Outside Sign Materials Help



I'm painting a 4 X 8 Sign going on the outside of a building. I'm purchasing preprimed MDO. My question is, what type of paint should I use for the background color and the lettering? Flat, exterior, high gloss, types?? Also, I was thinking of rolling some polyurethane on it when I was done, even though I think I don't need to, just to better protect it...yes? Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

Is this your very first sign you have ever done? If not, then you should have brushes (flats, cutters, and fitches) and lettering and bulletin enamels in stock.

If this is your very first sign you have ever done by hand, I would suggest subbing this out to someone in your area who still does hand lettering.

Unless the customer specifically requested a hand painted sign, I would go the vinyl route. It would be fun to get the brushes out and do some hand painted prismatic lettering and 3-d shadings, but you would have to charge a ton to make it worth your while. (Pride don't pay the bills.)

Also, don't put a top coat of poly on the finished product whatever you decide to do. A good quality paint and / or vinyl doesn't need it, it does more harm than good.


I'm an Artist, hand draw portraits. Yes, this is my first sign, they want it hand painted. I'm just trying to find out what kind of materials to use, paint, brushes..that's it.

Thank you


Major Contributor
...don't use the MDO use Alumalite.
If you must use MDO seal the hell outta the edges using titebond 2 wood glue, then primer.
I also re-prime the pre-primed MDO.
I prefer using an oil-based background, especially if vinyl lettering is going to be applied.
Typically I use Ronan's bulletin enamel.
For the lettering, you should use some good lettering enamel, such as Ronan.
But in a pinch, I have used Rustoleum.
There is no need to clear-coat, if anything, this will break down before the other paint does.
I know a few good sign painters in your neck of the woods.
OK , well then.

1) Exterior primer ( I used exterior latex, like Kilz 2, works good and dries fast and sands good). Even if the MDO is primed I would suggest priming it. 1 quart at around $15.00 - 20.00.

2) Finish coat alkyd - Difference of opinions on bulletin enamel or high quality alkyd - $20 - $30 a quart.

3) Lettering enamels - half pints to quarts depending on what you need - $12 - $30 each depending on colors. You could save a dollar or two and use bulletin enamels but the quality is not the same.

4) A couple of foam rollers for applying the primer and then the finish coat, miscellaneous rags, thinners, caulking for the edges of the MDO, sandpaper, roller handle - Probably $30 - $40.

4) Quill or flats for the lettering (your artist brushes won't work on this, well I guess you could but they're not designed for this) - $100 for a few high quality brushes

5) Not necessary but helps - a projector to layout your scaled design on the board. Cut in and paint.

6) Time needed to recoat any colors that need it. Allow a couple of days for the alkyd topcoat to dry thoroughly before you attack it with paint that you've thinned down so you don't get crackling paint.

So at this point you've got around $175.00 - $200 invested (not counting what you paid for your MDO, design time, meeting with the customer, getting your deposit, going to paint store, delivering the sign, installing the sign with proper fasteners (4' x 8' MDO is heavy, you may need a helper for at least an hour), waiting around to get the final amount due (the wife will probably have the checkbook and she's at her mother's house for a few days, it may be all week and they'd rather not pay with a credit or debit card because they save that for important purchases) and ALL your labor.) Figure your price accordingly. Don't forget any permits needed. Good luck.


Too late, we just went and bought MDO pre primed. We also bought exterior flat paint for the lettering. They bought all the materials, not me. They're just paying me to paint the signs. Thanks so much for the help.



Major Contributor
JVIOLA...........can i say your an idiot? $150-200 A SIGN???? sorry if you dont like what i said, but THIS WHY THEY WANT YOU DO THE SIGNS.........CHEAP!!!
1. ok you got preprimed MDO. RE-PRIME IT WITH KILZ OIL BASE, not KILZ 2!!!!!!!
2. take all that FLAT PAINT.....back where they bought it!!!! i guess this is your 1st sign.GLOSS ENAMELS IS WHAT YOU WANT!!!! you aint paintin a wall in you living room!!!!
3.top coat the MDO like jill said, OR if you got a auto body shop friend, have him spray paint it with AUTOMOTIVE ACYLIC ENAMEL. this will out last any paint.
4. let me just lay the pricing on you 1 MORE TIME. @$100 you are getting $3.12 A SQUARE FOOT for you TALENT! @$200 you are getting $6.40 sq. ft. MOST OF US WHO DO HAND PAINTING.....get MINIMUM OF $10 SQ FT. and that is just for simple lettering. pictorial art COST MORE.


Premium Subscriber
Hey, c'mon people... ya gotta start somewhere.

He'll get the hang of it... eventually. Until then, just come here, ask questions and then go do as you want anyway.

jv.... just out of curiosity, why did you post some serious questions just before 9am and although you had some good recommendations and answers very quickly, by 11:30 ya just went out and blew your wad on some serious no/no's ??


Major Contributor
I will say politely, you are way in over your head...The advice you have been given above is correct. You will not be able to provide a lasting quality product going the route you are taking. Good luck.


"You will not be able to provide a lasting quality product......."

On the other hand, the customer WILL get what he is paying for.


Makin Chip$ and Havin Fun!


Major Contributor
kilz.com website says Kilz oil based is interior only. It says so right on the can and has for the last 20 years.
I have been painting MDO SIGNS since 1986........and primed them all with KILZ OIL BASE. never had a failure))))))))))))
i have painted over the KILZ oil base, with automotive acyrlic enamel. gloss rustoleum, oil based paint made by MOBILE PAINT called NAM-A-LAC, gloss latex, and couple with semi gloss latex........NEVER had a problem with peeling.


Very Active Member
what all Jill said to prepare was spot on. But you already got the mdo and you got the flat paint for the background at this point just carry on and try to correct the next one


Wow, some attacks on me. Well, first off, I asked questions in here to try and get the right answers. This job is for my neighbor, who is my good friend who recently did some favors for me so that's why I'm not too concerned about how much. Income is tight now, so to pass on any money as opposed to none, wouldn't be wise either.

These two signs are up on the side of a brick building, so high you need a bucket truck, so they are able to be viewed close up for detail. I went with my friend to the store, and he's kind of on a budget as well, so he bought, exterior flat paint, which is the same type of paint you would use to paint your house, correct? I didn't have time to go over all the posts on here with him and try and decide what he wanted to get, he was kind of in a rush yesterday. I guess I could understand if this sign was 5 feet in front of you as everybody walked by and it had to look fantastic. It's a 4 X 8 sign that the closet a person will get to it is 30 yards away and 40 feet up. Maybe it's my fault for not being more specific. It's not something they want to be extravagant, they just want them up so when people drive by they can see the signs on the building. I thought if I had him buy glossy shiny paint it would reflect the sun and not look right.
I guess I'll know for the next time and when it's a real customer, I certainly won't do it for nothing. We didn't really even go over price, I'm sure a few hundred a sign would be something I wouldn't haggle over.
I've done work in the past for them and they've paid me very well, actually alot more than they probably should've. For all I know, I'll finish the signs and they might give me $500 a sign.
I appreciate the help, really. Being an idiot I don't think falls into the topic at all here.



Major Contributor
...the reason to not use flat is that it's a pain in the @ss for you to paint on. It has a drag to it that slows everything down, and if you make one little mistake you can't easily wipe it off. It costs what, less that $5 additional to get gloss or semi-gloss?

And yes, $500 is about right for a hand-painted MDO 4'x8', as a base price.

And I dunno about you, but even though the old sign painter remark is "are you gonna smell that sign?" (meaning it will look OK from 50 feet away) has never been "good enough" for me. Maybe I'm a perfectionist.


Premium Subscriber
jv, this is not meant at you directly, so please don’t feel you are being attacked, but it is your thread and if we can help other people in the future, when reading this thread, we must put out all the facts.

First of all…neighbor, friend or relation to you is no excuse to do a sub-par job, just because you didn’t collect your facts beforehand and try to do a more professional job. Your not researching the facts and doing whatever you thought is rather inconsiderate of your customer and could cost them in the long run.

As Jill pointed out and some others, saying a sign is too far away to be concerned with detail or other elements is just another excuse to do sub-par work. You always do your best. If doing sub-par work is all you can do, then so be it. However, with a site like this at your fingertips, there is no reason anyone calling on this site would or could do any less than professional work.

I was taught long ago, not to use flat paint for one reason. All paint eventually oxidizes and once it starts, it all becomes flat looking, so why start with paint that looks half worn out ?? As for drag and varieties of flat paint…. that is also true.

As for a real customer, you are a fool if you don’t treat someone who is a good friend as a good customer. In my book, that is totally wrong and you should probably tell him you screwed up and get the right supplies and do it right, now that you know you’re doing it wrong.

You will have no future… in anything…… if you continue your present course of not doing good when you have the chance and the ability to do so and choose being lazy and making silly excuses for it.

Idiot ?? Maybe not, because I think you do know right from wrong, only time will tell. :noway: