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Pirate Invasion

Sign Depot captains a 3-D spectacular.



Sign Depot’s reputation for creating unique, structural displays earned us a truly dynamic project. Owners of Niagara Falls, ON, Canada’s Captain Jack’s Mini-Putt wanted a singularly unique entry to captivate the throngs of tourists who visit the city. After several design and engineering meetings, we mutually decided a pirate display would yield the most branding buzz. It was to be equipped with a captain, his ship and a member of the pirate crew perched high above the street in a “crow’s nest.”

We used three different processes to create this theme. This process not only allowed each structure to be “unique,” it also allowed us to work on all three in different areas of the shop simultaneously.


Got a little captain?
We fabricated Captain Jack much differently than any other 3-D, in-house piece we’ve made over the past 17 years. He truly replicates a diminutive, 4-in.-tall model. Our pint-sized pirate traveled to California, where Next Engine created a 3-D scan of him. As he traveled back to Canada, the scan provider emailed the 3-D file to us for production.

The designers enlarged the scan to create a 20-in. model, which allowed us to inspect the scan’s accuracy. The result was impressive – a flawless replica of the original.

Once we’d settled on its structure and design, we dissected the pirate into several parts and cut him out of EPS foam with our 4 x 8-ft. AXYZ Automation CNC router. Then, we sprayed the components with Smooth-On’s Styrocoat®, a polyurethane-spray coating that made the foam weatherproof. To accentuate Captain Jack’s character and facial features, we liberally used Magic Sculpt, a two-part, clay epoxy that hardens in approximately three hours. The compound helped us quickly accentuate the captain to make him more visible to street-level viewers.


After Jack had finished taking shape, our finishing department made him look official. They used a limited palette of red, blue, black and flesh tones to block out key features on the coat, pants and head. Our finishers masterfully finessed shadows and highlights to create visual depth and make all elements pop.
For a final note of detail, we accented the cloak buttons, belt buckle and hook with 23k goldleaf. What’s a pirate without a little bling?


Anchors aweigh!
Now, the captain required a ship. We constructed a ship’s front bow as a second showpiece. To help it take shape, we fashioned a plywood-bulkhead frame, which we coated with Cetol to protect it from moisture.
Next, we skinned the frame with routed, EPS-foam planks. To make the planks look authentically wooden from street level, we had to be innovative. We heavily sandblasted a piece of spruce to highlight its grain.

Then, we laid the foam on the shop floor face-down on top of the spruce. We slowly ran over the foam and spruce with our shop forklift, which embossed the foam with handsome texture. Voila – from foam to wood in minutes! We fastened the planks in traditional lapstrake fashion (the traditional boatbuilding method that uses overlapping planks) and hardcoated them with Styrocoat.

Painting the ship created its own set of challenges. First, we primed it with brown paint. Next, we covered brown with a diluted blackwash that seeped into the pattern’s cracks and helped the boat appear more aged. Then, we blotted all of the ship’s raised areas with a mix of beige, brown and black. Finally, we airbrushed the ship’s sides and between the planks with dark-brown paint to create shadows and dimension. Finally, we added a blend of white, green and yellow paint to make the ship appear more weathered, as well as to create foamy sea waves, which highlight the ship’s hull.

To impart more nautical flair, we made cannons, anchors and exterior flaps from EPS foam, and we coated them with an antique patina using Modern Masters rust-colored paint. We applied a black basecoat to cover the anchors, and then added a topcoat with rust paint that, when sprayed with a rust activator, changed the paint to a rich rust color.


To add to the illusion, we painted flaps hinges and other metal details with brass-colored paint. Once we assembled it all, we felt considerable pride that we’d successfully built a ship from which Captain Jack could survey his horizon.


Land ho!
The third piece of the project entailed fabricating a crew member situated in the crow’s nest to serve as a lookout. We chose an old-school technique and fabricated the pirate’s body and telescope from paper maché over an internal, stainless-steel armature. We again used Magic Sculpt to create a protruding facial expression.

Then, we coated the handmade mannequin with Styrocoat prior to painting. Again, we used latex paint and embellished the pirate’s earring, telescope and a gold tooth with goldleaf. We attached the lookout to a crow’s nest constructed from EPS foam and painted it with a finish that matches the ship’s hull.

Then, we created the sail from heavy-duty, truck-tarp material, which we obtained from Cambridge Canvas. With handlettered copy and a logo, this served as a key branding component.

We transported the pieces via flatbed truck to their final destination. Under my supervision, Niagara Falls, ON-based Signature Signs installed pieces on the building wall using a bucket lift and a Manitex Skyhook crane.


Although the process was very labor intensive, the results are beyond outstanding. We knew going into this project that the expectations would be high. We’re fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of signmakers, designers and artists working here. This collection of pieces changed the look of our shop. We’ve had many curious visitors stop by to observe our process and progress.

So, the next time you’re visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, make sure to see the Captain Jack display. I’m sure you will have no problem spotting it. Isn’t that how you define a great sign?


More About Peter and the Sign Depot
The Sign Depot Inc. is located in Kitchener, ON, Canada, one hour from Toronto and one hour from Niagara Falls. In 1992, having just earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Peter Moir started the Sign Depot as a one-man shop. Now, the Sign Depot employs 10 talented and dedicated signmakers, designers, project managers and administrative staff. The company has developed a loyal market by focusing on carved, 3-D sign work and putting in extra effort to achieve success.

The heart of the business revolves around inhouse woodworking, finishing and sandblasting facilities. The Sign Depot expanded by founding a wholesale division, which provides sandblasted finished or unfinished wood and cutout logos to other North American signshops.

To view additional samples or to find out more about the company, visit

Equipment and Materials
Three-dimensional scanning, from Next Engine (Santa Monica, CA), (310) 883-1888 or
Coatings: Styrocoat® polyurethane hardcoat, from Smooth-On (Easton, PA), (800) 762-0744 or; Magic Sculpt epoxy, available from Abracadabra Signs (Ayr, ON, Canada), (877) 342-0847 or; Latex paint, available from home-improvement or building-supply stores; Cetol wood stain, from Sikkens, (866) 745-5367 or; 23k goldleaf, from Sepp Leaf (NYC), (212) 683-2840 or
Crane: Skyhook 60-ft. crane, from Manitex (Georgetown, TX), (877) 314-3390 or
Router: Four- x 8-ft. CNC router, from AXYZ Automation (Burlington, ON, Canada), (800) 361-3408 or
Substrate: Expanded-polystyrene foam, available from packaging- and plastics-material manufacturers, such as Benchmark Foam (Watertown, SD), (605) 886-8084 or
Vinyl: Truck-tarp material, from Cambridge Canvas (Cambridge, ON, Canada), 800-265-8151 or




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