Fundamentals of Good Sign Design

May 18, 2023 | Sign design and layout | 0 comments

We’ve all seen poorly designed signs, banners and vehicle wraps. Usually, they’re busy, packed with too much information and have inappropriate colors and graphics. Sadly, they serve as a reminder that simply wanting to be a sign maker or graphic designer doesn’t always mean you are one. What’s missing? The fundamentals of good sign design.

The fundamentals of good design

We use five basic design “rules” to create attractive and effective communication art: contrast, color, balance, fonts and art elements.

Usually, signs and vehicle graphics are seen by people driving or walking by. So, it’s important that signs are easy to read at a glance. By keeping all design elements simple, organized, and using color and contrast, a well-designed sign will not only stand out, it will be remembered.

Contrast: Below, the black and white “contrast” example shows how effective contrast is. No doubt, you can see why it grabs attention. White on black, or the combination of any intense light and dark colors, works well to create interest and draw attention.

good design starts here exampleBalance and spacing: good design will make use of both positive and negative space. Basically, positive space is letters and images. Negative space includes everything around and in between. Unfortunately, the most common design mistake is cramming too much information into a design, leaving no room for contrast, let alone organization, balance or font and art element spacing.

Catchy colors, happy customers!

Color is probably the most enjoyable, yet challenging, aspect of sign design. Along with contrast, color harmony has a significant impact on a sign’s effectiveness. Color evokes emotional responses. For example, red is powerful, exciting, passionate, and daring. Whereas, blue evokes calmness and relaxation, peace, and security.

Of course, there IS a right and a wrong way to use colors. Enter: the color wheel! (See the example shown.) The wheel is a designer’s most valuable tool. Once mastered, the color wheel takes all the guessing out of color decisions. For more info, see:

A few words about fonts

Font selection can make or break a sign design. We like to use different fonts that look good together. For example, we like to use a heavier font with thinner font(s). But, not too many! Usually, we use one font for the main message and another for a sub or secondary message. Maybe a third for minor mentions. However, we never use more than three fonts per sign.

About kerning – the space between letters. It’s an important design consideration, since all letters are not the same. Some are thin (i,l,J) and others thick (A,B,C,M,O,Q,S, etc.) They sometimes need to be sized and spaced for maximum effectiveness.

Of course, there are hundreds of fonts – actually, thousands. Some are extremely ornate, while others are the essence of simplicity. Check out the variety at this font site:

Good sign design makes a difference

Below, is a Paxton sign that achieves all aspects of font use and good sign design: contrast, color, balance, fonts and art elements. It’s balanced and has interest. There’s the right amount of positive and negative space without crowding the text. Additionally, it’s finished off with a pleasing background shape, a faux leather background, and includes interesting art elements. Then, to finish, it’s set atop a faux stone base.

Well-designed signs should be visually pleasing. So, if you follow the five basic rules of contrast, color, balance, fonts and art elements, the end result will be a sign that communicates effectively. Today, after 42 years in the sign business, we can confidently guarantee beautifully designed and high-quality signs and vehicle graphics. We’d love to talk with you about your next sign! Contact us at 970-221-5519

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