Sign Software in Action

Discover how signmakers are using industry specific software to raise revenues, increase production – and get creative.

All softwares are far from equal.  See how sign industry specific software can make your company more money faster than ever before.  

Jet Miller likes to draw his designs by hand – but that doesn’t mean he forsakes high-technology. Miller gets the best of both words with software created for the specialized needs of sign shops like his.

Miller creates billboards, vehicle wraps and everything in between. He starts out sketching the design by hand – right in front of the customer – so he can make sure his they get the creativity they want and the professionalism they deserve before he ever steps foot behind the computer screen.

“We do a lot of partial wraps,” says Miller, owner of Miller Time Signs in Windsor, Vt. “A lot of people use Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator to create their files, but we lean more towards the vector work in SignLab. With this software, we can create any type of sign or poster in much less time than it takes to use the tools in Adobe products. In the sign business, time is money.”

Like Miller, sign shops across the nation are tapping into the power of software designed specifically for the demands of busy sign shops. Making the most of sign software means getting familiar with what it can do – and what it can’t do. Sign makers say sign software takes care of 99 percent of their needs, but every once in a while they’ll turn to an Adobe product for photo editing capabilities.

Calling on CADLink
CADLInk Technology, a software company based in Clinton, Mass., makes several products, including SignLab, Digital Factory, Engrave Lab, FilmMaker 2 and ProfileLab. Michael Chramtchenko, director of marketing for CADlink, says specialty sign software products help signmakers produce more with less. Not only do these programs cost less than all-purpose software products from manufacturers like Adobe, they offer tools that help sign makers take a project from beginning to end.

“There are a variety of signmaking software packages available on the market today and adding to the mix is a host of desktop design applications that are being used to design signage of all types,” Chramtchenko says. “CADlink has always distinguished itself from these other products by providing customers with leading-edge features that are specific to signmakers.”

SignLab offers design tools, such as text, drawing and special effects, to help signmakers create effective, eye-catching designs. And production tools like “Print and Cut” are built in for shops that specialize in digitally printed signage and graphics. Miller likes the photo editing tools in SignLab, as well as the vector abilities.

“For vehicle wraps, I take a picture of the car and import it into SignLab. Then I can design the wrap right on the truck itself,” Miller says. “I can do the vector work and incorporate special effects like barbed wire or diamond plates. It’s amazing. You start with a blank screen and you can throw anything at this software with a couple of clicks of a button. It would take forever to draw all this by hand.”

Walking with Sign Wizard
Charlie Dick, owner of Major Signs in Suffolk, Va., uses a competing product called Sign Wizard from Aries Graphics International in San Marcos, Calif. Sign Wizard lets sign makers produce vinyl, neon and large format printed signs. The software offers features such as mouse-as-brush artistry that is akin to painting with a brush in a software program, as well as productivity features such as real-time previews of shadows and distortions that aim to save sign shops time.

“Sign Wizard has a function called Real Sizing. We can drop a photo into the software program, crop it, rotate it and make it straight before we start the design,” Dick says. “Then we can start importing images and typing text on top of the truck. We can do things like feathered edges, shadows, add contour cuts. It doesn’t take long at all.”

Dick sends a draft of the design to his clients via e-mail right from the Sign Wizard. When the customer approves the design, production begins. Sign Wizard also has a “Send to Rip” feature that streamlines production by sending the image to printing with the click of a button.

“The name of the game is to do effects and printing with relative speed and ease,” Dick says. “With Sign Wizard, I can crank out jobs pretty quick and get the biggest bang for my buck. With Photoshop, I have to spend half my day to create a great effect. I can always integrate my Sign Wizard file into Photoshop if I need to do something there with sophisticated plug-ins, but 95 percent of the time I can do what I need in Sign Wizard much faster.”

All About ArtCAM

Beyond vehicle wraps and LED signs, Delcam offers a number of cadcam software products for designing and manufacturing signs of all types – even designing ice sculptures. London-based ice specialist Eskimo Ice broke free from traditional ice-sculpting methods using ArtCAM Pro. The result: a time savings that allows the company to be more productive.

Clemente Gava, Chief Designer at Eskimo Ice, always provided the sculptor with design prints for replication. With ArtCAM, he is able to create design elements and calculate the necessary toolpaths to machine the majority of ice using a CNC router. For example, Gava uses relief layers in the software to modify his designs.

“I can just click on the relevant layer and change it without having to recreate the whole piece. ArtCAM’s toolpath strategies and simulations are vital as they allow me to find the fastest and most efficient method of machining,” Gava says. “I can simulate how the carving will look and make any necessary changes. This prevents time being wasted down in the ice-carving studio.”

When Gava set out to create an ice sculpture to promote China’s oldest beer, Harbin, at the Taste of London Food Festival, incorporating the colored logo wasn’t a problem. Reproducing Chinese characters accurately by hand would be extremely difficult, he says, but with ArtCAM all he had to do was set the toolpaths around the imported characters for them to be machined.

Leaning Towards LED
Much of sign making’s future includes LEDs. Although there’s still a place for neon, Jim Fasset, owner of Aries Graphics International, is an active participant in the LED revolution. Aries recently launched an LED Wizard add-on feature for its Sign Wizard software. The LED Wizard software automatically lays out LED modules within channel letters, follows LED-specific rules about spacing and positioning in the corners, lets you edit each path and adjust each module’s position, and keeps track of the total number of modules and power usage per run.

Fasset hinted at a real-time simulation tool that would allow sign makers to see how LED positioning would cause shadows. This tool would avoid problems on the installation scene with channel letters that need to be changed out in order to provide uniform light. Being able to simulate where the shadows will fall in the preview mode could make LED installations more profitable.

“Considering the focus on energy consumption, LED’s are dominating the growth in the channel letters market,” Fasset says. “When neon fails, it fails catastrophically. LEDs fail gradually, giving you time to replace them before they burn out. So we expect to see more and more adoption of LED – and we’re working on new features to help signmakers build these signs more efficiently.”




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