Thursday, May 11, 2017

Vintage Coastal Sign Tutorial

I've been looking for some art work for our newly finished basement and I've been crushing on vintage wood signs. I thought it would be fun to have some really large signs with the names of nearby places, so I decided to try to make my own. Here's the result. Each of these signs are 48" long and 5 1/2" wide.

Check out this texture. 

This is a project I've been working on for the last two weeks. I had a clear vision of what I was trying to create, but it took a lot of trial and error to get there. I found a lot of ways NOT to do this! I finally got it the kinks worked out and I'm ready to share the tutorial. This tutorial does NOT require artistic talent or a fancy cutting machine. Keep reading.

  • Wood--I used 48" 1x6's that I got from the salvage year for $1 each.
  • Sander or sand paper.
  • Paint--I used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Old White, Provence, and Aubusson Blue. This project actually takes very little paint, so if you buy the sample size containers, you'll have more than enough.
  • Water-based matte polyurethane--a small can will be plenty.
  • Mod Podge in matte finish.
  • Brushes
  • Engineering print (from Staples) 
  • Plastic cup with water


Step 1: Prepare and paint the board.

  • Sand the board to remove splinters and rough edges. You don't need to go crazy and make it too smooth. You want to leave some imperfections and texture.
  • Paint the board. I used multiple alternating coats of Old White, Provence, and Aubusson Blue.
  • Distress the board. Sand through the finish until you achieve the look you're going for. It's hard to do this wrong. Just keep going until you're happy with the outcome. I finished off with a wash of Old White after I was done with the distressing.
  • Once the paint is completely dry, seal the board with a coat of water based polyurethane.

Step 2: Create the lettering.

For this step you'll need to use PowerPoint. There may be other applications you can use, but this is the only way I know how to do it. This sounds more complicated than it actually is. I just tried to make the instructions very explicit.

  • Open PowerPoint to a blank slide (no formatting).
  • Under the "Design" tab, click on Page Setup. Change the width and height of the slide to exactly match the width and height of your board.
  • Insert a text box. Choose your font (I used Papyrus) and increase the font size to about 200. You'll need to play around with this depending on the size of the board and the font you choose.
  • Type in the words you want on your sign. Increase or decrease the size of the font until it looks right to you. This is exactly how your finished sign will look.
  • When you're happy with everything, click "Save as" and choose JPEG for the file type. This will save your slide as a picture.
  • Open the saved picture with Paint or with your picture manager. Click "Rotate" and select "Flip horizontal." This will create a mirror image of your lettering. Copy this.
  • Go back to PowerPoint and add a new slide. Paste your reverse image into the slide and adjust the size until the reverse lettering fits perfectly into the slide (which is the same size as your board).
  • Save the slide as a PDF file.
  • Send or take the PDF file to your nearest Staples and have the file printed as a black and white engineering print. A 48" x 36" print costs about $7. You can actually print multiple signs on one engineering print. You'll have plenty of room. In fact you might want to have a back up of your lettering just in case something goes wrong.

Step 3: Transfer the lettering to the sign.
  • Cut your engineering print into strips. Dry fit your lettering to the board to make sure everything fits and is centered. You may want to make a light pencil or chalk mark so you'll know how to line it up.
  • Brush a thick, even coat of Mod Podge on the printed side of your lettering.
  • Place the lettering print side down on your board.
  • Now CAREFULLY press down on the letter to make sure it is in contact with the board.You will probably start seeing the lettering come through the paper.Smooth out any wrinkles. The paper is fragile when it's wet and is easily torn. 
  • Let it all dry over night. 

Step 4: Finishing up.
  • Using a paint brush, generously apply water to the paper. Let it sit for a few minutes.
  • Starting in the middle (NOT at an edge), slowly rub off the paper backing. Use only your fingers and rub in a circular motion. Always rub from the middle toward the edges, not the other way around. No matter how tempting it might be, DO NOT attempt to peel the paper backing off the board. If you do, your lettering will come off. Do not rush this step. It is tedious and messy, but the results will be worth it. You may have to re-wet the paper several times. When the paper is all gone, your lettering will be left behind on the board. Please note, once dry and cured, your lettering will be firmly attached to the board, but while the paper is being removed, if you rub too hard, some of the lettering may come off. If that happens, stop rubbing in that area, but don't panic. You can always touch up any missing spots with a little paint or a sharpie. 
  • When all the paper is removed, let everything dry overnight then finish off with another coat of the water based polyurethane.
  • Finally attach some saw tooth hangers to the back side and hang up your new sign.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how to make a vintage coastal sign.


  1. Beautiful! I appreciate all the tips!

  2. Finally, directions I understand! Thank you so much, Lisa!

    1. You are so welcome! Thanks for stopping by!