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

Hitting a Home Run with a Dimensional Sign

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.  This guest blog is written by Mo Flint with Atomic Barn Studios, based just outside of Raleigh in Willow Spring, North Carolina.  Mo takes us through the steps of designing a dimensional sign for the local athletic club and giving it a classic Americana look using Precision Board HDU and TSF-45 textured surface coating from Coastal Enterprises.

dimensional sign

In Mo’s own words…

Poor field number 3 at our local athletic association’s baseball complex has been without a sign for at least as long as my son has been playing ball there. So, when the fall season donation drive came around, we knew exactly what to contribute — a major-league worthy, classic Americana 3D sign they couldn’t get anywhere else.

I started with a few different concept sketches until the perfect design revealed itself: a slightly used baseball behind an oversized, easily visible number “3” topped with a grassy green “Field”.

With the design in hand, I set to creating a 3D model in Geomagic Freeform. The final sign would be made from three layers of 2” thick, 30-pound Precision Board HDU with steel tubes sandwiched in the center. The number “3” was hand drawn with a raised border to give it some definition. Rather than mirror the stitches for the back they were laid out to line up and flow in the same direction as the front.

dimensional sign

Texture is expected around here and this sign has it in spades. I had been wanting to try TSF-45 for some time and this was the perfect project for it. Instead of adding texture at the 3D stage, I added it to all surfaces, including the steel mounting plate and tubes, after assembly.

Once the 3D work was done, the pieces were rough cut on the CNC with a ½” ball end bit. The finish pass was cut with an X-Edge tapered bit with an 1/8ball end (XTC518) which gave ample detail. When the mounting plate was cut and welded up, it was glued in place before the whole assembly was glued, screwed and left to cure. Sculpting epoxy was used to fill screw holes and finish around mounting tubes.

dimensional sign

TSF-45 was applied directly to the Precision Board urethane foam and over primer on the steel. I used a shop-made tool to comb in the crosshatch texture. The real fun came when the glazes were applied over several layers of discreet base colors. They really add depth and character to the sign.

In the end, the installation went smoothly with two U-bolts to hold everything in place. A shop name plate painted to match the sign was added just below to wrap up the “Field 3” project. This sign will be a beacon for our athletic association’s field 3 and its all-star players for years to come.

Atomic Barn Studios is an independent theming studio specializing in unique sculptural displays and signage. With over 25 years of experience developing 3D products for the biggest names in pop culture, we can bring our unique flavor of design to your project.  You don’t have to be an amusement park titan to understand the power of 3D. Sculptural signs create a feeling that flat signs just can’t reproduce. Whether you are looking to upgrade your board room, create a photo op in your waiting area to entertain and engage your customers, or just want to add some flair outside your business, we can help you stand out from the 2D crowd.  You can email Mo Flint or give Atomic Barn Studios a call at (630) 346-4288.

Coastal Enterprises offers free samples of Precision Board HDU.  Already have a project in mind for our material?  Request a quote and get started today.  Sign up for our monthly blog roundup so you don’t miss any of our informative blogs.  Have a special project fabricated with Precision Board HDU and want to know if it could be featured in a blog on our website?  Give us a call at 800-845-0745 or drop us an email with details.  We’d love to hear from you!

Adding Extra Dimension to the Precision Board Evergreen Herbs Sign

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.  This guest blog is written by Kevin with  Mayfair Signs based in Chilliwack, BC, Canada.  Kevin tells us how they gave a dimensional sign some extra dimension by routing prismatic letters and attaching them to the sign afterwards.  By using Precision Board urethane foam and a powder-coated bracket, Kevin is ensuring that this sign will also stand up to the test of time and the elements.

In Kevin’s own words…

The customer came to us looking for a company to help design and create a sign with dimension.   We started off with a rough outline and progressed from there.   Using our Enroute Pro software and PBLT-30 Precision Board urethane, we got to work.  The dimensions of the sign would be 72’’ x 42’’ x 1.5’’.  The prismatic letters were cut separately from the sign itself using 1″ thick Precision Board, also 30lb density.  We would glue the letters to the sign to give it the depth we and the customer wanted.   Next up was routing the material, which took about two and a half hours.


Once everything was cut on our Multicam CNC router it was time for primer.  Multiple coats of FSC-88 WB were applied and three base coats of green then followed.

Before painting the prismatic letters, we did a test fitting to make sure everything fit right.

Once all the painting was done on the sign,  we then sprayed the letters using a HVLP gun loaded with metallic gold from Modern Masters.  Every color gets a minimum of three coats to extend the longevity of the sign.

The sign was to float in the middle of two wood posts so a mounting bracket was fabricated using 2’’x 2’’ aluminum angle and welded together.  Once we sandblasted and powder coated the bracket green,  it was time to screw and glue it to the sign.

The sign was delivered and installed and the customer was thrilled,  as were we.  We love using Precision Board HDU for adding dimension to signs because it cuts like buttah!


Mayfair Signs is family owned and operated. They have been making and selling carved dimensional signs,  solid cast aluminum house signs, cottage signs, custom garden plaques and address plaques for over 30 years. They have over 40 different sign shapes and sizes and more than 450 emblems in their cast aluminum line of signs. They guarantee high quality workmanship on all the signs they produce. All work is done on site.  Visit their website, drop them an email, or give them a call at 866-823-4141.

Coastal Enterprises offers free samples of Precision Board HDU if you want to try it for yourself.  Our website offers numerous resources, including how-to videos, helpful blogs, and a newsletter sign-up so you get our Monthly Blog Roundup and won’t miss a thing!

Using Multiple CNC Passes to Get Clean Edge Detail When Routing HDU

When James Spouler with Mainland Woodworks got the job to update the signage at the Southlands Riding Club in Vancouver, BC, Canada, he used 15lb and 18lb Precision Board HDU to give the signs some depth and durability. Spouler also used multiple CNC router passes to get clean and deep lettering. Read on to see why he likes using Precision Board as a substrate for his dimensional signs.

James says the core branding design came to him from the clients branding designer.  “I took their vectors and made some adjustments to look good within the desired final sign dimensions using Vectric Aspire for my tool pathing software.”

He used PBLT-15 Precision Board HDU at 3″ thick for the larger main sign and PBLT-18 at 2″ thick for the second two signs.

Spouler prefers to use Precision Board HDU for outdoor signage, saying that “it’s thermally and dimensionally stable, essentially weatherproof, and UV stable.  It’s the best material I have found for painted exterior signage if you want it to last.”

For the deep lettering ( 0.8″ ) on the large main sign James first cut the lettering pass using a 5º tapered endmill.  “Then I cut the clear out passes in two depth passes leaving about 0.05″ and then one final finishing pass to remove that last 50 thousandths of an inch.”  He adds, “this lets me hog out the material fast and dirty then do a nice cleanup pass to get rid of any tear out or other blemishes that can be caused by weird or inefficient tool-pathing or by cutting too fast or too deep in one go.”

“I primed the signs with Coastal’s FSC-88 WB primer/filler, which took a little playing with to get used to, but once I thinned it to the right consistency, it worked great,” says Spouler (Ed note: Click HERE for tips from the experts on priming HDU with FSC-88 WB).

James painted the signs using the Matthews urethane paint color system saying, “it’s the best way I have found to accurately hit PMS colors at any amount you need to mix up, from a thimble to a gallon.”

Spouler says machining the Precision Board HDU took no time at all.  “Cutting the HDU goes fairly quickly, that’s one of my favorite parts of working with it.  It cuts fast and sharp and with a little planning you can really push the feed rates on it.”

Spouler uses a CNC machine which he built with his father-in-law.  “My father-in-law is an inventor and builder, electrician, plumber, and network systems engineer,” he tells us.  He adds, “the machine was originally based on open source MechMate plans, we built it with a 62″ x 122″ cutting area, initially it had about 6″ of Z travel, and of course, on the second project, which was planing a 5″ thick maple slab, we ran into the Z height limitation. and so we redesigned the Z axis with a lead screw and some linear bearings and rails to now allow for a full 16.5″ of travel.”

James uses a 2.2 kW water-cooled spindle on the machine and runs it using LinuxCNC.

Mainland Woodworks is a family run design and wood crafting team that is able to bring your ideas from a dream to a reality that you can see, touch and admire for years to come.  They offer a wide range of wood milling services as well as a large bed CNC router which can plane slabs and create elaborate 3D carvings.  You can call them at 778-241-6984 or visit their website.

Coastal Enterprises offers free samples of Precision Board HDU.  Already have a project in mind for our material?  Request a quote and get started today.  Sign up for our monthly blog roundup so you don’t miss any of our informative blogs.

Have a special project fabricated with Precision Board HDU and want to know if it could be featured in a blog on our website?  Give us a call at 800-845-0745 or drop us an email with details.  We’d love to hear from you!

Welcome to the new!

The Website Has Been Redesigned!

New landing pages for Signage & Tooling Applications.

“We know that time is money,” said Chuck Miller, President of Coastal Enterprises, “so we simplified the home page with buttons for the most popular Precision Board HDU applications- tooling and signage.”  He added, “now you can quickly access resources and find what you need faster.”

While the look of the website is more modern and updated, the same great content is there, including speeds & feeds settings, training videos on use of our companion products (primer, adhesives, coatings, etc.), how-to’s, FAQs, and the Precision Board Blog.

Additionally, the website now has:

Precision Board HDU is a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly high-density polyurethane. It is a closed-cell rigid substrate that does not rot, warp or crack.  Coastal Enterprises has a large inventory, offers quick turnaround of days not weeks and has custom services, including custom-bonding, step tools, layup tools and custom sheet-cutting. Call us today at 800-845-0745 and talk to one of our technical staff to see how we can help you out with your next project!

Let us know what you think of the new site…drop us an email or comment on this post and give us your feedback.  We are constantly working to improve the website user experience and value your thoughts on what’s working and what can be improved.

About Coastal Enterprises: Since 1973 Coastal Enterprises has been an innovator and leading manufacturer of urethane products used for dimensional signage, model making, marine applications and a variety of composite tooling applications. Insist on the HDU trusted by the Aerospace, Composites and Sign Making industries for more than 20 years.  Ask for Precision Board HDU by name.  Request a free sample or quote, watch training videos and more at