When it comes to sign-making, knowledge of faux techniques is not always innate, but experienced painters can be very effective at fooling the untrained eye. In fact, you can fake marble, make a panel look like real wood, or texture a surface using paint and some simple tools with results that may even be better than the real thing.
To learn how to produce these great effects using paints, we tapped the talents of veteran sign-makers Mike Szczoczarcz, Countryside Signs, Rehoboth, MA; Alan Johnson, Alan Johnson Grafix, Blairstown, NJ; and Barry Quackenbush, Berry Signs, Brookfield, WI. Here, they illustrate a few techniques you can incorporate into your commercial sign-making and vehicle-graphics repertoire.
Marbling with a beveled edge
Mike Szczoczarcz, also known as Mike "Z," has developed a fast marbling technique to use as a background for signs and vehicle graphics. He calls it the "minute marble." Although there are many different marbling techniques, this wet-on-wet method does not attempt to exactly replicate real marble. Instead, it produces a glossy, durable finish that can be created quickly with minimal tools.
To employ this technique, you will need: a sea sponge, 1Shot paints, masking tapes, lettering quills and outliner brushes. Soak the sponge in water to soften it and then squeeze out the excess water. For most small- to medium-sized signs or graphics, use a 2- to 3-inch-square sponge. Two pieces of sponge work best for this faux technique.
Pick two compatible, contrasting colors, the darker of which will be your base, as well as a third accent color. For the example shown here, Mike chose blue-green, aqua and purple. Another good combination is purple, dark magenta and blue-green.
To start, tape off the substrate with Fineline tape and then masking tape. Next, apply your base color evenly to the substrate. Using your palette, mix a little of each color with a piece of sponge. Apply this color in random, diagonal patterns from one edge of the still-wet substrate to the other. Inverted "Y" and "N" shapes work well. However, don’t overdo the sponging; this step is just to establish color patterns. Add a little of the third color onto the palette with the base color. Apply this color sparingly to just a few spots on the substrate.
Then, dip a new piece of sponge into a small amount of the base color on your palette. Go over the entire panel to soften and mix your colors, and eliminate spottiness. Don’t overdo it; simply soften the colors while retaining a distinct pattern.
To add veins, mix some of the base color with the secondary color. Create a shade with enough contrast to be seen, but one that will not overpower the background. Make the mix fairly juicy so that the veining will melt into the background, rather than sit on top. Then, load up your outliner brush and drag it diagonally down your substrate. For a broad line, lay the brush down and lightly shake it from side to side; for a fine line, lift the brush. Run the veining from edge to edge. Usually, if the panel is to be lettered, incorporate fewer veins so that they don’t detract from the message. As a stand-alone effect, add more veins.
If you make a mistake, you can still correct it because this is a wet-on-wet technique. Just go back over the area with your sponge, blend in the color and try again. You can also add very fine veining using the third color; these hairline veins add a nice touch when viewed up-close.
To give your marble a beveled edge, mix 1Shot Tinting Clear and a little color. Make three colors: one each for the top, sides and bottom. Add just enough color to the clear to lighten or darken it, using white or shading black to achieve a transparent tint.
Using a lettering quill or outliner, palette out your white tints on a dark background (dark tints on a light background). This will give you a good indication of color and coverage. Add a little reducer and work the color until it’s consistent, not streaky. Then, tape off or freehand the beveled edge. Apply a thin coat across the top of the panel. The consistency of the paint should allow for long strokes. One or two passes is all you get; going back over the paint will leave streaks. Paint in your side and bottom edges, and you’ve got a fast, easy beveled effect.
Bagging is another quick, and extremely simple technique for adding texture to your graphics. In fact, this faux technique only requires four items to achieve the right effect: paint, a paint brush, high-temp reducer and plastic wrap.
To accomplish the right effect, various sign painters use an array of bagging material such as Saran wrap, bubble wrap or plastic wrap. But Alan Johnson favors bubble wrap — he has an ample supply that came with his barn.
To begin, apply 1/4-inch Fineline masking tape to isolate the area to be bagged. Choose a paint color and add 1Shot 6002 high-temp reducer to slow the drying time. Lay down a coat of paint using a flat paint brush or quill, then quickly lay the plastic wrap over the wet paint and remove. The plastic wrap leaves random, textured patterns and shows the underlying paint. For the example shown here, Johnson applied Purple Pearl 1Shot using a Mack flat brush.
Using certain kinds of wood as sign substrates can get quite expensive. So how do you mimic the look of wood without paying the price? Alan Johnson recently created a faux-mahogany trim on his shop truck, and shares how he did it.
Before beginning, mask off the area to be painted. Mix 1Shot maroon and brown paints with 1Shot Clear, and add a high-temp reducer to slow the drying time. Always use a darker color over a lighter background panel. Additionally, Johnson suggests using a lot of high-temp reducer — about 30 percent of the mix — to achieve a really transparent look.
Apply the glaze using cheesecloth. Squeeze out the cloth and then go back over the glaze using a stop-and-go jagged movement to create the grain effect. This second swipe essentially removes some of the glaze to achieve the grained look of mahogany. For the project pictured here, Johnson added goldleaf "bolts" with some light airbrushing to make the faux-wood appear to be bolted to the truck.
Faux Carved Lettering, Concrete and Chrome
Faux-carved lettering on a marbled background: Glen Weisgerber, Glen Designs, Edison, NJ, and Alan Johnson created an entirely faux panel with a marbled background, faux-carved lettering and a 3-D diamond shape using brushes, sponges and paint.
This project actually evolved out of a weekend when Glen and pinstriper Howie Nisgor, Wappingers Falls, NY, drove down to Alan’s shop to practice various faux techniques. Howie wanted to learn how to marble and create faux concrete, and Glen wanted to know more about bagging.
For the "Custom Faux Finishes" panel, Alan squirted a little each of 1Shot green, blue, black and gray paints onto the surface. As he wiggled a sponge through the paint, he played around with it "until it looked like marble." He airbrushed white on top to make the veins, and spattered some thinner onto the panel to play with the shapes.
Glen then decided to use the marbleized panel to fake carved lettering. For the "Custom Faux Finishes" lettering, he used imitation-gold 1Shot, allowed the paint to dry, and followed with a darker brown to create shading. He then added more brown to the mix and painted in another, darker shade. To create lighter shades, he added white to the mixture and painted an outline around the letters for contrast. The final element — a 3-D diamond — was created using a mixture of 1Shot Tinting Clear with a few drops of black paint.
Paint Splattering: Barry offered a few painting effects of his own. Paint splattering is an extremely simple, wet-on-wet technique for adding punch to your graphics. To start, mask off the area to be splattered to prevent overzealous splatters from hitting other parts of the vehicle. Dip a popsicle stick, mixing stick, palette knife or acid brush into the paint(s), and flip, throw or fling the paint onto the panel.
According to Barry, palette knives and acid brushes offer the most controlled splatters. To achieve nice, long lines, put more paint on the brush; for shorter lines, use less paint. Experiment with different angles to achieve squiggly lines and bizarre shapes.
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