Smaltz & Gold-Leaf: The Mark of A High-End Sign

As the proprietor of a sign shop, having a nice-looking sign for your business is a good rule of thumb. Dave Correll, owner of Brushwork Signs in Faribault, MN, recently decided to make a new sign for the outside of his business – a sign that was featured on the cover of SignCraft magazine!

According to Dave, “I started out making this sign for my business by CNC routing a 2′ x 4′ panel of Precision Board Plus PBLT-15 on my ShopBot. Next, I backed it up with MDO to give it enough strength to stand up to the sometimes harsh weather we see in Faribault. Because we wanted our sign to represent the quality and service of goods that can be expected from Brushwork Signs, I decided to go with a combination of 23K gold-leaf and smaltz to accent the sign.”

*A great step-by-step article by Sign & Digital Graphics on the time-honored tradition of gold-leafing can be seen here. 


As many sign makers are aware, smaltz is the technique of adding a crushed glass background to a sign, providing an eye-catching, unique texture. “In order for the glass to properly adhere to the sign, it is necessary to add a binding agent to the glass mixture. Through my years of adding smaltz backgrounds to 3-D signs, my binder of choice has become a custom mixture consisting of West Systems Epoxy mixed with Ronan Paints lettering enamel, because I’ve found it provides the best adherence qualities,” says Correll.

*An excellent SignCraft article on adding a smaltz background can be seen here.

The sign was finished with layers of Novacolor acrylic latex paints with a satin sheen to give it nice reflective qualities.

Dave got his start in the sign industry after attending the now-defunct hand-lettering course at the Detroit Lakes Vocational School. Throughout the two-year course he mastered the art of sign painting, and also met his wife Ann. After graduation, they each spent time at different sign shops for several years until the opening of Brushwork Signs in 1988, continuing to this day and specializing in all types of signage.

Look for a special project from Dave that will be on display at our booth #1347 at ISA Orlando this year!

Additional pictures of quality signs by Brushwork Signs can be seen at:

Congratulations to Our Contest Winners!

Congratulations to Wray Bassett and George Leone, winners of the Coastal Enterprises Facebook Contest!

Mr. Wray Bassett, owner of Graphic ID Studios in Dover, PA won the Best Design category. Wray’s entry was a sign designed to match the 209 year old building that it hangs on. The sign panel was carved from two 3″ thick PBLT-18 sheets bonded with PB Bond-240 onto a steel armature. The sign was primed using FSC-88WB and painted with an acrylic latex enamel. The lettering is 23k Gold Leaf.

George Leone won the Best Engineered category with Primal 2, the human powered vehicle built by him and his team that can go 70 mph. Check out the full story in our previous blog post.

Thank you to everyone who competed in the contest! Twenty-five runners up will all receive a free 16 oz. bottle of PB-Bond-240 for their participation!

24k Gold Leaf Masterpiece!

Have you ever wondered how gold leafing is done? We had the opportunity to speak with Francis Bastow, Owner of Donehere Inc., located in Newark Valley, NY and he shared a couple of his most recent projects, and some gold leafing tips with me. Having been involved in the signage/bronze industry for most of his life, he is now retired and strictly does high-end work for churches.

Many of the projects he does involve gold leafing and lots of it. Francis has done work in churches all over the country, and most recently completed 2 separate Seraphim’s for churches in Warren, OH and Binghamton, NY.

Historically, many of the art pieces inside churches are done using basswood. Unfortunately, over time, humidity changes cause basswood to crack. On these last two churches, Francis opted to try Precision Board Plus HDU because it holds up well in extreme temperatures and will not absorb water.

These particular Seraphim’s were designed using ArtCam and routed from Precision Board Plus PBLT-18. Francis then primed them using FSC-88WB Primer/Filler. He then proceeded to the gold leaf stage. While many sign makers use 17k gold when gold leafing signs, Francis prefers to use 24k, which is pure gold. The benefits of using 24k gold leaf are that it will not tarnish, especially when touched by people.

Starting out, he applied sizing to the primed Precision Board Plus – he prefers a “slow” sizing, giving him more time to work. Once the sizing was applied, he knew when it was ready to apply the gold leaf by pressing his knuckle against it, and feeling it slightly stick to the surface. According to Francis, this is an old-timers trick. He then painstakingly applied the 3.5″ squares of 24k gold leaf until the Seraphim was completely covered. Once it was finished, he then applied raw umber to highlight the darker areas for definition.

You can see a  great guide on gold leafing by Sign & Digital Graphics here.

Additional info can be seen on Francis’ website at:


The Elegant Possibilites of HDU

Scott Brady, owner of SharpSigns in Forsyth, MO sent us a great picture of a sign he crafted out of Precision Board Plus for a bakery. They started by sandblasting PBLT-18 and adding smalt to the background. The letters were routed out of Precision Board Plus and gold leafed. To finish, the bagels and bread were hand-carved out of PBLT-18 and airbrushed. The design was collaboration between SharpSigns and Foppe Design.

SharpSigns website:

How to apply gold leaf – Solidified Sunshine

The December issue of Sign & Digital Graphics magazine has an excellent article on how to apply gold leaf. Gold leaf is considered to be one of the highest forms of sign artistry due to the use of gold, custom paper writing service and because it is accomplished entirely by hand.

There are several techniques used by those “in-the-know” to achieve a picture perfect finish. Learn about them all in the article written by signmaker Francis Lestingi, of Signs of Gold Inc., in Williamsville, NY on page 74 in the December issue of Sign & Digital Graphics, or view it on the web here.

Here is a picture of respected sign maker Cam Bortz of Finest Kind Signs in Pawcatuck, CT at a letterhead meet in Scotland applying gold leaf to Precision Board Plus:

Applying gold leaf at Dan Sawatzky’s sign workshop. Dan is the owner of The Imagination Corporation, headquartered in Chilliwack, Canada.