Introduction: Customized Wooden Letters

About: Full time robotics engineer, part time artist

My first Instructable!

I wanted to make something customized for some friends of mine who are moving into a new house. After much deliberation, I decided to do mini paintings on wooden letters of their initials. Both of them are pop-culture fans: one of them is an X-Men New Mutants fan, the other a huge James Bond fanatic. The designs practically presented themselves.

I made my own designs based on these characters, but this approach would work for any design with a crisp outline.

What you'll need:

  • Wooden letters. I choose store bought ones without any bevel. The painting method works better for this type of wooden letters. (Or make your own.)
  • Masking tape
  • Primer - I used artist gesso
  • Acrylic paint
  • Matte varnish - I used a spray can
  • Paper, pencil and pen for design - I didn't have any tracing paper so I used normal paper. Tracing paper would probably work better here.

Let's get started!

Step 1: Trace Your Letters Onto Paper

This will be your template for your design, and later on you'll be tracing this back onto the letter. I recommend doing this so you could see which part of your design will be visible.

I've used normal paper here, but if you have tracing paper it may help you line up the design with the letters later on. Also, if you're using an existing design, you could overlay the tracing paper template on the design to see which parts would be visible.

I traced around the letter with a pencil first, then went over it with a pen. That way I could work on my design in pencil, and I could erase and re-draw easily without having to worry about keeping the letter outline intact.

Step 2: Prime Your Letters

I didn't take any pictures for this step, but this is when you sand down any imperfections, and apply primer of your choice.

I went with a white gesso. And since the letters were white to start with, visually it's not very exciting. But this helps your paint to stick and gives it a nice finish.

Step 3: Coming Up With the Design (the Fun Part!)

I wanted something visually striking with a crisp outline. So I decided to leave the background white, and only use black and one other bright color in each design. You're more than welcome to be as creative as you want.

If you want to use an existing design, and you had the foresight to use tracing paper for the previous step, you could simply overlay the letter on top and trace the design onto the letter.

Once you're happy with the way the design looks, you're ready to move on!

Step 4: Trace Your Design Onto the Letter

Once the design is done, and your letters have been primed and dried, you're ready to trace the design onto the letters.

Tracing the design onto the letters is pretty straightforward: it's like any tracing, but you want to make sure your design outline is aligned with the actual wooden letter. This is where tracing paper would come in handy. I held the design and letter up to a light source to make sure they were aligned.

Once you're happy about the alignment, trace away! Make sure you trace every line. I missed a couple, and had to go back to add those in.

There is a pretty nice tutorial that suggests you could go over the lines with a dried ball point pen with a bit of pressure, which would leave you an indent to help you paint within the lines. I was pretty confident about painting so I didn't use this method. If you aren't as confident, or prefer the indents to pencil lines, you may want to try this. Let me know how you go!

Step 5: Apply Masking Tape

I may be confident about painting within the lines, but I know from experience that it's another story with the edges. Masking tape to the rescue!

Remember to apply to all edges, including the ones from the "holes" in the letters. It's easy to forget those.

Step 6: Paint Away!

Finally! Painting time!

Do the light colors first. Because I am using only black and one bright accent color, this means the accent color goes on first, then the black.

Go slow. You may also need two coats.

Step 7: Finishing Touches

If you're like me you may go back to tweak things for a while. Once you're happy, make sure it's dried, and remove the masking tape.

I applied matte varnish on mine. If you prefer gloss feel free to do so. I went with the spray stuff because it's easy and quick. Plus you get a nice even finish.

Then more waiting.

Once that's dried, you're done. Stand back and admire your artwork! Share your finished product in the comments. Would love to see them. :)