My mother runs a home and furniture boutique called On Main. She had asked me to make her a light-up open sign to bring attention to the store window while also exhibiting the same general theme and aesthetic as her store.
I chose to design the sign using my own take on marquee letters. Traditional marquee letters are often sold at craft stores for well over $15 per letter! Each of which may require their own power supply.
This tutorial will guide you through this DIY sign that will save you money and impress others.
Step 1: Materials and Tools You Will Need
- (4) 9" tall set of Masonite or wooden letters (O-P-E-N).
- The letters can be found at most craft stores, varying in price due to size. Mine were around $2.50 a piece.
- If you have access to a laser cutter, you can make any desired size.
- (1) Strand of preferred lights (50 bulb strand).
- I am using miniature globe lights that can be found here on Amazon.com because I think they look more elegant than standard Christmas lights. These cost around $15.00.
- (2) Identical wooden bases that fit all letters inside the perimeter.
- I am using two 40" x 12" pine boards at around $8.00 a piece.
- Flexible trim or other material to hide electrical components.
- I found white lattice pieces at Lowes for $2.50 a piece.
- (10") Stranded or solid wire costing costing under $1.00 for the length you will need.
- Various Glue
- Any standard epoxy
- Elmer's Wood Glue
- Mod Podge
- *MINIMAL* Hot Glue
- Bronze "Liquid Metal" paint costing around $9.00 per container.
- Minwax Dark Walnut wood stain costing around $12.00 per can, but you only need a small amount.
- Dark brown/black acrylic paint costing around $1.00.
- Soldering Iron & Solder
- Wire cutters and wire strippers
- Cordless drill/Handheld drill
- 3/8" Drill bit (I only had a 5/16" drill bit, so I improvised)
- X-Acto Knife
Step 2: Planning - Technical Drawing
- Using Google SketchUp, I created a virtual version of what I planned to accomplish. When I had created the file, I did not yet have the letters or boards so the actual result differs slightly than the planned outcome.
- It is by no means necessary to do this as a personal project, however, some form of technical drawing or design plan should be documented in most cases.
Step 3: Finishes for the Letters and Base
Depending on the material of the letters and base, you can either paint or stain them.
- I purchased letters that said "ready to finish" so no preparation is necessary.
- I am painting the letters a metallic-like bronze to stand out against the dark base. The contrasting bronze paint should also help reflect the light from the bulbs. Only one to two coats in necessary. However, they may need to be touched up after the holes are drilled.
- I will be staining the base a dark brown to bring more attention to the letters. These warmer tones are most often used in Marquee letters and will work well with the vintage style of the store. The stain will take approximately 5 hours to dry due to the type of wood I used and how dark I wanted it to be.
- The white lattice pieces will be painted a dark brown. I do not want to keep them white because the sign will look irregular and it will be very distracting. These will be put in place to hide the electrical components of the sign. Using small wooden pegs cut to the same length, the lattice pieces will be glued to both the peg supports and the top and bottom of the base.
Step 4: Mounting the Letters
- It is important that you secure the letters to the base before drilling the holes. This allows a single hole to be drilled straight through both and you will not have to endure the frustration of properly lining the holes up before gluing.
- I used a mixture of Mod Podge and Elmer's Wood glue to attach the letters to one of the stained bases. You can use any preferred glue or fastener, however I strongly advise against using hot glue under the letters. This would cause them to rise slightly and unevenly, making it very difficult to drill properly and negatively altering the appearance of the sign.
- Each letter is approximately 1" from the next. They are also placed in the center of the board, creating a 1 1/2" margin on the top, bottom, and sides near the outer letters "O" and "N". I placed heavy books on the letters as the glue dried to ensure a strong bond since the pine base was moderately flimsy.
Step 5: Drilling the Holes for the Bulbs
- After the letters were secured, I marked out the placement of the bulbs. There are 50 bulbs on the strand I purchased so I marked 12 holes on the O, 12 holes on the P, 13 holes on the E, and 13 holes on the N. The only reason I put on extra bulb on the last two is because it looked neater and evenly spread out that way.
- The holes must be large enough for the socket to fit through, but not necessarily large enough for the bulb to fall through. You can glue the sockets into the holes if they are slightly too large using a tad of hot glue or some quick drying epoxy. This way, each bulb protrudes from the sign with equal depth and are not free to move around.
- I was unable to find a 3/8" drill bit, so I used a 5/16" drill bit instead. This was a little difficult at first because I had to improvise and manually make each hole a little bigger until the socket fit. However, it worked well in the end. I would recommend using the larger one to save time and make the sign look more professional.
- After drilling the holes, I wiped off the dust with a damp cloth. You may need to touch up the bronze paint at this point in time.
Step 6: Hiding the Wires
- Using two 40" pieces and two 11 3/4" pieces (to leave 1/8" for the the longer sides to fit) of the lattice, I made a border around the front on the sign. The lattice is thin and easy to snap, so I cut these pieces using an X-Acto knife to perforate a line to snap apart each piece. They can be cut using many other tools, such as a Dremel or various table saws. I painted the lattice pieces a deep Espresso Brown to compliment the dark stain on the boards.
- After the perimeter was lined, I cut four additional pieces of lattice, about 2" in length each, to from triangles in all four corners to aid in support. These will help keep the border pieces straight and will help hold the weight of the back board.
- Although hot glue is generally frowned upon, it was readily available and each to use for this step. No additional holes were required for alternative fasteners, so the overall appearance was fairly neat.
- *If hot glue is used, you must work quickly to ensure that the border pieces are straight. You must also use a minimal amount of glue under each border piece to avoid having the pieces slightly elevated from the excess glue. After all the pieces are in place, you can take hot glue and use it almost like caulk around the inside edges to add strength to the border.*
- To attach the back board to the sign, I used hot glue sparingly around the perimeter. You must work quickly before the glue dries, but be careful it does not drip or ooze out excessively. If the glue is visible from the outside, you can take an X-acto knife to trim away glue that seeped out. I also put hot glue on one side at a time to make sure it was secured well and neatly.
- If the hot glue is drying too quickly or becoming too messy, you can complete this step using many other strong adhesives. There are much better alternative epoxies that will look more neat and will create a stronger bond. If using other glue, it is important to rough up the two surfaces with a medium grade sand paper to provide grooves for the glue to set in that will result in a much more resilient bond.
Step 7: Final Result
Here is the final result! I am very pleased with the outcome. Now, whether the town is bustling or empty, passing people will know my mother's store is open. It will illuminate the front window with a soft glow and should draw attention, ultimately boosting business.
My mother is also very happy! Feel free to stop by and see it in use at On Main!
Step 8: Evaluation
If I were to attempt this project again, I would:
- Eliminate ANY hot glue.
- Attempt to make it more sturdy so that a wire or hardware could be mounted to it to hang up. Fortunately, it only needed to stand up on its own since the store window has a ledge.
- Use a proper drill bit for a more professional look up close.
- Use less bulbs, but larger bulbs.
- Make the letters more three dimensional, possibly eliminating the need for a base board.
Thank You for viewing my project!
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