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Suggestions for a wannabee


New Member
Hi Everyone,
I would really appreciate some input please.
I have had the desire to start a small home based vinyl graphic business for some time now, I want to gain some experience in the industry, but because I work full time , I can't find a place that will bring me on part time.
I know I am asking for trouble if I don't get some experience before buying the equipment and opening up shop.
Any suggestions?
Is there any online training?
Would it be wise to get set up and just start?
Any recomendations would be greatly appreciated.

Barry : :Canada:


New Member
For applying vinyl check out Rob Ivers, he has 3 videos for trainning at;


These can also be bought at gregory1.com

Someone also posted a book "mastering layout" by Mike Stevens


New Member
It would be easy for me to encourage someone like yourself from a distance because it wouldn't have any effect my own business. But, if you lived in my area, I'd be choked that here's yet another person with no experience not only in the most important aspect of the business - design, but even in how to execute the work! I'll bet that the experienced sign shops in your area will not be elated that you've decided to enter thier profession with no experience, and ultimately will have an effect on thier livelyhood.

Out of curiosity, what do you do for your full time work? I have no idea what your circumstances are, but if you really want to enter this business, why not aquire full-time employment at a good sign shop and go from there?

I'm hearing two things:
I know I am asking for trouble if I don't get some experience before buying the equipment and opening up shop.

Would it be wise to get set up and just start?

These two statements seem to be contrdictory. If you know that you are asking for trouble without the experience, doesn't that also mean that you therefore know the answer to your question: "would it be wise to just set up and start?

Based on the fact that you have no experience in the business, I can only say that just jumping in would be the direct opposite of "wisdom".

I don't mean to sound harsh, but this is a nerve that is regularly struck with me. And hey, you asked.

All the best........:cool:


New Member
Graphic Language:

Sure. The short version is, I was a welder/fabricator for 7 years right out of high school. I then sustained a herniated disc in my low back (L4 S1) and this necessitated a career change for me, a scary time. During the 2 years of dealing with the injury, I volunteered at a kid’s camp where a friend of mine (a very talented graphic designer) was heading-up the crafts activities for the boys (making foot-long wooden race cars). Towards the end of the week when it was painting/finishing time, I was asked to paint some numbers & names etc on some of the cars. I had always been kinda artistic and was constantly doodling in class, but never developed this in any way. My friend said, "Hey Col, you're really good at that, you should be a sign painter". At the time I didn't think much of it, but there was a line-up of kids in front of me. (I'd never gotten so much attention!)

Perhaps 6 months or a year later, I was seeing the re-hab guy at Worker's Compensation, and he said, "We see so many people go lax; take a course, anything, we'll pay for it - It'll keep your brain active". So I went to the local College and picked up their course offerings. I saw a course called: "Sign Painting - Basic" and, like a trigger, thought of my friends old comment.

In retrospect, I was incredibly fortunate, because just at that time, and that time only, there was this very good SIGNPAINTER of 25 years changing his career and thought he would offer a course before he hung up his hat. Talk about serendipity! I took the course and absolutely fell in love with it. Others in the class thought that I had done lots of this before, but I had to inform them that I was as lost as anyone. Not long into it, I decided that I really wanted to pursue this as a career. I just loved it. I befriended the instructor and picked his brain constantly. Keep in mind that this was just over 16 years ago when computers were just beginning to be used, and a Gerber 4B was an amazing mind-blowing thing to watch, so I was learning hand-lettering with a quill (brush). This was probably one of the most difficult and at times frustrating things to learn. How did he make it look so easy and fluid? I began to acquire various tools of the trade, and it was through the instructor that I got my first job at a sign shop. Over the next three years I worked at 2 or 3 other good sign shops, then took a full time computer graphics course, worked at yet another sign shop and got really burned by them (him), and decided that it was time to start out on my own. That was 11 years ago. I paid big bucks for Casmate Pro (and subsequent upgrades up to Inspire) and my first plotter was a Roland PNC 1050 sprocket feed (15"). I still have it, as it’s good for cutting long stripes, but got a Summa D750 Pro (30") about four years ago.

Anyhoo, that’s my story in a nutshell.


Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
I think probably most of us here that are operating our own sign businesses entered this profession without working for another sign company. I, for one, started in a spare bedroom, sold two jobs, took out a lease-purchase agreement on a Gerber Signmaker III with $760 first and last payments, took delivery and completed the jobs and never looked back. The question then becomes what are your skills, talents, experiences and motivations, etc.

Some of the things which helped me were:

• Interest and aptitude at typesetting and sign layout
• Interest and aptitude for spelling and language
• Experience with most power tools and carpentry
• High school math, algebra and, especially, plane geometry
• Military and civilian training and experience in computers and electronics
• Business courses
• Business experience as self-employed
• Sales training and experience
• A strong desire to be self-employed
• Most important, I love doing this kind of work

You'll notice that nowhere there does it ever say I can draw or paint or create anything artistic. Yet I not only please my clients with my work and have done it profitably now since 1983, but I also develop and publish saleable clipart collections and have also produced profitable aftermarket products for signmaking.

Artistic talent or training would also be a big plus but I have managed to progress without it.

So do a self-inventory and check off the pluses and minuses. It will then become evident whether entering the business is something you should do and will point out where you need to pay particular attention to acquiring additional skills, contractors or employees.

Graphic Language

New Member
Thanks for the good responses, Colin and Fred.

I've made quite a few career changes in my life (BTW, sign making isn't my thing, but my wife's)... My formal education is in Applied Physics.. Professionally, I've been a Chef, Research Scientist, Network Engineer, and Facilities Manager... now, I'm a part timer in my wife's sweat shop :Big Laugh This is the first biz that I've been involved with were people act like I'm taking food off of their table... some of these comments I hear are worse than the Computer Geeks complaining about their jobs going to 3rd world countries.

Although I agree that you shouldn't jump in head first before looking... Just remember we all started somewhere.


thomas barth

New Member
Go Bryce!

You tell those snobs were to go! We all had to start somewhere. Everyone was an untrained dufus at one time in their life. Your rich background may make you a great signmaker. I think if you required credentials before all existing signmakers could make another sign, there would be a ton of "experts" out of business. Tom 574-825-2323


New Member
Barry.......go for it. Sometimes the best experience is learning on our own. When I started out in '76 I didn't know anything except that I loved to paint signs. I had a gentleman teach me for 4 hours..... How to hold the brush......how to do the upstroke, and I fell in love. I was equally excited about the computer when I got my first plotter etc. . I have not gotten very excited about digital printing yet.


New Member
Then there's me, I worked for a Sign-A-Rama and always felt under-utilized . . . the owner eventually ran the business into the ground, not because it's a bad franchise (it's not) but because he was such an a-hole.

Someone gave me a fistfull of money on sheer trust from my prior dealings with them. I paid the money back in less than a year and have been at it now for about three years on my own . . . I'm so glad I did it!

AutoCAD - Mechanical design
CASMate - Sign-A-Rama
Military - E5 Medic
Business - Retail Manager
College - AAS Technical Graphics & Design
working on BFA


jimdes said:
Then there's me, I worked for a Sign-A-Rama

I'm working at a Sign-A-Rama right now!

I used to work for a woman who had a Signs Now at one time but when I worked for her she had her own shop (a long soap opera like story) .

I absolutely love the sign business! I really feel like it is second nature to me.

Right now my area is production but I would love to do all parts of it, everthing from sales to design to the bookeeping end.

It's not my shop and that is why I have time to watch TV shows (previous thread) The owners are at the shop until 7,8 or 9 most nights.

I used to work at a print shop and for some reason I thought it wouldn't be much different. lol Although that seems to be a hinderance (sp?) because I am a little too concerned about getting the color exactly right. In the print industry PMS colors were everything.

If I had the funds I think I would open my own shop. I think you should go for it OP.


New Member
I started in the 'sign business' a little over a year ago. I have maintained a high work ethic and have had the good fortune to make some great clients. In the short time I have been doing this, I have made back my initial investment of about $6,000.00 a few times over.

My prior experience as a sign maker/designer is zilch, zero, nil, none! My background is BioChemistry/Computer Science.

Best of luck to you


New Member
Great Responses

Hey, thanks to all of you, yes even you Colin.
It is now appearant that I am going to set up a sign shop , right next door to Colin.
I am not going to defend myself against you Colin,I don't see the need and I don't want to waste any unnessesary key strokes.
You too started at a learning stage. Enough said!!!
As for the rest of you , thanks for your great advice, I have put a lot of thought and research into this. (Colin, I didn't wake up this morning and say hey, I want to own a sign shop), It's comments like Colin's that make the journey that much more enjoyable.

I will take all the advice given , and will been seen at a sign shop right next door to Colin, very soon. :Welcome:

Thanks to everyone

Barry :Canada 2:

Bobby H

Arial Sucks.
Bagmo, you can open up a sign shop next to Colin if you like. But if you can't do as good a job designing and building signs, and if the only thing you can offer is a cheaper price, then you're not going to stay in business very long.

Anyone can jump into the sign business if they want to do it. However, it isn't easy and it isn't one of those jobs where you're going to get rich quick doing it.

I've been in the sign business for close to 12 years. The company where I work has been in business for 50 years. We've seen all sorts of sign companies come and go. The companies that last do so by sticking to the fundamentals: visually effective and attractive design, solid and long lasting build quality, prompt customer service.

You'll starve yourself if you just open a shop proclaiming the cheapest prices. There's no shortage of sign shops doing that. The thing that irritates Colin (and me as well) is many of those types of shops build horrible looking junk. I have competitors in my city that really have no talent whatsoever. They're Johnny-come-latelys and they're not going to last. That's kind of unfortunate too. They're sort of convenient to have around. You can send a lot of cheapie-yet-nuisance customers to them.


New Member
Barry, (Bagmo),

It never fails to amaze me how someone can ask for advice and opinions as you have, Quote: "I would really appreciate some input please" and "Any recomendations would be greatly appreciated" and then get upset when they hear something other than "Yes, go for it, do it, you’ll do fine", etc. If you don’t want to hear an opinion that’s contrary to what you want to hear, then don’t ask. You should make it clear that you only want people to say "yes" and you will not appreciate anything else.

You (and some others) have missed my point entirely. The real question is not can I just hang up a shingle and call myself a sign shop, but should I. Of course anyone can do it, there’s no laws against it. Which brings up the point, why are there no laws against it? You can’t just decide tomorrow that you’re an electrician, or a pilot, or a myriad of other professions. Why? Because that would cause a hazard to public safety, so we have all kinds of rules & regulations that prevent people taking on various roles without proper qualification. So, why is this not the case with the sign industry? Well, obviously, nobody’s going to get hurt by an ugly sign. Correct? Well, not entirely. You see, as sign makers, we hold (to a certain degree) the potential for the success or failure of other people’s business efforts in our hands. That’s a considerable responsibility. I don’t see very many businesses with shoddy logos/signage, grow. And the one’s who do have quality logos/signage generally do seem to succeed. I’m not saying the sign industry should be regulated like that, but hopefully you get the point.

So again, the question really is, "Should I start a sign business?"…..because in doing so, you’re basically communicating to all potential customers that you are capable and competent of offering them the professional sign services & solutions that they are seeking in order for them to put forth a professional presentation and not look like a shmuck. If you elect to do so with little or no experience in the trade, then you are doing them a disservice, causing yourself a load of grief, and doing the industry in general more harm than good.
Put it this way: what if you took your prized car in to a body shop for that body & paint job you’ve been saving up for. You’ve left it with them and then find out from someone that they have no real experience in this type of work. They just bought some equipment, rented some space, and will learn as they go. How would you feel? I’m sure none of us would be patting them on the back saying, "I wish you all the best, you go ahead and use my ’32 Coupe as a guinea pig." No. You’d have it back in your possession real quick.

Feels kinda different when you flip it around, huh?

This tired old line of "well, we all had to start somewhere" doesn’t really hold any water, and is an attempt to strike some emotional chord of sympathy and acceptance to everything and everyone. You said: "You too started at a learning stage. Enough said!!!" Yes. Of course. Nobody was born capable of anything. We all had to learn everything we know. The fact is, I started my own business after two courses and then 5 years of experience/employment in established sign shops. I felt that I’d be lying to customers if I opened up shop without a reasonable ability to serve them.

Quote: "I am not going to defend myself against you Colin." Huh? Why on earth would you feel the need to defend yourself when I offered no attack whatsoever? I offered an honest suggestion (to your question) that you acquire some experience first. Perhaps I was looking out for your best interest?

I posted this on another thread a while back, it seems fitting again:

Once, there was a nonconforming sparrow that decided not to fly south for the winter. However, soon the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly started to fly south. In a short time ice began to form on his wings and he fell to earth in a barnyard, almost frozen. Soon after, a cow passed by and deposited a large pile of manure right on the sparrow. The sparrow thought, "Oh this sucks, this is the end for me".

But the fresh manure warmed him and defrosted his wings. Warm & happy and able to breathe, he started to sing. Just then a cat came by, and hearing the chirping, investigated the sounds. The cat cleared away the manure, found the chirping bird and promptly ate him.

The moral of the story:

1. Everyone who appears to crap on you is not necessarily your enemy.

2. Everyone who gets you out of the crap is not necessarily your friend.

Again, I refer back to your original comment: "I know I am asking for trouble if I don't get some experience before buying the equipment and opening up shop". So I’m wondering what changed in 24 hours? You now seem convinced to the contrary.

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