Introduction: Backlit Sign for an Art Exhibition

About: Architect, Urban Designer, all-round tinkerer of odds and ends. Small solutions for big city living. Dreaming of lands faraway where garages are big enough to build a workshop in, or lakes are there for taking…

An artist friend goes by the moniker 'The Folly Store', with a circular logo that he splashes across his social media accounts and website.

I thought it would be the perfect gift for him to make a 'real' store sign for his pop-up exhibitions to elevate the art displays from DIY to high-end art gallery. The whole logo is rendered in monochrome white, with white LEDs backlighting it, so that it is a minimalist sign that can be hung on a white gallery wall. I didn't want to make a colourful sign that might compete with his artwork for attention!

I'll share my general tips and techniques so that you can make similar signs with these steps.

Step 1: Materials

I made this out of 3mm clear and white acrylic for the main signboard, 10mm acrylic for the cut-out letters. These were laser cut. The letters were sprayed with a few coats of matte white spray paint.

The lights are a USB powered LED strip, 2m long.

Step 2: Assemble the Sign With Acrylic Glue

The backing of the sign is one solid sheet of 3mm clear acrylic, with another sheet of 3mm opaque white acrylic glued on top. The individual letters are 10mm thick acrylic, so these pop-out from the sign to provide low relief.

Do note the 2mm gap all around each letter. This gap is to let the light through from behind.

These were all assembled using something labelled 'acrylic glue', which seems to be a solvent of some kind. Use in a well ventilated area!

Step 3: Assemble the Back of the Sign

The back of the sign has spacer blocks cut out of 9mm plywood, superglued to the spaces between letters. These will raise the sign away from the wall, which gives some room for the LEDs.

I also cut keyholes for mounting this sign to the wall with 2 screws.

Step 4: Make It Fully Opaque!

Minor set-back: I loosely taped the LEDs to the back of the sign, only to discover that the 'opaque' white acrylic is most decidedly not opaque. I could see each individual LED spot through the acrylic.

Since the cabaret look is not exactly what I was going for, I had to find a way to black out the back of the sign to make it fully opaque. I used black tape for this, slowly working around all the curves and corners. I had to make sure not to cover any of the gaps that I had left around the letters.

Step 5: Glue on the LEDs to the Back of the Sign

The LEDs should be glued so that they face sideways, around the perimeter of the sign. This way the LEDs will cast a glow on the surrounding wall. I also made sure to have another layer of LEDs facing inwards, so that the letters of the sign will light up to, through the 2mm gaps I left around each letter.

Make sure the LEDs are set in at least 20-30mm from the edge of the sign, so that it can't be seen from most angles when displayed. Also make sure no LEDs are seen directly through any gaps in the sign, as these will be glaring hotspots when viewed from the front.

I used copious amounts of hot glue to secure this LED strip in place. The double sided tape at the back of the LED strips does not hold very well. Constantly turn the LEDs on to check the effect as you go.

Step 6: Battery Pack

I kept a slot at the back of the sign for a slim USB powerbank. This way the sign could be lit up without any trailing wires when seen from the front.

Of course you'd have to charge up the powerbank before each use, but for a pop-up exhibition that seems more ideal than running long power cables everywhere. A powerbank should be able to light this sign up for several hours.

Step 7: Light Me Up!

This is the finished project seen from the front. It looks super professional, and can be easily adapted to any other design you need.

Make it Glow Contest 2018

Participated in the
Make it Glow Contest 2018