Signs by Van (Salinas, CA) fabricates approximately 40% of its signs from HDU (kiln-dried, Western red cedar represents another common shop substrate). Jeremy Vanderkraats, the son of its founder, Phil, said, “Our clients dictate which product we use; the costs [of wood and HDU] are relatively similar. Using HDU is beneficial because of its easy ability to be routed, carved, painted and sandblasted to mimic any texture or shape you wish to fabricate.”
He added, “We used to get all of our business through word of mouth. But, online marketing has changed the game. We now split our marketing funds between our website, SignsbyVan.com, and face-to-face venues such as Chamber of Commerce memberships and tradeshows.”
Central California’s vibrant tourism industry drives much of Signs by Van’s business; wineries, golf courses, restaurants and themed attractions comprise much of its clientele. A majority of its clients arrive with existing logos, from which they extract original-artwork elements that Signs by Van prepares for production via a combination of Adobe® Illustrator®, InDesign® and Photoshop® software for general concept design, CADlink SignLab® to enhance detail, and SA Intl.’s EnRoute®4 and Autodesk’s 3DS Max to prep design files for 3D-sign production.
Its repertoire of tools includes a MultiCam 1000 router the shop shares with a partner – Jeremy said Signs by Van will soon upgrade to MultiCam’s 5000 model – and a 240-CFM compressor with a 300-lb. sandblasting pot, as well as paint booths and such traditional fabrication tools as planers, table saws and handcarving implements.
When decorating signs with water-based paint, Jeremy recommends using Nova Color artists’ acrylic, which he said can provide 30 years of protection with minimal fading. He also lauded Behr’s ultra-premium, exterior paints. Jeremy added, “Better primers are emerging on the market, which decreases coating times. The standard sign-finishing coatings from the past become more restricted because of California’s VOC restrictions, which are a good thing, so we’ve evolved and now source other finishing products.”
For gloss-finish applications, the shop still uses oil-based 1Shot paint, with which it uses lettering or rigid-foam brushes. For premium projects, Signs by Van engages its in-house muralists for fine detail and realism. And, for HDU applications that require extra moisture resistance, the shop sprays on fiberglass resin and Evercoat’s Slick Sand polyester primer, which Jeremy said provides a “lobster shell” coating that’s easily sanded and painted.
Deck screws, timber bolts and lag bolts represent common installation tools, but Signs by Van fabricates many signs with unusual dimensions. For these, the shop commonly fabricates its own wood and iron brackets in-house. Pressure-treated, 4 x 4- 6 x 6-, or 8 x 8-in., redwood posts, decorated with custom-made finials, support its freestanding projects. Typically, Signs by Van uses Duna’s Corafoam 10-, 15- and 20-lb. material in thicknesses from ¼ to 3 in; he lauded its tight cell structure.
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