Brewing up the 3D Coffee House Sign

When Aversboro Coffee approached Steve Kolacz with GrafiXhouse Design Studios, they needed a 3D sign that could work both as an indoor wall sign for their business and as a trade show display.  The catch was, they only had a week to get it done, so they fabricated a dimensional sign out of Precision Board HDU, Corex and insulation foam, tossed a few lights in and a smoke machine.  The result?  A happy customer and a multimedia sign that doubles as a trade show display.


The sign is made out of PBLT-15, Corex and expanding insulation foam and stands 6′ tall, 3′ wide and 1.5″ thick.  “They were going to a trade show and wanted something they could use for the trade show and then hang on the wall,” says Steve. “They wanted the sign to look like their coffee cup and originally wanted it to be 360 degrees, but we only had a week.”

The main body of the cup was routed from 15 pound Precision Board HDU on their ShopBot CNC using Adobe Illustrator and ArtCam Insignia.

Steve scanned the coffee cup sleeve, digitally printed it and attached it to Corex. He flipped the material so that it would bend like cardboard and put slits in to let it take some bends and curves.  The Corex was then attached to the Precision Board and a red light was added behind the coffee sleeve to backlight it.

The top part of cup that appears to be a frothy foam was actually expanding insulation foam secured on top of the HDU. “I tried out expanding foam to give the froth some texture,” Steve added.

Because the sign also had to work as a trade show display, Kolacz added a back piece it that could be folded out or also hung up on a wall.  Steve says, “I made a French cleat that could be opened up into an a-frame.”

Steve used One Shot and Createx Colors airbrush paint on the high-density urethane.  It wasn’t a super labor-intensive project, but Steve says it took them about a week to rout, paint, airbrush and light.  Just in time for the trade show, but he had one more trick to complete the effect.  They hooked up a smoke machine behind the sign to give the appearance of steam.

Steve and GrafiXhouse Design have done a lot of 3d work with Precision Board HDU and there’s a reason for that.

“I like the ease that you can cut, rout and shape it.  You can use grinders, all kinds of dremels and tools to give it different looks.”  He adds, “try using really heavy grit sandpaper and you can get into some very unique shaping.”  Above all, he likes the uniformity of surface when working with high-density urethane.  “You don’t get knots.”

GrafiXhouse Design Studios is located in North Carolina and is staffed by professional artists that have degrees in fine art and advertising.  They do everything from logo design, company branding and marketing to 3d signs, tradeshow props and banners.  We are very impressed with their work and highly recommend them.  Give them a call at (919) 329-5743 or visit their website.

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 samples, get a quote or sign up for periodic newsletters packed with helpful information.

Searching For The Right Tool On An Interior LED-Lighted Sign

Having the right tool for the job is a pretty important aspect of being a sign maker. Sometimes that tool can cost $10,000 or sometimes it could cost $10. The thing is, when you need it, you need it. Talking with Steve Kolacz, owner of GrafiXhouse Design Studio in Garner, NC, about a recent sign he made, revealed a situation we believe all sign makers can relate to.

Steve’s job was to build an interior sign for a church that could light up at the flip of a switch to let kids know when it was time for them to go into the service. His first step was to design the sign in Adobe Illustrator, followed by selecting the materials he would use for the job: Precision Board, PVC, Dibond and Lexan.


Each substrate was cut in turn on Steve’s ShopBot CNC machine, and put together with a combination of VHB tape and 3M Epoxy.


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Wedge-Cut Quandary

Needing to make a wedge cut on a piece of Precision Board to create a downward-sloping, faux stoplight, Steve found himself in a tough spot – he couldn’t make the cut with his bandsaw because the piece was too big, and he didn’t want to do it on his CNC machine because that would have meant creating a file and spending much more time than necessary on a piece requiring only a single cut. He even asked his neighbor (which is a custom cabinet shop) next door, the ones with the giant table saw and wood working equipment if they would cut it, but they didn’t want anything to do with it.

bow saw cut

Diagram showing the wedge cut Steve needed to make

Bow Saw To The Rescue

In his own words, “after running out of options, and wanting to get this cut over with, I did a slow look around my shop and saw my bow saw in the corner of my eye. I picked it up, walked over to the table and one-handed cut that wedge no problem. All I needed to do afterwards was sand it smooth with my disc sander. The whole process took about 5 minutes. It would have never worked with wood,” says Kolacz.

photoSteve’s bow saw

This mid-sign incident, while not catastrophic, really says a lot to us about what it means to be a sign maker – an unforeseen circumstance needing to be remedied by some quick thinking.

Since the stoplight needed to light up so the kids would know it was time to put the blocks down and get ready for some churchin’, Steve wired LED’s into the yellow stoplight housing and covered each opening with a translucent piece of Lexan.

The entire sign was primed with Kilz Latex Primer and painted with a combination of acrylic and enamels, with the “Quest” portion being airbrushed with a Behr Latex paint. All in all, a beautiful multi-media sign!

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Steve Kolacz has owned GrafiXhouse Design Studio since 2002. Additional works of art, signs and illustrations can be seen on his website at:

We’ve also featured Steve in two previous articles:

 The Art of Hand-Carved Signs/Grafixhouse Design Studio

3-D HDU Signage: To Rout or Carve?