Sign Maker  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotProfessional sign makers design, manufacture and install eye-catching displays with the goal of attracting business for their customers or providing the public with information.

Sign makers are part artists and part specialized craftspeople who usually have a talent or skill for one or more specific types of signs -- neon, electric, pylon, painted wood or vinyl.

dotDepending on the type of sign they specialize in, sign makers often have to wear many hats -- painter, electrician, welder or airbrush artist. For those who are sole proprietors, these duties also extend to bookkeeping, customer service and advertising.

The designing and manufacturing of the sign is usually done in a clean, well-lit and well-ventilated workshop. "Special attention is given to the safety of all concerned," says Amina Morbi of her own shop.

Of course, the actual installation is generally an outdoor job. This means that weather is a definite factor in the work day.

dotAccording to Wade Swormstedt, associate publisher of Signs of the Times magazine of Ohio, 98 percent of the sign shops today use CAS (computer-aided sign-making). With CAS, it is easy for businesses to offer quick signs with computer cut vinyl. As a result, there are more sign franchises popping up.

There are two types of sign businesses: commercial and electric.

Commercial shops, which manufacture wood, vinyl and other non-electric signs, typically employ about four people.

Electric sign shops usually employ around 27 people. They need more help because they work with bigger signs.

dotSign makers may work freelance, or they may work for sign shops, government departments, advertising firms or in-house design shops. Most sign shops are small businesses.

While franchised sign shops and other well-established shops may have routine business hours, there are times, particularly in small businesses, when long hours are necessary to meet deadlines.

While you may not have to be an athlete to install signs, it does take a certain amount of physical ability. "Typically, a high degree of physical fitness might not be required," says sign maker Kim Tytler. "But stamina is important." A sign maker often has to climb high ladders and dig holes to install signs.

It's important for a sign maker to develop an attractive portfolio of their work that will appeal to a wide client base.

At a Glance

Design and build billboards and other signs

  • Sign makers are part artists and part craftspeople
  • Most work in small businesses
  • You'll need experience in graphic arts or construction