Thoughts about Mentoring newbies...


New Member
Just a thought of what some people think. I am a newbie, been just doing race cars, not much training. I have learned a lot over the past couple weeks working with a more experienced designer. There are a lot of things that I would like to learn in the trade, and would love to visit with some shops in my area. Just to watch and learn and ask STUPID questions. Has anyone ever done this, are there any pros or cons. I, unfortunately can't go work for someone to learn because of my other business, but could take a couple hours off during the week and visit while they were working, and try to learn. I just wondered if anyone ever did this or would be willing. Not just for me, I know there are a lot of newbies out there that would like to learn the trade in all different areas of the country. Thanks again.

Arthur Hermiz


New Member
I too would be totally into something like this. I was out of the Sign industry for about 12 years before getting back into it in 2008. Things have changed ALOT in those 12 years!

Unfortunately, aside from a single shop that was kind enough to let me use their Laminator last summer, I have had no luck networking with other shops. Everyone seems worried that you are going to come in and steal their business. The suppliers in the area aren't much help either. The only time they show any interest is when you mention your planning on a large purchase. The company that sold us our VP-540 promised all sorts of training and support, none of which materialized after they charged my Visa card for the printer. Very frustrating.

So, if anyone in the Metro Vancouver area is open to networking/mentoring, please, give me a call!


There would have to be something in it for me otherwise why would I?

The n00b should offer some cheap labour at the very least otherwise why would an established business train up potential competition.


New Member
This sounds like an opportunity for a retired sign person. On site consultation. The big question is: would you pay for such a service.

Dave Drane

New Member
Hey guys, please don't be discouraged.. I myself was one of those people who were not prepared to share knowledge. Back in 1965 when I left high school to start an apprenticeship in the big city which invovled very little money for 5 years learning and being treated like dirt, but the end result was you got your papers to become a "TRADESMAN" was the icing on the cake. When people would ask me how to do things of course I would say "go find out yourself" do it the hard way like I did. In the "old days" every last letter and word was layed out with chlk, charcoal or pencil on a background and great skill was required to make it fit a space at a given height and length, where sometimes a few tricks were used to make it fit.
Centre, left and right hand justified were just not heard of, as was fonts, they were called "styles" and every signwriter was known by his personal hand written signs. Using sticky tape at the top and bottom of "chalk lines" was considered cheating but it saved much time. Also much of the work had to be "second coated" to get full coverage of colour.
In 1985 I purchased a Gerber 4A computer which my mate told me "would not make my coffee or put the trestles up" but I found it to be a worthwhile investment. "fonts" were $500 each to buy which made it very important when doing a job to make sure it paid for itself. I think it was a year later that I invested in an Apple 2E which allowed me to buy a "design station" which iI could use to hand digitize logos or anything I wanted. It was a major task to get it right or see the mistake every time it was cut. After digitizing a job you were able to have morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea while it was "computing". BUT it was worth it because there was no more laying out stuff or second coating. I just tested it making it cut ½" Murray bold just to listen to it sing and dance just for fun. BTW I sacked the guy I had working for me 2 weeks after I purchased this amazing machine. It was not drunk on Monday mornings and did exactly which was "punched" into it. I loved it like my baby and still have it after all my mates sold theirs off to go upmarket. Believe it or not I still use it to this day to make pounce patterns and cut scotchlite.
Now that I am old and cranky I have got over the "newbie thing" and I would be very happy to see you young guys get ahead, as you don't have the same opportunities I had (even though they were bad) and I am sorry but I think you can embrace the next stage of the "trade" better than I can as I would rather grab an air brush in preference to doing tests for color correctness in digital printing.
I can see by your posts that you are willing to go the hard yards to learn this trade and I hope you both make it and if I can offer you any help I would but in the modern era you are most likely already miles ahead of me. I am a dinosaur! All I can say which has said many times here befor, to help you with layout is to buy the Mike Stevens book "Mastering Layout" read it 3 times and then read it back again with every design you do and keep it handy to re-read it when a problem comes up.
Good luck guys!!


New Member
Not sure how the business is in your area but around here we have the small one man shops and the big full services shops and nothing in the middle. The one man shops are (and I am one of those) are struggling to find work due to the amount of small shops and the weak economy so they would be heasitant to help some one else start another shop to compete for the little work we have. The big shops treat us like we are a bunch of hacks with nothing to offer them to improve thier bottom line so hanging out is not going to happen. Finding a shop that could use some part time help would be your best bet. You have some skills they can use and you can both get something out of it. I would not approach who ever you ask for a part time job by telling them you are there to improve your own business, but that you enjoy the business and want to be a part of it. Stay with this if you can find work as long as you can and learn as much as you can. I mentor students as part of my full time job and mentoring can be rewarding to tranfer the knoweldge to the youg folks entering the workforce. But there is a benifit to both parties in this and you need to add something on your part to who ever is teaching you, and by working for them this will happen.


New Member
I have always thought it would be neat to find a nice location where I might want to visit for a week or two and work for free to learn a little hands on from one of the many talented folks on here.

I think it would be nice to step into a non-threatening (non-compete) work environment to observe a different production environment. I am sure I would learn one or two time tested tricks or methods that would make the experience worthwhile. And maybe it would free up the time for the host to concentrate on a project he or she has had a hard time devoting a significant amount of time on.

Just a thought -



Active Member
Lots of potential issues with your scenerio Arthur.
I did have such a situation once, a guy that wanted to get into the business answered a help wanted ad and was upfront about eventually wanting his own shop. He worked Saturdays for awhile as a paid employee, don't know how useful it was for him but it seemed to work out OK.
I've also assisted other local sign shops with advice/materials and some have worked out OK anb others tried to steal customers, so it's a risk.

UFB Fabrication

New Member
When I got into the Sign Biz it was still a art. Everything was done by hand and it was a trade not a job. I worked for nothing for almost a year and dug a lot of holes and coated a lot of boards and never passed a trash can without emptying it. I was also called shop boy, sport and so on and really paid my dues. Fast forward to know and I own my own shop. I had a customer that was new in the business that had worked at franchise joint and quit to go on his own. He was having us cut out some letters and was asking how to drill and tap the holes, make the pattern and so on. Each time he came with a new project it was clear he was getting a free schooling. I asked him if he wanted to stay and help with some projects and get some hands on training and help the guys. He declined and said he did not have time. The next time he was in I asked again and he said no and I told him his free education was over. While waiting for something I went out in the shop and he was pimping our foreman for info and I thru his azz out and told him not to come back. He must have tried that with a few other shops and they were even quicker than I was. I saw a month ago he had closed his shop and sold all his stuff on craiglist. The moral of the story is it cost money to go to college so dont expect something for nothing.

Craig Sjoquist

New Member
SIGN SCHOOL ...This what they are for swallow your pride and go to SCHOOL


Excuse this may sound a bit harsh but that's what schools are for and for those who are unable to go to school .. you read


New Member
Leverage your new found relationships with your sign supply dealers. They want you to be successful and will train you in almost every aspect of your sign business. They will not always be available or easy to get, but with a lot of squeaky wheel-ness you can get a wealth of knowledge out of your local sign equipment dealer....after make money....they make money.

Spend some time at your local branches, take the technician out to will be amazed how much you can pickup.

Fill in the gaps by researching on the internet and this site.

Good Luck

Circleville Signs

New Member
I agree with much of what is said in this thread. If someone from OUT OF MY AREA wants to come spend a day or two - that's great. Otherwise, if you are in my area - figure it out on your own somehow.

I don't know why this is so hard for people to understand. I had a phone call from an HVAC company who is across the street from us. We have never done any of their work. They have a company from 40 miles away do it. Anyways, they call me yesterday. They are removing lettering from one of their vans. They ask me the best way to do it. I explained that unfortunately I couldn't help the without charging a minimum of 1 hour labor. She got very upset. I asked her what would happen if I called them and said "Listen - I am trying to fix my furnace. Can you just tell me the best way to do it?".

She hung up.



New Member need to learn about things like the Letterheads, trade magazines (like SIgnCraft), and go to sign conventions. They'll have hands on demos and classes you can attend. The Letterheads is an informal collection of the old school sign guys, and they have meets, large & small, throughout the country, where you can meet somma the most fascinating people you'll ever come across, who are generous with their time & information, and would be more than happy to teach a newcomer the tricks of the trade.

If you wanna come out here, spend a week, and learn the wrong way to do this THAT, I can learn ya!!!

Skrew anyone who won't share with someone else!


New Member
Education is never free. Or so they say, but consider.....

If you have people in the business who are willing to share ideas, man jump on that! Take them out to lunch. Buy them a fifth. Whatever.

It's so much easier today than when I began. Geez, you've got two major sign publications that have tons of how-to's, you've got tutorials on the web in printed form, you've got youtube videos that show you step by step.

I can scarcely believe this thread.


The shop I worked at in high school let a guy come in and learn how to print caps. He claimed he was going to have us print transfers for him and he would sell them at hunting event. He paid like $500 to come in and watch for a couple of weeks, and pretty much be a lacky. Well I noticed him checking out all the sign stuff too. Next thing we knew he open up a SIGN shop and was still wanting us to print cap transfers for him.
The guy wasn't in biz very long, he is the type that can only hold a job for six months before he thinks it is below him. Luckily for him his wife's dad is loaded.

BTW, that is who I bought my first Gerber Sprint from when I started my own shop.

Moral of the story, NO I would not show anyone my hard earned tricks and tips, unless they where from another part of the country, at least 200 miles from our shop.

Fred Weiss

Merchant Member
I can scarcely believe this thread.

I have to agree. Certainly everyone's entitled to see it like they see it but I've always been ready and willing to share information and help a fellow sign maker out. A chestnut I heard years ago seems appropriate ...

It's hard to stab a guy in the back today when you broke bread with him yesterday.

In my area, I not only have dozens of good friends who are technically competitors, but the local network of sign guys and gals functions very well. Need 10 feet of periwinkle vinyl? Need to partner on a job that's too big? Need help on an install? Just need some advice? No problem.

The upside of being friendly competitors at the local level is huge and in 27 years I can count the bad experiences I've had or heard about on the fingers of one hand and still have a thumb and pinkie to spare. If I needed to find a low baller in Palm Beach county, frankly I'd have to ask around because I don't know of any. Our networking has repaid all of us many, many times over.

In my time I've taught literally hundreds of people to cut and weed and apply vinyls. Helped a lot of others get or keep their equipment running. I can only recall two in 27 years who ever disrespected that. I can recall many who repaid the gesture with friendship, returned favors and in helping our local sign community prosper.

So Arthur, I think you should reach out in friendship and see what happens. There's lots to gain and little to lose. You might end up starting something good in your area and find your mentor in the process. And if you're ever down this way, stop on in and I'll put you to work. :rolleyes:


New Member
That's not the situation in most markets.

In most areas finding a handful of good shops who charge sane prices is harder every year.

If everyone sought to keep a reasonable level of profitability in the industry then maybe sharing expertise would be viable.

UFB Fabrication

New Member
This kinda reminds me of a Ex customer who had me meet them on the jobsite and look at the project as it was out of their expertise. I helped them with design, engineering, shop drawings and finding a decent installer. A month or so goes by and I see the installer putting the sign up. I stopped and asked who they were doing it for. I twas the guy I met. I asked him why he bought from someone else and he said they were 300 bucks cheaper. I told him next time when he needs help he can have the guy fly in and meet him and take him to school.

As for getting info from supply houses at least in our portion of the biz they still sell parts that have not met NEC and UL requirements for at least 5 years.


Certified Enneadecagon Designer
I would have no problems mentoring a newbie or my "competition"... I was mentored and was paid for it. I don't fear them as competition because I have to think that my years in the business has to mean something, and that one thing is that it would take them years to be my real competition, plus, without my "competition", I would only have half the work I have now through referrals and freelance work, and I return the favor all the time.