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How to Create Effective Custom Signage Design

How to Create Effective Custom Signage Design

Signage serves a vital role in communicating with customers and reinforcing your brand. Well-designed custom signs attract attention, convey information, set the right tone, and create an impression that brings people in (or keeps them out).

With the right approach, you can create signage perfectly suits your business while avoiding common pitfalls. This guide covers the fundamental principles, planning process, design elements, materials and fabrication, installation, and maintenance involved in pulling off custom signs that become an invaluable business asset.

Why Invest in Custom Signage?

Off-the-shelf and generic signage might save you money upfront. But inexpensive signs made without thought come at a higher cost:

  • Missed opportunities to connect with customers
  • A weak brand image and lack of differentiation from competitors
  • Lower perceived credibility and professionalism

Custom signage design, tailored to your brand and location, on the other hand, offers tremendous upside:

  • Increased visibility and memorability to drive foot traffic
  • Reinforcement of your unique brand identity
  • More credible first impression upon entering your premises
  • Ability to convey your value proposition succinctly
  • Versatility to use across different business sites and contexts

With strategic design and messaging, your signage can become an invaluable touchpoint for customer engagement. Investing in quality custom signs that serve your long-term business goals is worth investing in.

Signage Design Principles

Best Signage Design Indoors Examples

Signage has to work hard to earn people's attention and communicate effectively. Follow these fundamental principles in your custom sign design process:

Promote Clarity Above All Else

A sign's primary function is to relay information clearly and unambiguously. Avoid overly clever or complex concepts that look cool but cause confusion. Stick with simple, straightforward designs that make your messaging easy to digest.

Align with Your Brand Identity

Your signs should strengthen your brand recognition, not dilute it. Keep the look, feel, voice, colours, fonts, and shapes consistent with your brand identity.

Fit the Context

Consider each sign's placement, physical space, distance from viewers, and environment—Optimise legibility and visibility for the specific setting.

Focus on Contrast

Leverage contrasting colours, shapes, sizes, positions, and textures to make the essential elements stand out. Reduce visual noise.

Guide the Viewer's Attention

Use directional symbols, spacing, scale, and bold fonts to direct the viewer's eyes in the intended sequence.

Keep It Brief

Get straight to the point. Signs are a touchpoint for short-duration engagement, not a novel.

Speak With the Customer in Mind

Use familiar language and terminology—frame messages from the viewer's perspective.

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The Custom Signage Design Process

Good Signage Design Example

Creating high-impact custom signs requires careful planning and execution across these critical stages:

Set Objectives and Requirements

Start by defining what you want the signage to accomplish, such as:

Map out requirements like placement locations, viewing distances, illumination needs, sizing, shapes, materials, and budget constraints.

Strategise Layout and Messaging

Determine the optimal information hierarchy, flow, and visual presentation format to promote clarity and alignment with brand identity.

Prioritise the most critical text and visuals you want to get across. Decide which branding elements and styles to apply.

Choose the Right Visual Style

Consider the aesthetics and visual style best suits the signage goals and context. Some options include:

  • Minimalist: Clean, sparse designs that eliminate frills
  • Retro: Vintage-inspired looks signalling heritage
  • Modern: Sleek, contemporary visual identity
  • Rustic: Earthy, understated, industrial
  • Playful: Colorful, casual, or humorous

Select Typography

Font choices significantly impact legibility and tone. Pick one or two fonts that enhance visibility and reflect brand personality.

Consider factors like:

  • Legibility at a viewing distance
  • The mood conveyed (e.g. serious, fun, elegant)
  • Compatibility with visuals
  • Meaning implied (e.g. tradition, strength)

Choose Impactful Graphics and Imagery

Strategically incorporate graphics, photos, iconography, logos, and other visuals that support your messaging and provide differentiation.

Map Out Production Specifications

Determine exact materials, sizes, fabrication methods, installation plans, lighting requirements, and relevant codes and regulations.

Create Mockups and Prototypes

Develop initial design concepts and iterate based on feedback. Use rough mockups to verify feasibility and refine the plan.

Review, Revise and Finalise

Carefully examine the design from all angles before final approval. Refine and enhance until it's compelling from every viewpoint.

Key Design Elements and Techniques

Metal Signage Design Ideas Example

These visual devices can make your custom signs pop and drive viewer engagement:


Use varying text sizing, colour contrasts, spatial relationships, and bolding to distinguish primary vs secondary info.

Negative Space

Strategic use of empty areas around text and graphics reduces visual clutter.


Combine colours that complement each other and align with your brand palette. Vibrant, saturated hues attract more attention.

Balance and Alignment

Create visual balance through symmetrically or asymmetrically arranged elements.

Shapes and Lines

Squares connote stability; circles suggest community or flow; triangles imply action. Lines lead the eye.

Photos and Illustrations

Strategic imagery that reinforces your brand story and elicits emotion.

Materials and Textures

Layering materials like wood, metal, stone, and neon produces visual interest.

Motion and Interactivity

Kinetic elements, changing LED displays, and interfaces can boost engagement.

Sign Materials and Fabrication

What Is Signage Design In Advertising

Choosing suitable materials impacts cost, durability, and presentation. Here are the top options for custom signs:

Acrylic and Plastic

Acrylic provides sleek transparency and illuminated effects. Plastic offers durability at a low cost but looks cheaper.

Aluminium and Stainless Steel

Aluminium composite and stainless steel have modern appeal, are easy to clean and modify, and resist weathering.

Wood and Fibreglass

Wood signs exude rustic charm. Fibreglass mimics wood texture with more durability.

Brick, Stone, and Concrete

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Masonry materials convey strength, heritage and architectural alignment.

Fabric and Canvas

Softer surfaces for indoor signs and trade show displays. Stretch fabric over frames.

Painted and Wall Graphics

Direct surface painting or vinyl graphic appliques work for murals and temporary signage.

Neon and LED

Illuminated tubing or LED modules add high visibility and energy.

Fabrication methods like routing, printing, laser cutting, moulding, and welding produce different effects. Work with an experienced sign fabricator to determine the optimal mix of materials and techniques.

Signage Installation Considerations

Proper installation helps signs achieve maximum visual impact and withstand the elements over time:

  • Mount signs to rigid structural surfaces with the appropriate brackets, anchors, and adhesives for the substrate.
  • Use sturdy mounting hardware like bolts, frames, and cables rated for the sign's weight.
  • Account for necessary electrical access for illuminated signs during installation.
  • Ensure conformance with local signage codes for size, placement, and lighting restrictions.
  • Consider angles and sightlines to optimise visibility for approaching viewers.
  • Check that the installation achieves the intended spatial relationships between multiple signs.
  • Make signs easily cleanable and accessible for maintenance.

With careful on-site planning and execution, you can install custom signage securely in the most advantageous placements.

Maintaining Custom Signage

Don't let weathering, wear and tear, or damage ruin your signage investment. Follow these tips for keeping custom signs looking great:

  • Inspect sign surfaces and mounting connections regularly for any deterioration.
  • Routinely clean signs to remove dust, dirt, and grime. Use gentler cleaners and methods for sensitive materials.
  • Watch for damage like scratched or faded surfaces, peeling paint or vinyl, bulging or cracking, and LED outages.
  • Make any needed minor repairs immediately to prevent more significant problems.
  • Consider preventive steps like surface sealants and graffiti-proof coatings.
  • Replace the batteries/bulbs in illuminated signs when they burn out.
  • Replace or recoate face materials if they become excessively weathered or worn.

With proper care and maintenance, your custom signage can deliver excellent ROI and effective branding for many years.

Common Signage Design Mistakes to Avoid

Environmental Graphic Design Signage

Steer clear of these pitfalls that can diminish your signage effectiveness:

Cluttered or Busy Designs

Too many competing elements prevent clear communication. Streamline and simplify.

Hard-to-Read Typography

Fancy script fonts or sizes too small for the setting make text illegible. Stick with clean, readable fonts.

Poor Colour Contrasts

Low contrast between text/graphics and background obscures essential info. Use high contrast.

Overly Creative Concepts

Prioritise clarity over being clever. Don't make people work too hard to get your point.

Weak Brand Cohesion

Inconsistent style that deviates from your core visual identity weakens brand recognition.

Unbalanced Composition

Uneven visual weight on one side of the sign or other proportional issues. Strive for balanced designs.

Lack of Hierarchy

No differentiation between the headline and body text makes it unclear where to look first. Use scale, colour, position, etc., to distinguish importance.

Amateur Production

Shoddy craftsmanship and materials cheapen your brand image. Invest in quality fabrication and pro installation.

With some discipline and know-how, you can avoid these universal signage mistakes and develop outstanding custom signs purpose-built to strengthen your brand.

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Signage Design Tips and Examples

Tailgate Bar Signage Design

Let's look at some examples of effective custom signage strategies:

For Retail Storefronts

  • Place at eye level near entry to be visible but not obstructed
  • Keep graphics and messaging simple and minimalist
  • Use bold, sans serif font for name/logo
  • Shade the front window with logo/hours for subtle brand reinforcement.

For Office Building Directories

  • Group listings into intuitive categories with section headings
  • Organise in columns to scan quickly
  • Use different background colours for each section
  • Include a building map with a “You Are Here” pinpoint

For Restaurant Exteriors

  • Drop shadow behind raised dimensional letters
  • Vivid photography of food dishes catches the attention
  • Use recognisable, enticing descriptors like “hand-tossed”, “house-made”, “award-winning.”
  • Changeable menu board and specials sign
  • Rustic natural wood matches interior decor

For Hotel Conferences/Events

  • Modular banner system for mix-and-match announcements
  • Big, bold event names/dates as focal point
  • Curvy font and playful graphics set a casual, inviting tone
  • Highly portable frames with dry-erase boards

For Trade Show Exhibit

  • Vertical tower structure visible from afar
  • The curved shape complements the brand logo
  • Bold, limited text over the image background
  • Fabric panels for easy portability
  • Uplighting for dramatic floating effect

With the right balance of concept originality and brand cohesion, you can achieve custom signage that becomes iconic.

Frequently Asked Questions About Custom Signage

What are the primary purposes of business signage?

Signage aims to attract attention, convey information, establish credibility, reinforce branding, promote sales, and direct visitors.

What makes custom signage better than off-the-shelf signs?

Custom options match unique business needs and brand identity vs generic one-size-fits-all signs. They also convey more credibility and polish.

What basic information should business signs include?

At a minimum: company name/logo, brief tagline, location identifier, offerings, and contact info like phone number or website.

How do you choose materials for durable and attractive signs?

Consider sign placement, cost, overall look, and weather/UV resistance needs. The top options are aluminium, steel, acrylic, masonry and durable plastics. Illumination adds a visual punch.

What mistakes ruin custom sign effectiveness?

Clutter, weak brand consistency, poor legibility, overly complex concepts, soft contrast, improper installation, and quickly deteriorating materials.

How much does a business spend on average for custom signage?

Depending on materials, complexity, branding needs, lighting, etc., businesses might spend $1,500 – $5,000 or more for a single moderately-sized sign. Larger sign systems for big retailers can reach $100k+.

Design Your High-Impact Custom Signage

Investing in thoughtful custom signage design offers tremendous potential to drive customer engagement and reinforce your unique brand identity daily. By following the strategic principles covered here for visual presentation, messaging, materials, fabrication and installation, you can create signage that becomes a signature touchpoint with lasting impact.

Partner with a signage pro to bring your brand vision to life through compelling, effective designs across all your critical customer touchpoints. Let your signage speak volumes about who you are.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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