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

Mounting HDU Signs – Did You Know?

Did you know that Precision Board HDU is very effective for creating dimensional signs due to its long exterior life and ease of use?  Due to its closed-cell structure, high density urethane must be treated differently than wood. Unlike wood, Precision Board has no grain, cuts easier, sandblasts and routs faster and smoother and carves quicker with less effort and wear on the carver. It also does not absorb moisture, rot or warp.  This cell structure, however, requires special consideration when mounting and attaching a sign. Here are some tips and tricks specific to HDU signs.

1. Signs Mounted Directly to the Building Wall

Flat mounting directly to the wall is best accomplished using studs as hangers. The first step is to put the studs into the wall. Concrete nails work well in masonry walls as do galvanized nails into wood walls. After the studs have been installed the sign should be leveled and pushed back onto the studs with enough force to cause a small locating indent at each stud. Be careful not to damage the sign. Using these indents for proper hole location, drill a hole about 2 times larger in diameter than the stud. Depth of hole to be about 1/4″ deeper than attachment. Fill the holes with silicone caulking and slide the sign over the studs. Verify sign is still square, support as necessary, and let cure overnight before disturbing. Leaving the heads on the studs allows the silicone to grip the sign and keep it from being pulled off the wall during high winds. The silicone maintains a strong yet flexible attachment that allows for any wall movement. This type of installation also keeps from having to drill and repair attachment holes through the sign face.

2. Hanging Signs

Do not attach a weight bearing screw or bolt directly into high density urethane. Because urethane has a cellular structure and doesn’t have grain, any weight bearing screw or bolt must have extra support around the threads. Hanging signs are typically hung from eye bolts that are either screwed directly into the sign or that are welded onto the supporting steel framework that is screwed into the periphery of the sign. Attaching eye bolts or weight bearing screws into urethane should be done by drilling a hole about 2 times larger in diameter than the shank of the screw and about 1/4″ deeper than length. Fill this hole with a structural 2 part epoxy, such as EP-76 and insert the eye almost flush with the surface.

Need help keeping the fastener in the center of the hole and at the right height? We’ve got you covered.

No, this is not a Rube Goldberg invention, but it will keep your fastener centered and at the right height while the epoxy dries.  Give us a call and we would be happy to send you one of these contraptions to try out for yourself!

Excess epoxy can be smoothed around the eye with any suitable tool dipped in mineral spirits. The epoxy holds the threads of the fastener and greatly increases the holding surface around the inside of the hole. This makes the fastener able to take much more load and eliminates the loosening effects caused by expansion and contraction of the fastener.

3. Strengthening Wide Expanses of High Density Urethane 

Because urethane does not have grain, it also has less beam strength than wood. Wide, unsupported, expanses need to take this into consideration. This situation can be addressed in several ways depending on the design of the sign and the unsupported expanses.

Three possibilities are:

1. Add a metal band around the periphery of the sign and attach it as mentioned above.

2. Add a metal extrusion in the shape of a T along the entire bottom edge of the sign. A slot is cut up into the bottom side of the sign that is a 1/4″ wider and deeper than the leg of the T. This slot is then filled with a strong, hard, two part epoxy, like EP-76, and the T inserted into it. The excess epoxy squeezed out of the slot welds the other two legs of the T to the bottom edge of the sign adding rigidity without any visual impact.

3. Bond urethane sheets to a center sheet of exterior grade plywood, Dibond or equivalent. Make sure that the bonding adhesive is waterproof (i.e. PB Bond 240 or PB Fast Set). Call us for bonding tips.

Get in touch to request free samples of Precision Board HDU, get a quote or talk to our technical support team for more information. We really like to hear from you!

Coastal Enterprises Free Services: Let us help you create!


There are no natural limitations on creativity. Anyone with the inspiration to conceive something new should have the means to follow that spark through to its completion. At Coastal Enterprises, we are fully committed to helping your creativity flourish and take shape. One of our driving philosophies here at Coastal Enterprises is the concept of open-source knowledge: providing the materials and technical know-how so you can create something incredible. Precision Board Plus isn’t just for commercial tooling operations or professional signage contractors either; it’s for everyone with a bright new idea and the drive to make it a reality. We offer a range of free services to help individuals and businesses get the most out of their Precision Board, and to make something they can truly be proud of.

Technical Support: Coastal Enterprises is entirely unique in the way we operate and go about our business. We manufacture all of our material in the same facility that we sell and ship it from, something that no other high-density urethane company can claim. This makes us the absolute primary source of information about Precision Board, and it shows through our expert technical support team. We have a full staff of Precision Board experts available from 8AM-5PM PST, Monday through Friday to answer any questions you might have about our material and its applications. Even if we’re stumped by a question, we can literally walk out to the production floor, pick up a piece of material, and find out for ourselves. What other manufacturer can do that? It pays to go right to the source, and it doesn’t get any closer than Coastal.

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Sample Program: There’s only one way to really understand how Precision Board can work for you, and that is to see it in person. You need to hold it in your hands, route it, carve it, run a lay up mold with it, heat test it, even smash it to bits. Those are the kind of in-depth tests that give you a total understand of the material. Lucky for you, it’s never been easier to get Precision Board for testing, and all for free. Just ask! Coastal has a robust sample program designed to put sample-sized material in your hands very quickly. We provide the Precision Board, we typically pay the shipping, and all you have to do is request the sample. What are you waiting for? Click here to request your free samples today!

Dist Registry

Click here to visit our distributor listings!

Distributor Registry: Coastal has an expansive network of trusted distributors that stretches all across the US, Canada and areas of Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. Our distributors are an integral part of our mission at Coastal, and we work closely with them to ensure that our orders arrive on time, every time. This means that no matter where you are, you’re never far away from Precision Board. In addition, all of our distributors carry thousands of other products that can probably meet your needs in other areas. Each and every one is a versatile one-stop shop for both industrial and signage applications. Our detailed Trade Resources Directory can help you instantly locate your nearest distributor and source the material for your next project.



Check out our Sign Gallery! See the latest projects using Precision Board Plus HDU

Our sign and model gallery has excellent pictures of the latest projects using Precision Board Plus HDU. Routed, hand-carved, and sandblasted signs from all over the country. Check it out here: Sign & Model Gallery. Would you like to be a part of our gallery? Call us at: (800) 845-0745!

Thank you to Mr. Wray Bassett at Graphic ID, located in Dover, PA for sending us these amazing pictures.

#TBT #ThrowBackThursday #PrecisionBoard #Foam #Signs #SignGallery #GraphicID #NationalParks

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Our CNC Machine Finally Arrived…

Xpressive graphiX has created another stunning sign and has been chosen to be “Today’s Guest Blogger.” Tony Rose, Business Partner & Creative Director, with Xpressive graphiX writes the following

Lock 9 Pizza a new business located in Duncan Falls, Ohio, came to us because they had seen several signs of ours around town. In particular, The Olde Falls Inn, that was featured on Coastal Enterprises blog a few years ago and was a winner in the Signs of the Times Magazine 2014 contest last year.

Up until this sign, all of our 3D projects had been hand made, and only certain parts were outsourced to be machined. We finally built up enough 3D business to have a Multicam 1000 CNC installed, and this sign is the very first project we machined with it. In fact, to meet the deadline, we jumped in with both feet and started machining the parts for this sign the first day our machine was installed! Nothing like the rush of throwing a $400 sheet of material onto a machine we had never used!

Typically we hand carve Precision Board Plus which gives us a 3-4 week turnaround time. But, thanks to our new CNC, it only took 7-days (without working overtime)!  What a drastic difference it has made!

It worked flawlessly, considering I had never used Multicam or EnRoute Software before this project. I quickly understood the basics of EnRoute and by following the steps on Dan Sawatzy’s Blog I also learned other 3D techniques.


This sign measures 12” x 4’ x 8’ and is made from 2” PBLT-18 to get that awesome 3D look. We then glued SIX different sizes and shaped layers onto a steel internal frame using PB Bond 240 adhesive and finished it off with locally sourced PPG exterior latex paints and glazes, which we mixed ourselves.


We have been using Precision Board Plus for the past 3 years and love how easy it is to work with. For this project in particular, we were blown away on how effortlessly it machined along with the quality of the results and the effects Precision Board can achieve.

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Most importantly our customer was very impressed with the detail and quality of the sign! She loved the results so much that additional Precision Board signs were requested, instead of the traditional aluminum and vinyl for their parking and directional signs.

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Request your free sample today, by simply clicking here!

Or for more information call us at 800-845-0745 and one of our Sales Reps will be happy to assist you.