sign letter, you’ll want a good amount of space around the letter. I made mine approximately 9″ x 15″. I used the icon in the Quick Access Toolbar to center it to the page.
Now that you have it the size you want it, you need to make sure your machine can cut it. I know mine can, because the Cameo can cut 12″ wide material and with vinyl can go as long as I like. So, I left my page size at 12″ x 15″. Normally I would add another 1″ to the length because when you’re cutting without the mat as I’m doing, you need extra material at the bottom for the machine to have something to grip onto. But since I don’t need the machine to actually cut anything there (that’s the extra space below the letter), I don’t need it. I just need to make sure the bottom edge is within the cut border, which I’ve turned back on. Set yours according to the size you need for your machine and piece of vinyl. Make sure your sign letter fits.
Step 3: cut and weed your stencil
Set up your cut job, load your vinyl and cut, just as you would on any vinyl job.
For tips on working with vinyl, see my Successful Beginner Projects series starting here.
Here’s the difference: when you use vinyl as a stencil for any type of sign or project, you remove what you would normally keep. So I’ll take off the letter and leave the background in place.
The color of the backing paper shows you what the painted sign letter will look like.
Step 4: apply the stencil to the acrylic
Cover your stencil with your transfer media. I like to use transfer paper because I can write on it. Because I’m terrible at getting things on straight I use a pencil to draw lines along the center and middle of my letter. I don’t use gridded transfer media because since I can’t get it on straight, the lines always throw me off.
HINT: If you’re like me and have trouble getting your transfer tape on straight and it doesn’t cover your full piece of vinyl, then you can add a small strip on the sides as I did.
Mark and trim off 1/2″ all the way around your stencil — transfer tape and all.
Now we’ll mark the center and middle on the plexiglass using painter’s tape.
HINT: Tear one edge of the tape and leave the other straight. That’ makes it easier to know which is your marked center.
Your acrylic will likely have a thin plastic coating on it, often blue, that keeps it from getting scratched in transit. Remove that from the front now, but leave it on the back. That will help protect the back from getting spray paint on it.
Center your stencil on your acrylic, matching up the marks with the tape. We cut that 1/2″ off so we could see that tape.
Use a couple of small pieces of tape to hold your stencil to the acrylic. Don’t remove the backing paper of the vinyl yet.
The hinge method
I always use the hinge method when applying vinyl and it needs to be straight (which is pretty much all the time). Pull off a piece of painter’s tape that’s wider than your acrylic by a few inches on each side. Place it across the middle to secure it to the acrylic and your work surface (it doesn’t have to be well centered or straight). That 1/2″ we removed leaves part of the acrylic uncovered also so that the painter’s tape has something to hang onto. The tape both holds the stencil to the acrylic and the acrylic to the table. In other words, things won’t move around as you apply the stencil.
Gently fold back the top half of your stencil — down to where the painter’s tape is. Hold that with one hand while you remove the backing paper from that portion only. You’ll cut or tear it just above the tape.
Working from the middle upward and outward, use your squeegee to apply the vinyl to the plexiglass.
Remove the painter’s tape, fold back the remaining half and remove the rest of the backing paper. Repeat the same steps to apply the lower half of the stencil.
Use the squeegee to make sure your stencil is down well on your acrylic, then remove the transfer media.
Cover other portions
The sides and edges of your acrylic aren’t covered yet. Use the painter’s tape to mask it off so that no stray paint can get to it. Since it’s acrylic, trying to remove it with the normal things like acetone would ruin your sign letter. I put half the tape on the front, then folded it over to the back and put extra tape at the corners on the back.
Step 5: spray paint
Use THIN coats of your spray paint, allowing it to dry according to the manufacturer’s directions. I probably did 10-12.
You can hold it up to the light to make sure you’ve got even, solid coverage. I thought I was doing well with that, but when I held it up I noticed I wasn’t doing a good job at the corners. We have a tendency to miss there and at the edges of the stencil.
But let’s be honest — it’s never going to get nice and solid with spray paint. To see if it’s solid enough, hold it in front of the wall you’re going to put it on to see if the coverage is enough.
Let it dry a bit to let the paint cure — maybe an hour. It depends on how many coats you put on and how thickly. I find that if I let it dry too long, when I remove the stencil it pulls up the paint. GENTLY remove the stencil — you don’t want to scratch the paint or the acrylic. I use my weeding tool’s sharp tip to lift right at the corner.
Let it dry overnight just to be extra safe. Remove the blue coating from the back also. Then you’re ready to display your sign letter! Here’s mine, along with my full shelf.
What about a reusable stencil?
I just needed one sign, so a vinyl stencil worked great. If you wanted to make a bunch to sell, you could use a thin mylar to create a reusable one. For that, I would recommend the Cameo 4 and the kraft blade, as you’d need the heavy force for such a dense material.