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How Long Have You Been a Signmaker?

How long have you made signs?

  • Never

    Votes: 3 2.3%
  • New and just getting started

    Votes: 13 9.8%
  • Less than a year

    Votes: 9 6.8%
  • One to five years

    Votes: 29 22.0%
  • Five to ten years

    Votes: 23 17.4%
  • More than 10 years

    Votes: 55 41.7%

  • Total voters

Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
How long have you been making signs or, for that matter, whatever graphic product(s) you make if you're not actively making signs?

Jen Goodwin

New Member
I started as a graphic artist at a weekly newspaper in 1988. Cranking out layouts by paste-up and setting type on a Compugraphic Editwriter (the old clunker) Thrown into the world of compter layout in 1990 at the newspaper using Aldus Pagemaker. Then I started working at a sign shop in 1991, hired because I had computer layout skills. Started working as a graphic artist/sign maker at a screenprinting shop in 1994 and starting actually screenprinting, not just setting up the artwork in 2004 when we purchased our garment printing equipment.
There, that is a synopsis of my resume for your viewing pleasure.


New Member
Just entering my third year in business as a part time signmaker. I am actively pursing a full-time transition by positioning myself in the local community. My current day-job is as a mechanical design engineer, working in aerospace (not Boeing). I could care less about commercial aircraft and never even wanted to work in this segment of the industry, but that's what came along after college. After seeing several downturns and facing nearly imminent layoff, I began to pursue the graphic arts industry and got into making signs. I love it and really want to go full-time, even though I do have a good job already, but it is not MINE - which has always been a goal. When I do go FT, I hope to continue using my engineering skills as a resource in the sign industry. If I got my PE (Professional Engineer's) license, I could then sign off structural drawings - which could be another revenue stream.


New Member
I've been making signs "professionally" for about three years but have been creating graphics including signs for almost 20 years in my full time job.


New Member
started as a helper in 75', now it's 27 years as mark z signs. home based, go to shops to do their equipment etc. 20% of the time. Hand paint, air, freehand pinstriping & "lick em stickem" ! need to get an Edge type system, more sales,market driven. oh yeah, Air Reservist sinc 82', out of Andrews....gee will they let me airbrush flames on my flak-vest ? the bdu scheme is too low key ! poor Army. hope they stay safe.


New Member
Started at a SAR back in '97 weeding and bleeding. Been carving by hand with graph paper and carbon paper as a hobby since '84 but not often enough to be considered a professional. Two guilded jobs and still learning hand lettering. Got a big helping hand a few years back and work out of the home now.

Spot Color

New Member

Worked for a very talented sign artist in the late 70s. I then started pinstriping. Had some talent but needed to feed a family. In '86 when the kids were grown and on their own I made the leap. Wow! What a wild ride it has been.

When I moved to this town there were only three other small shops and one BIG commercial shop in the area. They wouldn't even speak to me for 4 yrs. Haahhaha. Now, 16yrs. later, I get along fine with them all. BTW, there are now over 30 shops in the area and several more home based operations. We've got three franchises and a Kinko's and every business card & stationary printer is now in the sign business.

I do love what I do and hope I can continue for another 15 - 20 yrs.



Certified Enneadecagon Designer
When I was a kid I had an oddball neighbor who lettered and pinstripped, a church member also worked where he did and I got to hang around. Later on I started painting windowsplashes for car clubs in socal, and design t-shirts for them surf wear , flyers for punk venues and bands. My real jobs were auto mechanic, pool man, VW performance shop, an Art Center drop-out, I was later hired as an architectural illustrator for an interior designer (he was an original imagineer), he turned me on to themed design. I dropped it all for a job in construction. I was still designing logos, posters and shirts. I quite construction and took a chump job at a one man sign shop and worked my way up to senior graphic designer for an environmental graphic design firm. I have done corporate print design to theme park signage and ride experience at Disney Parks, Warner Bros in Spain, The Henry Ford, Discovery World in Taiwan, Knott's Berry Farm, and Vegas, plus signage packages at various colleges, airports, hospitals and downtown city redevelopments. I also do some page editorial layouts, geurilla graphics, and conceptual architectural elements for various friends in the business. I am currently taking care of my ailing wife and 4 active kids and starting up a design firm specializing in identity and environmental graphics, graphic products and t-shirt line and later posters for events and festivals.


New Member
My dad owned a business for near 20 years and managed someone else's company for about 5 years.

I worked for my dad in the sign business since I was seven years old. I mostly prepped 4x8 MDO plywood blanks. When he managed the other fellows business, I mostly blocked out billboards, prepped 4x8s, did some vinyl graphics (we did vinyl ALL wrong), and I did some "lettering"...fill-in work really...we first projected the letters on the billboards...I never could just letter (signwriting, as it's called).

I think I worked there till I was about 17...then the fellow folded up shop and opened up a jewelery store and sent my dad off to be a jeweler (he's one of the finest jewelers in this area...maybe the best :cool: ).

I tried this biz about 8-10 years ago for 2 years (without a plotter). I'm lousy at sales, lousy at being organized, had no other income and failed miserably. I quit and went to work delivering pizzas.

I'm trying it again (why, I don't know). I've got a plotter (which I bought in August or September of '04) and a job (rolling biscuits at Hardee's--had a lady from Tennessee claim my biscuits were the best she tasted on her way down from there! :biggrin: ). If it flops...oh, well...I'll do something else...my heart's not really in it this time. But this bulletin board makes it nicer, I must say.

After I finish my church's letters, I am going to consider even more deeply whether I really even WANT to do this...but that's a different topic.

Overall, it might have been slightly more than 10 years...but just to be conservative I voted 5-10 years.

If I may ask, is this just sheer curiousity or will you be making use of this info somehow? Just curious.


Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
The polls are just a way to encourage participation and build community. They become more interesting when you put two or more up against eachother but they aren't used in any way and are completely anonymous.

Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
Well, for example, we had a poll regarding gross sales and it pretty much set $70,000 as the halfway mark. Half the responders grossed more and half less. Yet we see from the current poll that 70% of the responders (some different, some the same) have been making signs for more than five years. 85% for more than 1 year.

Put the two together and you get a different picture.

Of course the polling sample is mixed and small so no scientific conclusions can be drawn. But there was a related discussion at Letterville which left me with the impression that the majority of posters in that discussion also grossed less than $70,000.

So if that is a valid conclusion, and considering the expenses that would be taken away from such a low figure, I can only conclude that the majority of individuals in this business are either not making an income at all or they are making less than would support doing it as a fulltime occupation.

Watch for the next poll and see how it may be related.


Jen Goodwin

New Member
Hmm, interesting and valuable information right there...that is why this place is so great! I have thanked you over and over Fred, but I cannot thank you enough for the hand you have had with the knowledge I have gained from 'knowing' you and the direction my business has taken as a result. You have humbled me, taught me cool things about the software that I run, gave me heads up on products and supplies, gave me invaluable information on pricing and marketing, checked out crappy files that customers have sent me :wink:, provide a forum that is second to none where I love to visit everyday, you're just an all around heluva guy. So once again, I find myself needing to thank you and all of my internet buddies at signs 101 that make this place such an incredible forum. :U Rock: Are you feelin' the love?


:unclesam: :Canada 2: :Australia :brittain: :France: :thumb:


Certified Enneadecagon Designer
I have to say this is the most honest group I have seen on any board, willing to give and take suggestions and criticism. Proably even better than my favorite graphic designer board. Fred is a great succesor to Eli, thanks for keeping this great board going.



New Member
Gross sales (if that is what you mean) is one of the most decieving figures I can think of. You can gross a million dollars per year but wind up deeper in the hole with each passing year if you don't understand your expense picture well (prior accounting student here). People put far too much stock in that number (high gross sales: it does the ego good!), imho. I prefer to look at Gross Profit or better yet, cut right to the chase, NET PROFIT. I feel certain most businesses (not mine, I've done ONE job) could determine a close approximation of NET PROFIT for any given sale, month, etc.

Also, I've noticed in myself (and suspect this happens to others) a tendency to want to adjust numbers that would help decieve myself into thinking the business is doing okay. I did it consciously, sort of (the last time I did this biz). I think many owners of failing businesses will try to trick themselves for a bit, hoping things will turn around at sometime in the future. But this is a feeling based on a very few personal experiences...not a fact or data-based analysis.

I enjoy this forum tremendously. Very professional attitudes by participants overall.

Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
I have to disagree with you Southpaw.

In evaluating and comparing similar businesses, gross sales is the best common denominator. From that point, one would next consider gross profit (gross sales minus cost of goods sold). In many businesses the gross profit is then compared against inventory carried to calculate "inventory turns" per year.

The higher the inventory turns the lower the percentage of gross represented by gross profit is acceptable. For example, if I have a grocery store and turn my inventory 24 times a year, I might be very happy with a 25% gross profit. If the same store only turned inventory 12 times a year, then a 50% gross profit margin (attainable through higher selling prices) would be required to produce the same gross profit return on investment.

Net profit is very difficult to compare since it is based on lots of arbitrary expenses that a different owner might not use.


New Member

I'm sorry...gross sales/gross profits does have uses; you make very valid points. I just think it can be deceptive, too. If it's all a person considers, some very damaging decisions can be made. Maybe $1/2 million in annual sales means the owner could expect $27,000 in annual salary, but maybe he thinks he can draw $100,000 per year because he sees that big $1/2 million annual sales number.

Or maybe the annual sales are $70,000 and the owner thinks he should be making a descent living, but, in reality, the owner never seems to have two nickels to rub together for his business or his personal life. He might stay confused or wrongly blame his employees for his troubles (which will cause even more problems), if he looks only at gross sales or gross profit.

In the worse case scenario, the business loses money on every sale, therefore the higher the sales the worse-off the business is if something isn't changed (prices, expenses, business closes, something). My dad was partners in a janitorial company for 6 months. At the end of the six months, they went over the books. I forget what the sales were for that time...say $10,000. Dad went over everything and determined that they had lost $5000 (I think that was the figure) over the 6 months. Dad told them that they would have been better off to have taken $5000 and throw it in the garbage because at least, in that case, they wouldn't have had worked so hard. They thought he was nuts because they could only see the gross sales amount. He left the partnership immediately.

Now, a person who knows about inventory turn-over, etc. (stuff, which, honestly I have completely forgotten), isn't likely to be decieved by their gross sales number and will use the information properly.

Just some thoughts...and you might still disagree...and what I say is based mostly on how I FEEL when some people talk about their gross sales numbers and a few other instances, perhaps...it isn't based on years of running a sucessful business, which you have done.

Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
Well they're all important but each has a different use.

Gross sales, to me, is important in evaluating whether or not the business has the wherewithall to even justify itself. At $70K we are talking about a one man shop .... work from home or small industrial building. There is general consensus that you can afford one employee for every $100K a year you gross. Materials will fall in somewhere around 20% - 25% of gross sales unless you are painting vehicles and windows for a living. That leaves $52.5K. Then you get to fixed overhead and consumables. Work from home and have a following so you don't have to spend for advertising and you might have $45K before taxes which will provide a below middle class standard of living for a family of four.

So if you are evaluating on the basis of gross sales and you look at a figure of $70K you know immediately that sales must be increased. It has nothing to do with gross profit because you already know what your materials should average in at as a percentage. It certainly has nothing to do with net profit because that is totally at the discretion of the owner as to what he buys in the name of his business.

If I am evaluating a business, be it my own or one I may be thinking of buying, the first thing I want to know is gross sales. This is a strong measure of how well the business has already been developed. I then look at gross profit simply to insure that the gross sales were made at prices that were satisfactory. If I examine net profit, it is only from the point of view of examining what the various expenses and fixed overhead of the business are .... and where they might be improved upon.

For example, I might look and see that a business grossing $250K was spending $36K a year in the Yellow Pages and was located in an industrial area which was costing them $9K a year in rent. This might cause me to consider reducing the Yellow Pages to $1K a year and moving the business into a retail setting at $30K a year. This would result in $14K going straight to the bottom line and might well increase sales volume at the same time.

In another example, with the same general numbers but in a retail setting, one might look at it and see that important business wasn't being accepted where the addition of an electrical sign contractor's permit could increase business or a wide format inkjet to bring in lots of banner business.

Not sure if you will see the points I'm trying to make.

The gross sales is the big picture on which you evaluate the overall success and general value of a business. The gross profitability is an insurance check appropriate pricing and margins are being used. The schedule of expenses, is the tool one would then use, if sales and gross profit are acceptable, to determine what changes might be needed to either increase sales and/or increase net profits.


New Member
I wonder if we might be talking apples and oranges, sort of. What you describe sounds like an educated businessman who understands financial information; I am talking about business owners who don't understand financial information.

I guess I made an overly broad statement at first; Gross Sales isn't necessarily a deceptive number, but I think it can be if it isn't considered as part of a more complete financial picture.

Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
Any component of a financial statement can be misleading if taken out of context to the content of an entire P & L statement.

I'll give you and example. The typical advertising expense percentage one should strive for (after initial campaigning) is usually around 5%. Rent should not exceed 10% and preferably is closer to 5%. But if you looked at my statements, you would find rent too high and advertising too low. This due to a calculated decision to locate in a retail plaza.

If you take the two expenses together, however, they are in line. Locating in an Office Depot anchored center with very visible signage has created excellent walkin traffic sufficient to forego any form of paid advertising beyond a one inch in-column listing in the Yellow Pages.

What I'm saying is once you understand a business and have built it to a profitable level, your financial statements can provide invaluable information to correct problems and to make decisions so as to continue growing. It is your primary intelligence information on the health and the needs of your enterprise.