Breathing life into the Giving Tree

Coastal Enterprises, manufacturers of Precision Board HDU, is proud to host guest blogs written by some of the signage industry’s biggest movers and shakers, posted to the Precision Board Blog.  Terry with Lacombe Signmasters in Alberta, Canada, was tasked with creating a faux tree for a hospital donor wall and making it look 3D despite being attached to the wall.  He went with Precision Board HDU because he knew he could give the tree some depth and contours while trusting that the material would be durable enough to withstand frequent foot traffic and handling.

In Terry’s own words…

We do a fair amount of work for our local hospital in the area. We got word that they were looking for a unique sponsor wall for a local hospital emergency room renovation. They wanted a tree with leaves that would become part of the sponsorship opportunity. One of my designers is very creative. He had designed a tree that sits in our showroom and is a free-standing metal structure made with magic sculpt.  It has this Hundred Acre look from Winnie the Pooh. Customers come in and it gets them thinking outside the box.

When the hospital talked about a tree, we thought about the one we already had.  Since it couldn’t be freestanding, we knew it would need to be flat but dimensional. We wanted to use high-density urethane for the dimensional look so that people could touch it and feel it. We’ve used HDU before to give signs depth. The more we talked with them about it, the more we wanted to use Precision Board HDU…and we ended up getting the bid!


The nice thing about Precision Board is that it routs really well. The router has an easy time with it.  It’s easy to cut through and easy to work with, but durable and able to handle the rigors of the sign business.

It also holds paint really well.  We have projects from five years ago where the paint still looks good.  These are the qualities we look for in our sign substrates. There’s really no other HDU out there that has the strength and durability of Precision Board.  Another factor is that other HDU suppliers don’t typically carry the higher densities like Coastal Enterprises does.

We used PBLT-20 for the tree project because this is an interior sign and it would be more economical for the client.  There are five parts to the tree- a main trunk and four branches.  We used our FlexiCam Router with Vectric Aspire software. Our total routing time was about nine hours.  We’ve had our CNC for about 15 years and it has served us well.  It’s a solid and really well built machine.

After routing, we primed the Precision Board with FSC-88 WB Primer from Coastal Enterprises. I just hand paint it on with a brush and do two coats, letting it dry in between coats.  It dries pretty fast. I did the priming myself on this project. We used a silver color paint that ended up looking very metallic. We though it would need to be darkened, but it didn’t. We use a hybrid paint from a Canadian company Para. Hybrid in the sense that it’s water-based, but dries to an enamel-oil type look. After that I did a wash on it, which is taking a paint and adding a clear base to it. When you add a clear base to a solid paint it makes it more translucent. The dark gets caught up in the darker recesses, so it gives it more shadow and depth. That wash looks really cool, especially on the trunk. When I wipe it off, the top parts stay light and the bottom parts get darker. We learned that technique from Dan Sawatzky of Imagination Corporation at one of his workshops six or seven years ago. It’s fun to do the whole creative thing with paints.

Once we had the wash on the material, we left it as is. It didn’t need a clear coat and also where it was an interior sign, there was no need for UV protection. I put an oil-based paint on the backside because we install with double-sided tape and silicon. We wanted to make sure the tape would grab really well. It gave it a nice surface to grab the material.

Pro-Tip: Play with your washes. Try different things. You can paint over and over until you get the right color.

It was a great project to work on and we loved how well the metallic look of the tree matched the look of the hospital.


Lacombe Signmasters is a full service sign and Graphic shop nestled in the prairies of Central Alberta and a stone’s throw from the mountains.  Their tag line is ‘concept to completion’, providing logo design to installation of final product and everything in between.  They work out of a modern 3,000 sq ft building with over 50 years of sign, graphics and design experience.  With their vibrant, energetic and creative staff they strive to provide Central Alberta with unique vehicle graphics/wraps, wayfinding packages, interior and exterior commercial signage, store front, landmark signs and dimensional signage.  If you are in their area, please stop in for a visit. Just call ahead so they can have the coffee on @ (403) 782-7446.  You can visit their website at or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board HDU, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane sign material that is particularly effective for making professional-looking indoor and outdoor dimensional signs.  It is a closed-cell rigid substrate that does not rot, warp or crack.  You can request free samplesget a quote or sign up for periodic newsletters packed with helpful information.