Real Materials or Affordable Imitations?

Nov 21, 2019 | sign techniques and materials | 0 comments

Should your sign be made from real materials or affordable imitations? The question itself dates back decades.

A hundred years ago, members of the Arts and Crafts Movement adopted a philosophy called ‘Truth to Materials’. This meant they used the most appropriate material for any application. In addition, they emphasized the quality of the materials rather than hiding it. For example, the Movement thought it a shame to cover a beautiful oak floor with synthetic oak tiles. Of course, they would not appreciate today’s plastic siding used to imitate wooden boards on a newly built house. For them, it would be deception and not acceptable.

real materials or affordable imitations Paxton Signs cowboy signIn the sign industry, imitations are now its stock-in-trade.

There is a long history of making one material appear to be another. For example, consider rolling a coat of primer onto a wooden panel. By doing this, you have already begun to hide the innate qualities of the wood.
Consider gilded elements that give the false impression of being solid gold. Or, painted drop-shadows and highlights that give the illusion of dimension. In addition, crackle-varnish and stain make a new sign look like a weathered artifact. Interestingly, these imitation techniques are now the stock-in-trade of the sign industry.
real materials or affordable imitations closeup of Paxton Signs cowboy sign

The Movement probably would take a dim view of today’s techniques

No matter how well executed, these faux techniques would not appeal to the Movement. However, as the fine artist adds paint to a canvas until the canvas itself looks like a landscape or portrait, so the sign-maker applies his skills and tools to make a substrate look like something it isn’t.
Real materials or affordable imitations? Ultimately, customers like the affordable substitutes created by a talented sign-maker.

How we made the Cowboy Collectibles sign

Paxton Signs’ faux-weathered wood sign for Cowboy Collectibles in Estes Park, Colorado, is an example of faux wood. The painted sign measures 4’x 6′. The panel is 1/2″ thick, medium density, overlay signboard. We custom-cut it to shape. Then, we prepped the sign board by sealing the edges. Next, we primed it with two coats of premium grade primer. Finish coats are oil based enamel. We hand-painted all lettering, graphic effects, faux finishes and illustrations with oil based sign lettering paint.
See more of Paxton Signs’ imitation and faux techniques on our Pinterest boards at,

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