How to create a hand painted sign for a wedding, party or small business

Many of the elements used in the experiences we create are bespoke made and hand painted, including signs, labels and instructions. Hand-painting these elements is a great way of creating something unique that exactly fits the style and theming of the period we are trying to re-create for. Hand painted signs can also add personality to your wedding or party and there are a lot of ways they can be adapted to fit any colour scheme or theme. In this blog I will walk you through, step by step, how to create a hand painted sign.

Step 1.

To begin, you’ll need to mock up a design. For this I use Pages on a MacBook but it can be done in any software that can generate text.

Create a text box and make it the height of the area you will be painting in – this will show you how the text will sit proportionally in the area. It is good to get a sense of the size of the the text in comparison to the area as it may look better bigger or smaller, or on one or multiple lines.

If you’re looking to create a smaller sign you may be able to create the digital design true to size, making it easier to transfer later on.

Step 2.

Type out what you’d like the text to say, in the font you’d like to use. You can use websites like to find fonts that suit your style and occasion. With the work we do in designing escape rooms and building immersive experiences, it is so crucial that every element of what we are building suits the time period, style and theming of the piece. Anything that doesn’t quite fit will stick out to audiences, right down to the fonts (you don’t want comic sans in a Medieval escape room, or Times New Roman in a futuristic spaceship!)

Similarly for weddings or parties, signs can be made to fit with the decor and overall style to compliment the aesthetics of the event. If you have chosen a font as part of your ‘wedding brand’, this is obviously a great time to use it.

Step 3.

Once you are happy with the size and font of your text make sure it is central and add guidelines to help you align the text on the area you will be painting onto. I like to use a cross at the midpoint and create a matching cross on the area I’m working with to help make sure everything is centred and straight.

Step 4.

Flip the text!

This is so crucial for tracing as you will flip it back over to transfer onto the wood. If the text is left the correct orientation on the screen, it will come out backwards later on.

The next step is to trace the design and transfer it to your surface.

Step 5.

To trace the design you can use tracing paper on your screen, a window, or a light box, anything that will light your design from behind so you can see it through the tracing paper.

For this project my design is quite long so will need two pieces of tracing paper. To help keep the design neat and spaced correctly I always trace one letter twice, once onto each piece of tracing paper. Doing this means they can be overlayed and the pieces stuck together keeping everything in line.

Step 6.

It is now time to place the tracing paper onto the area you are working with.

I have used a tape measure and pencil to measure and mark out the centre point of my wood with a cross. To place the tracing centrally I overlay the cross on my tracing from the digital design with the cross marked on the wood.

Doing this should mean everything is straight and central but it is always best to double check.

Step 7.

To transfer the tracing onto the wood you can go back over it with a pencil. It is important to put a little pressure on the pencil to make sure the lines come out clearly onto the surface but not to press too hard so as to indent the lines or rip the tracing paper.

Step 8.

It’s time to paint!

You will note that there are quite a few steps to go through before getting your paintbrush out. Although there are many people talented enough to freestyle, for the vast majority of people, going straight in and putting pen to paper (or brush to wood), would not produce the outcome you want. Letters would be different sizes, font styles would fluctuate and letters would be different heights. Preparation is key in everything we do, and a little time taken at the start will produce far better results!

For this project I am using black acrylic paint mixed with a little water from my brush. This will make the paint slightly thinner and easier to work with, without compromising the colour. Whilst the paint can be used without water, it will be much thicker so may come out streaky or lumpy on the wood.

This is the longest part of the process and takes patience to make sure the letters are painted neatly in the lines of the tracing, but it is well worth the extra time.

It is important not to rush this process and remember that is is easier to add paint than take it away so it is better to go slow and steady.

Step 9.

Once the paint is fully dry you can rub out any visible pencil marks.

Step 10.

No matter the project it is always important to protect the paint from wear and tear in some way, especially if it may be touched or kept outside. There are a few ways this can be done but varnish or Mod Podge are both excellent and have stood the test of time in our experiences.

For this particular sign I am going to use a Dark Oak varnish that will stain the wood darker and add a layer of protection over the paint.

The acrylic paint used is much darker than the varnish, of which I’ll use very little, so the colour won’t be compromised. It is possible to stain wood before adding any text but it is much easier to see your design on plain wood if you are planning to use a darker stain.

And that’s how to create a hand painted sign! This is the written blog version of our ‘how to’ prop creation series, but you can also watch a step-by-step process on our Youtube channel here.