Taking the Right Route

2015 July Whitepaper

It’s a safe bet that while driving to work on any given day, you encounter dozens, maybe hundreds, of signs. It’s also a pretty safe bet that most of the signs fail to register with you since they’re such a common feature of our landscape. From business identifiers to wayfinding and compliance signage, visual communications are literally everywhere. But with so many signs competing for the attention of passersby, is it possible to differentiate, to make yours stand apart?

That’s the million dollar question because strong visual communications are very important. Signs attract potential clients, build name recognition and reinforce marketing efforts. Signage also educates and informs. And if it serves no other purpose, signs can simply be aesthetically pleasing.

This is especially true when sign makers begin to think outside of the traditional box. So often, we see signs that are square or circular and have a general lack of distinction due to tired design features and standard coloration. But that doesn’t have to be the case. For businesses and individuals that want to create something truly unique to represent their most important assets, routed signage is the perfect option.

What is routed signage?

One of the most appealing aspects of routed signage is that the signs can be manufactured in any shape—literally, any shape. Routed signs, like many other sign types are often produced in the standard rectangular, square, oval and circular shapes. This may be due to the fact that these standard configurations tend to be viewed as more appropriate for business advertising, or perhaps it’s because the general public is unaware that routed signage can be created in any shape that your imagination can conjure up.

If you really want to stand out from your competition or just get recognized in a competitive landscape, consider opting for routed signage in a unique shape. Besides your standard circles and squares, triangular or octagonal signage are distinctive options. To really set yourself apart visually, consider having your sign rendered in the shape of a diamond or a star. And if you really want to stand out from everyone else around, speak with a design specialist about creating a truly unique sign for your business or personal use. Signage can be designed and cut in the shape of geographical features, hearts, animals, abstract objects or anything else that you can think of.

Shield shapes are another popular option for many businesses. Shields lend an air of authority, trust and professionalism to any business. And the best part is, your business doesn’t have to be involved in the military or law enforcement fields; you don’t have to be Medieval Times either! Shield and crest-shaped signs look great for businesses that specialize in the automotive industry, sporting, education and banking. They’re also a great idea if you’re in the superhero business.

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Those are just a few of the unique shapes that can be routed to create your one-of-a-kind signage. And if you prefer to stick with a standard shape, don’t forget that routed signage still looks great with your unique message and wording. Signs can be carved to depict your logo, motto, contact information or any other wording that will identify your business and what you bring to the marketplace. Additionally, routed signs can be rendered in any color, from natural wood finishes to neon pink. They can even be finished using a variety of options that will give your signage a completely different feel.

Routed signage, although a great option for any type of organization or company, isn’t just for businesses. Routed signs, especially those rendered in natural woods, are a great complement to any backyard paradise or home interior. Have one carved with your family name and address for a beautiful entryway addition, or get one for your garden that features a bright slogan and some colorful flowers. They even look great in outdoor patio and bar areas, featuring sayings like “Free Beer Tomorrow” or “Sit Long, Talk Much, Laugh Often.” Whatever text or images will lend the perfect atmosphere to you outdoor or indoor area can be routed into signage in your choice of material and finish.

Which materials can be used to create routed signage?

There are many different substrates to choose from when creating routed signage. Some materials such as softer woods are easy to work with, whereas materials like stainless steel can be difficult to cut properly without a high level of skill and adequate practice. Regardless of the type of material that you choose for your routed sign, a trained signage professional can assist you in making an appropriate choice and designing your finished product.

  • Wood
    • Solid wood: Natural, solid woods are a perfect material for routed signage and can be used to create intricate patterns and designs. Hardwoods such as ash, cherry and mahogany, as well as softer woods such as pine, spruce and cedar are all well suited to the task.

    • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF): MDF is made by converting wood chips into fibers that are then combined with a wax or resin binder and formed into panels through the application of extreme temperatures and pressure. MDF is a popular product in the signage industry because the product is uniform throughout.

    • Plywood/HDO/MDO: Plywood is an engineered wood that works well for routed signage due to its resin binders that are resistant to moisture, bugs, and extreme temperatures. Medium-density overlay (MDO) and high-density overlay (HDO) are hardwood plywoods with resin-soaked fiber overlays between the veneer layers and on both surfaces. Plywood’s large size, as well as its strength-to-weight ratio and dimensional stability, make it an ideal material in the signage industry.

  • Plastic

    • Expanded PVC: Expanded PVC sheets are extremely popular in the signage industry because they are lightweight, tough, stable and easy to work with. Routers cut through the material easily, leaving perfectly finished edges. And since the sheets are available in a variety of colors, many times they don’t require the extra step of being painted. o Acrylics: Versatile and durable, acrylic sheets are another great signage option. Sheets come in a variety of thicknesses and colors and can be finished and polished using specialized router bits.

    • Polycarbonates: Polycarbonates are ideal for long term, outdoor use and have excellent resistance to impact, heat, cold, staining and chemicals. They also can be cut easily using a router but often require additional finishing processes, as edges do not finish as cleanly as with acrylic materials.

    • Sign foam: Sign foam is available in thick, easily-routed sheets, making it ideal for use in creating dramatic three-dimensional routed signage. This material has become increasingly popular in the visual communications industry because it can be used to create complex, vivid images that pop off the substrate.

  • Metal

    • Aluminum: Aluminum, as well as honeycomb aluminum, are popular materials for routed signage because they are extremely weather resistant and easily recyclable. However, working with aluminum requires special CNC router bits, and it must be cut at a slower rate than other substrate materials.

    • Other: Other metals such as brass, copper, bronze and mild and stainless steel are also routable but are considerably more difficult to work with.

  • Composite

    • Aluminum/Plastic: Aluminum and plastic composite materials are another common router substrate. With a lightweight and moisture-resistant plastic inner and an aluminum outer surface, it is a perfect product for sign production.

One of the most popular materials currently on the market for creating dimensional routed signage is high-density urethane (HDU) foam board. It is a rigid but can be easily machined, increasing the possibility of creating intricate designs and limiting the likelihood of design defects. HDU was originally designed as a rigid form of insulation for refrigeration units and as flotation for boat hulls, as well as a core and stiffener in fiberglass and composite fabrication. HDU is strong and has a great resistance to weathering, making it a great medium for signage fabrication, as opposed to wood, which can have a tendency to rot, warp or swell. High-density urethane foam board is very easy to shape and will take almost any finish, making it an ideal choice for stunning routed signage.

What’s the process for fabricating a routed sign?

The process for creating routed signage basically consists of taking blank sign material and creating images, lettering and borders by producing either raised or recessed areas in the raw material. While there are numerous methods for achieving this effect, including carving or routing by hand, CNC routers are one of the most cost effective and efficient means. The basic process for creating a sign via CNC router is as follows:

1. Creative: The first step in creating a routed sign involves working with a design expert to create the right visual for your needs. Based on your unique requirements, the designer can design a one-of-a-kind sign that fits in with the rest of your existing signage or create a single sign that will help you stand out from your competitors.

2. Programming: Unless your signage is being routed by hand, a process that is predominantly seen in smaller sign shops, the design’s specifications will need to be loaded into a computer program that will be interpreted by the CNC router. The specific program that design center’s use can vary depending on the make and model of the router or an individual center’s preference. The design can usually be further manipulated within the routing software to create layered three-dimensional shapes. Additionally, some CNC routers are run by a dedicated controller as opposed to a computer and software.

3. Production: Routed signs can be cut from any number of materials, from wood to foam to certain types of metal. The sign blank, or raw material, is placed onto the router’s cutting bed and positioned to be cut. Depending on the type of router being used, the signage material will be secured using either a T-slot or a vacuum, both of which have distinct advantages and drawbacks. Although there are other methods for securing substrates to the cutting bed, those are the two most common methods. The raw material is then cut using various router bits along the X-, Y- and Z-axes. The bits turn rapidly to carve the material and create the finished sign.

4. Finishing: Once the sign has been routed to completion, many will need to be finished in one manner or another. Depending on the sign’s purpose or where it will be displayed, finishing options include painting, lacquering, staining or applying gold leaf, among others. Additionally, routed signs that will be exposed to outdoor elements will need to be sealed to protect them from sun and weather damage.

Shape your future with Image360

As traditional printed signage becomes more and more commonplace and dynamic digital begins to dominate the market, routed signs are a great option for making your visual communications stand out amongst your competitors. Now is the time to discover three-dimensional routed signage and the ways in which it can improve your brand image. If you’re ready to increase your market impact with new signage and graphics, contact Image360 today. Our specialists are intent on not simply meeting, but exceeding your expectations. As a result, youll work with highly-motivated experts, backed by the newest technologies and supported with the latest materials and techniques. As a national network with centers from coast to coast, we distinguish ourselves with comprehensive solutions, professional results and complete project management capabilities.

At Image360, we specialize in all kinds of visual communications and signage. We have a wealth of experience creating beautiful routed signage for our customers, and we are eager to help you create the perfect sign for your business or personal use. If three-dimensional routed signage tickles your fancy, contact us today to discuss the options with one of our trained design professionals. And if routed signage isn’t your thing, we have countless other options for your perfect sign.

To download a .pdf of this case study please fill out the form to the right and a copy will be emailed to you.


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