Introduction: Custom 3D Cardboard Signs and Plaques

Wouldn't it be cool to have something from your favorite video game? If not doing cosplay or making a prop, how about a sign or plaque?

Make a custom sign or plaque using only cardboard. 3D raised lettering and everything!

(* Vintage pipe wrench not included, that's real but you can make one if you want.)

Step 1: More Paperwork...

Find some artwork to base your sign on or would you kindly create your own?

Print it out to the size you want your sign to be.

You will want two copies of your artwork. One will be the template for the base of the sign and the other to build the shapes and letters that will be glued on top of it.

Use regular corrugated box cardboard for this project. Salvage from empty boxes destined to be recycled.

Remove all packing tape and glossy stickers or labels since they don't glue up well.

The size of the sign will be defined by the 2 pieces of printed paper glued together.

Since the printout is the template for the sign, convert it into a sturdy base board by gluing layers of cardboard on to the back of it.

You can piece together smaller pieces of cardboard. With the next layer, try to cover the seam or joints of the previous layer. It will reinforce the joint. I made my base with 4 layers of carboard.

Trim the outside edges to final shape. Burnish or rub with the barrel of a maker to get everything flat. I then used some pieces of torn newspaper to paper mache over any rough open cardboard seams and the entire edge around the board.

When it has dried, you will end up with something similar to a regular plank of wood. Inspect and go over to fill in or repair any missed paper mache spots.

Step 2: Fan the Flames...

The background portion of the sign has a radiating light design motif prevalent from the Art Deco/ Art Nouveau period. This has fine detail lines for the rays of light and the surfaces are smooth.

Use cardboard that has no corrugated inner layer like cardboard from a shoebox. Thinner boxes will not be layered in construction. Find an uncoated piece to use. That glossy finish will not allow you to glue it well nor will it take paint easily.

Mark and cut the pieces. They can then be glued to the board. Fillet all edges, run a bead of glue and use your finger to smooth the joint, work out any air bubbles. Coat all over with glue if you want to seal the entire surface for easier painting and add to the look that it is milled from a solid block of metal.

I then glued on 3/4 inch wide corrugated cardboard strips to build up the rim that goes around the sign wording. Glue right on the board using the print as the guide. Burnish down the rough cardboard edge to get everything neat and level. Paper mache to finish the rim.

I had some precut wood circles that I glued in to the corners to simulate mounting bolts/rivets since I would be keeping the whole rectangular form for the sign and it looked kinda bare.

Step 3: Spell It Out...

While your base board is drying, you can work on the 3D letters and building silhouettes.

Similar to making the rimmed edge for the base, make the letter character parts.

Cut 3/4 inch wide strips to use in making the letters. Have the corrugation run like in the pictures so it is easier to bend the strips to conform to the curves of the letters.

Glue down the first strip to fit the outside of a letter. You can then fill in or add additional strips to bulk up the letter.

When the glue dries on the letter forms, paper mache to give a finished shell for the letters.

Cut out the building silhouettes and layered cardboard pieces to get the required depth of each part. I referred to a picture of the sign to figure out what was layered on what. Paper mache to finish constructing the part.

Step 4: The Prime Directive...

This is an exercise in figuring out how to paint it and how far do you want to go to replicate the official look.

Parts would be painted separately and all glued together in the end.

I had in mind I wanted to get something like a statuary bronze plaque look. The corroded rust-stained submerged sea-worn barnacled look would have taken a lot longer to try to replicate.

I primed everything in black acrylic paint. If you are doing gold-leafing, it takes a red undercoat to give it a richer look. Actually anything dark would be good, even a deep green if you wanted to end up with the acid splattered biomass finish.

I had some copper and antique gold metallic acrylic paint that I roughly mixed together to get a bronze for the interior of the plaque. Be sure to minimize the brush marks in the paint by going in the direction of the metal plates or painting with the grain like with wood surfaces. Since I still had a dab of paint left, I painted the faux bolt heads that I had in the corners. When that paint dried shiny and bright, I weathered it a bit by dabbing some black paint with a wet paper towel and wiping most of it off.

Paint the letters and building icons with silver paint. Paint the raised border rim on the sign. You don't have to be too neat when just painting the top exposed surface because it will look like the black sign finish has worn off the sides. Any black paint that does show up will add to the weathered look of the piece.

After all the components of the sign have been painted and dried, time to glue them in place.

I used E6000 because it would give me a more waterproof glue bond if I decide to drip a wetter paint on it for more weathering effect. Hot glue might have been messy with so many objects to place and would not have offered time to adjust all the letters after they have been stuck to the board. I used a straightedge to get everything aligned.

Now make your own 3D sign or plaque.


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