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Effective signmaking

A guide for activists

1. Materials

You will need:

  • Foam core, stiff posterboard, or cardboard for the sign.
  • Wooden dowel, yardstick, broomstick, or cardboard tube for a handle.
  • A pencil.
  • A ruler or straightedge. 
  • Paint or thick markers.
  • Tape. 

Tips:

  • Use lightweight, sturdy materials. 
  • Two-sided signs work well for marches. Two big signs can be attached at two points at the top for a wearable sandwich board sign.
  • A sign with a four- or five-foot handle is most comfortable to hold. A sign with an eight- or nine-foot handle will rest on the ground. Check to see whether there are restrictions on having wooden sign handles at the event.
  • If you’re using spray paint or permanent markers, be sure to work in an outdoor or well-ventilated space.
  • If it will be rainy, use non-water-soluble (permanent) paints and inks, and consider waterproofing your sign by laminating it or covering it with clear packing tape. 
  • If it will be windy and you’re using a flimsier material for your sign, you can cut a few u-shaped wind slits in it.

 

2. Decide on your message

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who will see your sign and what you want them to know?
  2. Is there a call to action?
  3. Are there existing slogans for your cause that you can use?

Be direct! A dozen words or less will almost always fit well on a piece of poster board.

 

3. Plan your sign

The most important words or phrases in your message should be the most prominent. Capital letters are easier to read than lowercase. You’ll also want to use big block letters, which are much more visible from a distance. Above all, your sign should be readable—you want people in passing cars to get your message.

High-contrast reads best, so use black or very dark text on a white or very light background—or white or very light text on a dark background.

 

4. Making your sign

Before you start writing on your sign, sketch out the design on scratch paper first. 

Lightly draw horizontal lines on your sign in pencil to help keep your letters straight, and then lightly block out the letters in pencil. Using the pencil letters as a guide, paint or draw and fill in your block letters. Do any illustration or embellishment next, making sure to give the letters plenty of space.

Bigger is better: text two inches high will be visible up to fifty feet away, six-inch-high text will be visible up to a hundred and fifty feet away, and nine-inch-high text will be visible up to three hundred feet away (the length of a football field).

 

5. Other techniques

There are plenty of alternative methods for sign making. If you’re the event organizer, getting a whole pile of signs professionally printed might be the best approach.

Your sign doesn’t have to be rectangular (you can trim the edges to make it into a shape: a circle, a starburst. . .) and it doesn’t even have to be a sign! Think about whether a banner or a flag or a t-shirt might also be effective. Use your creativity to reinforce the underlying message.

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