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A Look Back at Traditional Signage Methods

From corporate signage, retail fascias and wayfinding solutions to event branding takeovers and exhibitions, signage is ubiquitous – but it hasn’t always been this easy, cost-effective or technologically advanced.

To celebrate Astra Signs’ 30th year in business, we’re taking a look back at where signage began and highlighting the traditional methods of sign writing we’ve experienced over the years.

If you have a memory of working with Astra Signs, or would like to share your memories of these nostalgic methods of sign making, send us a Tweet @ASTRASIGNS using the hashtag #30yearsofastra

In the beginning

The earliest forms of signage can be traced back to Egyptian times and were usually used for directional purposes or to hang outside pubs and inns throughout the Roman times and Middle Ages.

These often basic signs uses images instead of words and were made from wood or stone.

Attracting attention

As businesses and competition for customers grew, shop keepers, pub landlords and other business owners had to find newer and more sophisticated ways to attract the public to their premises.

Some very early methods of sign writing began to emerge at this time and focused mainly on hand painted lettering and wooden signage. In the early 1900s, shopkeepers would paint sign boards by hand to demonstrate their prices and attract attention.

However, illuminated signage became popular for a very specific sector of businesses – those doing business by night. Coffee houses, chemists and brothels used neon lettering and other lighting to attract business in the evening hours, long after painted signage had been obscured by the darkness.

Refining hand-painted signage

Signwriting artists worked hard to hone their technique and the hand-painted signs of the early 20th century are some of the most detailed and precise examples of advertising before advances in technology introduced quicker methods.

Artists would draw the signs by hand, or mock up a poster design on paper to illustrate how the sign would look to the client, before enlarging and marking the design up to life size.

This huge tracing would then be projected on to a surface – the front of a store, or building, for example – where the artist would outline and paint the sign using a huge range of established lettering styles and painting techniques to achieve the desired result.

Each business would require a different finish and the experienced sign writers would use their experience and craftsmanship to fulfill their client’s requirements, much like they do today, using 3D effects, special materials such as gold leaf and enamel to help their customers stand out from the crowd.

Exceptional attention to detail

The quality, skill, expertise and incredible attention to detail has inspired a small return to using these traditional sign writing methods. Some businesses are attracted to the craftsmanship required to produce one-off designs that truly set their business apart.

Our origins at Astra Signs are well and truly within these decades. Some of our current craftsmen honed their skills with a projector and a paintbrush and they’re committed to bringing that expertise and skill to the projects they’re working on today.

Advances in technology changed the signage industry from the 1980s and our next blog post will look at those developments in more detail.