Guest Blog from Paul at Art Sign Works

Guest Blog from Paul at Art Sign Works

HDU Custom Carved 3-D Bas-Relief


Art Sign Works Inc., founded in 2005, has been making 3-D bas-relief plaques from Precision Board since 2009. Previously, our team utilized two U.S. manufacturers and determined Precision Board carved the best and was the highest quality material. Here at ASW, we create about 10,000 signs and plaques each year. Therefore, efficiency and quality are key to completing orders in a timely manner.


A majority of the signs and plaques created throughout the year are carved in 2.5-D, raised multi-level or engraved (incised) relief from Precision Board. With that, we also design and fabricate over 1,500 3-D bas-relief plaques and signs. A large number of our 3-D orders are wall plaques that are for federal, state and local governments, police and fire departments, and universities as well as businesses, churches and homes. Additionally, our plaques hang on walls in the White House, Air Force One, Congress, the Supreme Court, the Pentagon, and many state capitals. A few of our 3-D signs and plaques are shown below.




3-D bas-relief plaques and signs appear most realistic when viewed up-close. When viewed from a greater distance, it is difficult to distinguish between 3-D bas-relief or 2.5-D raised relief. For some signs or plaques, the 2-D artwork may not be appropriate to model in 3-D relief because the artwork is composed of objects that have flat surfaces, such as buildings.


3-D bas-relief plaques have prices that are up to two times higher than artwork carved in 2.5-D relief because it requires considerably more machine time along with additional hours of labor that are required to carve and paint them. However, despite these drawbacks, about 1/3 of the products we make are carved in 3-D bas-relief, and are very popular with government agencies, police and sheriff’s departments. When plated with bronze, brass or aluminum metals, these products are more favored over solid metals because products that are plated cost one third of solid and weigh only a tenth as much. Plated products also make installation of large plaques on walls much simpler.


Most of our 3-D plaques and signs are made out of PBLT-20 Precision Board Plus HDU, because of its high quality and ease of carving. We also make about 20% of them from solid Mahogany, Maple, Cedar, Redwood and Oak woods. We paint or metal-plate the HDU plaques and signs, and typically stain the wood. 3-D HDU plaques and signs are typically half the price of 3-D wood plaques, and they are cleaner and last longer, thus making them more popular with our customers than wood signs and plaques.


Let’s take a look into the process of creating 3-D signs & plaques. We start off by developing a 2-D Adobe Illustrator vector rendering, similar to what we would make if it were 2.5-D. This defines the areas that need to be raised and lowered. One of our graphic designers then develops a custom 3-D geometric model from the 2-D rendering using 3-D graphic software such as Maya, Z-Brush, or Rhino. This then generates an STL file that we can incorporate into our 3-D CNC router tool path control program called ASPIRE. The 3-D software modeling process can take anywhere from eight to 20 hours. To speed up the process, occasionally we’ll purchase off-the-shelf STL files of animals, trees and man-made objects from commercial companies.


Next, we put a sheet of Precision Board, usually 5 ft x 8 ft x 2 inches thick, on one of our six large Shopbot CNC routers, with tables up to 5 ft x 12 ft. The 3-D geometry model artwork file can be reused and scaled to any size. The 3-D model has a one-time cost and the software model can be used for hundreds of future plaques.


In order to ensure accuracy and attention to detail, the 3-D CNC routing requires ball-nose router bits as small as 1/16 inch in diameter (1/32 inch in diameter for very detailed artwork) to carve smooth routed surfaces. It can take from 6-to-36 hours to carve a single 3-D sign or plaque, depending on its size and detail. For a 3-D version, it takes 6-to-10 times as long as a 2.5-D, multi-level raised relief sign or plaque. We run our six CNC routers up to 16 hours a day, six days a week to keep up with our orders.


After routing, our craftsmen perform fine hand sanding of all of the front surfaces to remove any tool marks and, if background areas need to be sandblasted, this is the time we’ll do that as well. It is then painted with a thick HDU primer to further smooth the surfaces, and the background color is added in our paint spray booth.


Next, the sign or plaque is moved to our finishing and fine paint shop, where our artists use brushes to paint the plaques in long-lasting vibrant colors. We exclusively use Mathews acrylic polyurethane automotive-grade (MAP) for background areas and 1-Shot paint for artwork, text and borders. It takes longer to paint a 3-D sign or plaque than one carved in 2.5-D relief because 3-D artwork must be painted with an artist brush due to its curved and rounded surfaces, whereas 2.5-D artwork has flat surfaces and can be painted with a mini-roller. All plaques and signs, both indoor and outdoor use, are then coated with two Matthews MAP semi-gloss or satin clear coats to protect against weather, UV radiation, oxidation, scratches and graffiti.



If you have any questions regarding Precision Board, please reach out to Coastal Enterprises at (800) 845-0745 or via email at

Fantastically Rich, Beautifully Strange: Workspace Renovations with Synergy

workspace renovations

Workspace Renovations with Synergy Sign and Graphics

Every once in a while, a skilled sign maker finds his workspace in need of some sprucing up. For top-tier craftsmen who make their living churning out beautiful, skillfully executed creations, it’s only natural that they’d want their creative space to reflect the art that they’re capable of. Today, we’re going to take a look at some upgrades that Synergy Sign and Graphics performed on their own creative space.

workspace renovations

The renovations all concern a metal door leading into one of the main work areas at Synergy. With the help of a little PBLT-18 and TSF-45, the Synergy crew turned it into a fun part of their laid-back, artsy aesthetic. The first step was to rout out a portion of Precision Board slightly smaller than the surface area of the door itself. The idea was for the PBLT to function as a facade on the front of the door, so it could have some rustic wood stylings without the actual wood!

workspace renovations

The Synergy crew used their CNC router to produce the general shape of the door, along with the faux-metal reinforcing slats and Jules Verne-esque porthole, but the wood grain was predominantly hand carved. Many artists and sign makers who work with Precision Board find that one of the best methods for getting an authentic wood grain effect is to carve it by hand. Slow? Of course. But definitely worth the time and effort with how life-like the wood effect is. For a capable artist, Precision Board offers a lot of freedom to get exactly the result you’re looking for.

workspace renovations

Once the door was routed, carved, and primed, it was on to the small signs, to be mounted on either side of the swinging door. The Synergy opted for a corrugated metal effect and contrasting color palettes, with one of the signs painted emerald green and the other fiery red and orange.

workspace renovations

The door is still a work in progress but it’s looking great so far. Tune in for the next edition of Workspace Renovations, when we find out what finishing touches Synergy decides to bestow on this little project.

Take a minute to check out the Synergy Sign and Graphics website. Click through their projects gallery, read the blog, or even request a personalized, hand-made creation of your own.

Weatherproof Signs with HDU

weatherproof signs

Weatherproof Signs: Outsmart the Weather with Precision Board!

Outdoor wooden signs are put in harm’s way every day. Any number of environmental conditions can compromise a wood sign: Rain, snow, hail, sleet, high humidity, mist, and many others. If moisture is allowed to penetrate a wood sign, it can cause rotting, cracking, warping, and peeling, all of which can irreparably damage a wooden sign. No matter the skill of the sign maker, if an exterior wood sign is exposed to moisture for long enough, it will degrade and eventually fail – Sooner rather than later. Wooden signs are not weatherproof signs!

weatherproof signs

Lunsford Sign Works | Colorado
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The good news is, wood isn’t the only option for dimensional signage, and it’s time to step into the modern world of sign making. Precision Board is a closed-cell High Density Urethane (HDU), which means it keeps water out! It absorbs no moisture, and stands up to temperature extremes with no degradation or breakdown. It’s perfect for outdoor signs and displays that need to withstand rain, snow, ice, sleet and high humidity. Even signs in drier climates can benefit from Precision Board’s moisture-repelling qualities: Repeated dousing with sprinklers or exposure to moist sea air can compromise a wood sign, but HDU stands up!

weatherproof signs

Sign Language | New York
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If you want the beauty of a hand-made wooden sign with the reliability of a modern material, high-density urethane is the only way to go. Available in 15 different densities and 8 standard sheet sizes, with thicknesses up to 24”, Precision Board HDU is the all-purpose substrate for the modern signage professional. Don’t let your handcrafted sign get beaten down by the elements: Outsmart the weather with Precision Board!

Just like every year, winter will be here before you know it! Click here to receive a FREE SAMPLE of Precision Board and get ready to step up your all-weather signage.

Suffolk University – 3D Design with Precision Board

Suffolk University HDU DesignSuffolk-University-HDU-Design

Suffolk University Students Design with Precision Board HDU

Precision Board is a truly user-friendly medium for art and design. It allows even the most entry-level artists, architects, and designers to create a tangible object from just an idea and some rudimentary tools. Whether the objective is structural, architectural, or abstract, anyone can design with Precision Board! Creating with Precision Board doesn’t require woodcarving expertise, CAD programming experience, or any other special talents. It’s easy to work with, and all it takes is a little inspiration, as students from Suffolk University found out recently.

Professor Bebe Beard of the New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University contacted us a few months ago with a unique project idea for her 3D Design class. She wanted to offer her students the opportunity to create something from scratch, coming up with the design and assembling the final product all on their own. The plan was for students to start with an intact block of foam, cut it into individual components, and then reassemble the pieces to create a new and distinctly different shape. This is a valuable exercise in spatial awareness and the architectural mindset, allowing students to put theory into practice in short order.

Suffolk University HDU Design Suffolk University HDU Design

The students all started out with equal sized cubes of Precision Board, either PBLT-12 or PBLT-15. This density range is a good choice for design products like this, as our 12-20 PCF (pounds per cubic foot) Precision Board strikes a perfect balance between low weight and high durability. The students used a band saw to make six separate cuts through their Precision Board cube, ending up with seven individual pieces of HDU. If assembled together in the order they were cut, the pieces could be used to reform the cube. But the point of the project was to branch out and create something personal, so the students set to work. First, they sanded their cut pieces to create a smooth surface for painting and bonding. Using  Formula 560 canopy glue, the students bonded the HDU pieces together in a variety of unique patterns. The students painted their small statues with acrylic paint, either before or after they assembled the pieces together. Another aspect of the project was to examine the effects of lighting on their completed statue, and the students’ paint jobs really accentuate the different ways light falls across the structures.

Suffolk University HDU Design

As you can see, the assignment was a resounding success, and the students turned out some really impressive miniature display pieces. This project showcases how easy it is it design and create with Precision Board HDU foam, even without much prior experience in artistic design. We’d like to thank Bebe Beard for coming up with such a fresh and constructive way to use Precision Board. Be sure to check out her website to see some of the personal projects she’s worked on. Also, don’t forget to check out the New England School of Design at Suffolk University, an art school and university rolled into one.

Suffolk University HDU Design Suffolk University HDU Design

Suffolk University HDU Design

The InterSign Group: Classic Style, Wood Not Required

Photo 11 Finished sign with Mark

Signage professionals and followers of the Coastal Enterprises blog will know the name of Mark Roberts. As the owner and operator of The Intersign Group for thirty-nine years and counting, Mark is an undisputed master of the sign creation process from concept to installation. We like to think of Mark as the embodiment of one of our favorite mottos: “Why use wood?” He has proved time and time again that old standards shouldn’t be followed blindly, creating incredible dimensional signs with the look and feel of wood, but with the durability and customizability of Precision Board. Not only is HDU easy to work with, it is impervious to moisture, rot, termites, bark beetles, and many other environmental hazards that spell doom for a wood sign. Mark’s latest success story comes from Pasadena, Texas, where a local dental practice had its sign damaged by graffiti and asked Mark to design a replacement. Mark saw that their aging redwood sign wasn’t in great shape in the first place, so he decided to go with a material that he knew could stand up to foul weather and long, hard years of exposure: Precision Board Plus. Click here to learn more about The InterSign Group and see some of their amazing custom creations.

Mark decided to use 1.5″ PBLT-15 for this particular project, striking a delicate balance between durability, weight conservation, and cost-efficiency. We think he made the smart choice here; the versatile PBLT-15 is one of our most popular densities for signage, and for good reason. He started out by creating patterns for the sign text, then using his router and Dremel to cut down the surrounding material and create raised lettering. Mark likes to use an emery board to round out the edges of raised letters by hand, giving every sign a highly professional look and feel. At this stage in the process, Mark knew that this sign needed a little something extra, and he decided to go for broke: Instead of leaving a smooth background, he set to work with carving gouges and created a fully custom faux wood grain.

Photo 04 Carving the grain into the high density urethane

Mark creates his backgrounds with great care to make them as realistic as possible, and this time was no different: this was the longest step in the process, but the most worthwhile to the overall project. Check out our blog posts on sandblasting and using our Textured Surface Finish for other ways to create a natural faux wood grain.

Photo 07 Applying the FSC 88 primer

The background was finished, and now the sign needed painting. Mark started off by applying two thin coats of our FSC-88 WB primer to every surface of the sign, and allowed them to dry thoroughly. Afterward, he painted the sign with a latex semi-gloss, a good choice for any exterior signage. After applying a muted beige paint to the letters and borders with a sponge brush, the sign was all but finished.

photo 09 Mark sanding the top of the sign

The only step left was installation. Mark and the InterSign team dug two holes 30″ deep, lined the holes with Sonotube concrete forms, and inserted the sign posts. They carefully added the bags of concrete, simultaneously agitating the concrete and adding water to ensure a rock-solid foundation. Finally, they bolted the finished sign face to the embedded posts, a process made much easier by the relative light weight of the PBLT-15.

Photo 10 Installing the bolts to attach the legs of the sign

There you have it, another incredible signage project by Mark Roberts and The InterSign Group. Every time they complete a project like this, they prove once again that wood is not required to create an elegant, classically-styled sign. All you need is a creative spirit and a steady supply of Precision Board! Click here to learn more about The InterSign Group and see some of their other brilliant HDU creations, and check out the article Mark wrote about this project for Sign Builder Illustrated. Ready to start crafting your own faux wood masterpieces? Click here for a free sample of Precision Board and get ready to modernize your dimensional signage!