Sign Design: Grassroots innovation in fabrication

The advent of digital large-format inkjet printing spurred innovation in large, colourful outdoor murals, such as this one at Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media (CDM).

Creative cutting and natural materials
Similar to the widespread adoption of large-format digital inkjet printers, computer numerical control (CNC) routers can now be found in the finishing departments of even the smallest sign shops. These machines allow signs and graphics to be cut creatively into any number of shapes and sizes.

At the same time, many signmakers are collaborating with artisans to develop projects that use atypical materials, including natural wood, bronze and weathering steel. By engraving, layering and even burning these substrates, they can create a richer palette of visual effects, which are now being adopted for larger brands, too.

Turning buildings into signs
Another major focus of grassroots innovation in signmaking has been adaptation to new buildings’ architecture. Today’s office buildings, shopping centres and other facilities tend to feature extensive glass façades facing the street, which provide the perfect surface to install digitally printed window graphics.

They also provide an opportunity to combine identification (ID) signs, printed graphics and innovative illumination in creative ways, allowing entire building façades to serve as eye-catching signage.

Driving future trends
As society continues to evolve, the way people look at and engage with buildings has changed. To attract attention, small businesses must rise above the clutter, so they are motivated to try innovative ideas in terms of signs and graphics. The lessons learned from their efforts will, in turn, drive trends at a larger scale.

Craig M. Berger is chair of the visual presentation and exhibition design department of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT’s) School of Art and Design and runs his own firm, Craig Berger Management Consulting, which assists fabricators, manufacturers and institutions with design-based marketing and education strategies. For information, contact him via e-mail at

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