Introduction: Creating a 31 Foot Promotional Lettering Sign on a Building

About: Based in San Francisco I strive to incorporate custom lettering in the art that I design, print, and make.

This instructable will guide you through the basics on how to create a very large sign on a building using a mix of old and new techniques. The sign was designed by an agency and projected onto the concrete surface after the entire surface received a thick layer of white paint.


a great wall and permission to paint
white paint, rollers, and commercial painting crew
1/2 gallon light grey (lettering)
1/2 gallon dark grey (date)
white touch up paint
36 inch straight edge
metal ruler
3H pencil
pencil sharpener

Step 1: Project Artwork Onto Surface for Tracing in Pencil

To make a large sign there are many techniques. The method used in this example requires a projector. If you are able to get the right equipment and do not locate the projector far enough from the wall you are going to need to move (and align) the projector which takes a good deal of time to get right. 

In this stage focus on using a chalk line already placed on the wall with a laser level to get it right. Align the projected image to the wall and make sure all the tops of the letters are flush with at least the top chalk line.

Step 2: Trace Outline in Pencil Carefully and Exactly

At night (when projected images are easier to see) start to trace the outline of the image in pencil.

Advice: Use a hard pencil like a 6H rather than a 3B (a harder pencil will be lighter and easier to erase). Plan on using a combination of freehand and straight edges to get it right. 

FYI: Pencil marks on white paint are very hard to erase and therefore are best if you use white paint over any extra marks. It is best to do this slow and methodically to make sure each part is lined up perfectly. Once you move the projector it is unlikely you will project it again the same way so do your best to get it right on step 2-3. 

Step 3: Outline Letters in Paint

Once all of the letters are outlined in pencil it is time to start with the letter outlining in paint. When you start it is best to focus on the vertical lines first and do multiple passes over the same area to get the thick solid grey look required. 

TIP: when painting onto concrete block with white paint primer expect that you are going to need 3-4 coats to get a thick nice looking appearance for the letters.

TIP 2: When painting you can use your pinky finger as a guide to keep your line straight (see image 2)

Step 4: Fill in Outline of the Letters With Multiple Coats of Paint

When you are done outlining the letters you will need to start filling in the center of the letters with multiple coats of paint to get the best look from both close up and far away. A 1" Purdy brush is a great tool for filling in the letters (better than an art paint brush to get the best coverage)

TIP: When you are painting on the street expect lots of people to ask questions and prepare a simple response that is consistent and helpful to share. 

Step 5: Check Letter Shapes for Consistency

After the letters are outlined and then filled in you can wait for everything to dry and then check the letter shapes from both close up and far away. 

Focus on the letter shapes and the 

1) distance between letters
2) the edge sharpness
3) the rounded bottoms and tops 
4) consistent sizes
5) a solid heavy fill inside letter outlines

Step 6: Complete Sign and Have Camera Crew Take Images to Make You Famous

You might not become famous from a single sign, but with a few days of patience and hard work you will learn a tremendous amount about painting letters on a wall. This project was done with the projected outline to start and only painted with brushes.

In the future this project could be done faster by combining a roller or airbrush set-up in addition to the paint brush for a classic appearance. 

TIP: Measure twice, paint once. Also: the better your primer, the fewer coats of paint. 

Good luck with your sign painting work.