Architectural Ceiling Design for American Girl New York

When American Girl wanted a unique architectural ceiling design for their new store in New York, they got in touch with Moss Retail and Environments who, in turn, contacted Jim Dawson at Synergy Sign and Graphics.  He consulted on the design and mounting for about six months and once the designs were approved, Jim got the go ahead to make this creation a reality.  Dawson fabricated the design out of large sheets of Precision Board HDU at his shop in Ohio, which were then broken down into smaller, shippable pieces that were sent to New York and then reassembled.  We talked to Jim to get some tips on the architectural applications of Precision Board as well as how they mounted the intricate designs on the ceiling.


“We used PBLT-18 in both 2 inch and 3 inch thicknesses,” said Dawson. “These shapes were cut from several large sheets of Precision Board from 4′ x 8′ up to 5′ x 10′,” he added.

Synergy was sent auto cad drawings of the ceiling and the individual profiles. They used Enroute Pro and nested everything to cut out the individual pieces. There was a “Part A” and “Part B” which resulted in the fabrication of a lot of small pieces- 60 of one part for example.

Dawson said, “For the large complicated petals, we cut the 10′ by 10’ designs in half so the pieces were smaller for shipping and then reassembled. Installers used Bondo to reattach them after shipping and then touched up the seams.

It was at this point that the individual pieces of Precision Board HDU had to be mounted to the ceiling.

When Moss and Synergy designed the pieces, they wanted an install method that would be completely hidden and wouldn’t need a ton of touch up in the field.  PBLT-30 Precision Board pucks were created that were attached to the ceiling via screws and zip toggles.  They routed corresponding pockets in the backs of the petals so the pucks could drop inside.  The petals were then glued to the ceiling using fast set epoxy.   It made for a completely hidden mounting system.

One small issue that Dawson had was finding a bit that they could use to cut the material. “We did a lot of testing because it’s hard to find bits long enough to cut 3 inch material. We did speeds and feeds calculations and it turned out that one of the cheapest bits we bought worked the best.”  Jim used a ½ inch diameter x 5” long four flute low-helix spiral bit from Hartlauer that was classified an end-mill. He spent $25 on it.

The entire project took three days of routing and 4 days of finishing / packing and was shipped in just short of 1 week.

We think that Jim Dawson and his team do some really excellent work. Synergy Sign & Graphics has a highly experienced staff whose backgrounds include graphic design, marketing, trade-show design, print media, branding, point of purchase design, fulfillment, and more. Check out their website or give them a call at (330) 878-7646 to see about your next project!

Chuck Miller, the President of Coastal Enterprises, was recently in New York and stopped in to the American Girl store to snap a photo of how the ceiling looks with a store full of happy customers.  Check it out!

Check out our Precision Board architectural ceiling design at the 1:27 mark in this video released by American Girl about their NYC grand opening.

You can get large sheet sizes of Precision Board HDU up to 5′ x 10′ in any increment from 1/2″ up to 24″.  Get a quote or request free samples today to see if Precision Board is right for you.  We’d love to hear from you!

Rustic Signmaking With HDU: Glazing A Sign To A Cool Finish

Almost medieval looking, the sign crafted by Synergy Sign & Graphics for Teal Insurance practically looks like it was made with ancient wood and hardened steel. In reality, Synergy used 30lb Precision Board Plus and a combination of other materials to give their sign a rustic, aged look.


We’ve worked with Synergy Sign & Graphics on several articles now, and one of the nicest things about working with them is that Jim Dawson, the owner, is an amateur photographer and takes excellent photographs documenting his signs every step of the way.

This unique sign began its life in Adobe Illustrator, based off an initial proof provided to him by the customer, before Jim generated a 3-D model with  CAM software.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 3.59.01 PMInitial proof (left) and final Enroute Pro design (right).

Once the design was finalized, Jim’s MultiCam CNC transformed a piece of Precision Board Plus PBLT-30 HDU into the design he made in Enroute.


Since he sure didn’t want to see this beautiful sign get damaged by the weather or anything else, Jim reinforced the sign with a custom welded steel bracket, sandwiched into a routed slot in between each sign face. Once inserted, the sign faces were laminate bonded together with PB Bond-240, a single part urethane adhesive. A small opening at the top allowed space for eyebolts attached to the inner frame to mount to the faux tree – a simple, yet complex strategy.

To compliment his sign, and because Synergy Sign & Graphics refuses to make anything run of the mill or standard, Jim designed and built a custom faux tree from which he would mount the sign. The tree’s core was built from a custom-welded piece of steel.


Using an epoxy clay, Jim added a subtle, yet major touch to the signs appearance. The brackets surrounding the sign would be formed with the epoxy clay, and painted to look like hammered steel.

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A wire mesh frame provided the perfect foundation for the fiberglass reinforced concrete to be applied to and sculpted into a tree and surrounding rocks.


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This sign is a great example of the “jack of all trades” skill set that it takes to make a sign. So far, this project has required welding, CNC machining and masonry, and the finishing steps will include painting and glazing – in short, beautiful signs are a lot of work!

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 1.31.54 PMSign primed with FSC-88WB (left), 3 coats of exterior grade latex paint (right).

After priming the sign with FSC-88WB Primer/Filler, and coating with three separate coats of light brown exterior grade paint, it was time to start the glazing process on both the faux tree and actual sign (to see the glazing process, please visit Jim’s blog). Once the three-stage glazing process was complete, the sign was clear coated with exterior grade flat latex clear, resulting in one of the most unique hanging signs we’ve seen!


The recipients of the Teal Sign stated that it was “More amazing than they could have possibly imagined,” which is a real testament to the skill and craftsmanship of Jim Dawson and the entire crew at Synergy Sign & Graphic! Be sure to visit for more information and pictures!


How To Make Prismatic Letters Stand Out With Synergy Sign & Graphics

1901341_10153802809240368_785612181_n“If I were to have used a lower density, the prismatic letters wouldn’t look half as sharp,” says Jim Dawson, owner of Synergy Sign & Graphics. He’s talking about a sign he made recently for F.S.R.C. Tanks, Inc., boasting prismatic letters that came out sharp as a knife.

Jim is the previous builder of the custom gearbox made from Precision Board Plus PBLT-30 and is well known for his creativity and innovation.“I wanted this sign to scream something different, something that would make it stand out from the normal signs people see every day. The owner of F.S.R.C. asked us to build him a sign that would be unique, but would also last forever, and we came up with the perfect idea,” recalls Dawson.

Jim started this job with two sheets of 2″ x 4′ x 8′ Precision Board Plus PBLT-30, cutting them both on his 5′ x 10′ MultiCam CNC machine with software. “We CNC routed the 30lb. Precision Board, which is twice as dense as the 15lb. and can hold an extremely high level of detail. I knew if I were to try 15lb, the prismatic letters wouldn’t have the same pop as 30lb, which weighed in on my final decision,” explains Jim. “After we CNC-routed each face, we tig-welded an aluminum frame and attached it to the back of each sheet to provide strengthening and reinforcement.”

The pillars, as you may notice, are neither identical, nor entirely uniform. “As a graduate of Dan Sawatzky’s sculpting class, and thus, an amateur sculptor, I decided to shape the fiberglass-reinforced concrete posts entirely by hand. By doing this we hoped to give part of the sign a truly man-made aspect, as opposed to using cardboard forms as would most often be the case,” states Dawson.

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Of course, the detail on the substrate isn’t the only thing that stands out on this sign. “We used a pretty bright color combination for the sign to add to it’s ‘wow’ factor,” reveals Jim. “After we primed the sign with Coastal’s FSC-88WB Primer/Filler, we used Sherwin-Williams Acrylic Latex Paints, Incredible White and SW6967 Frank Blue, to give it a really vibrant finish.”

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Synergy Sign & Graphics is not your ordinary sign shop! See more of their beautiful designs here.




That's Not Metal, It's All In The Finish!

Its hard to believe it’s not solid cast metal, but this is a custom finish applied to Precision Board Plus by the artisans at Synergy Sign & Graphics in Strasburg, OH!

This massive gearbox was built by Synergy as a showpiece for the front of their business as part of a recent Steampunk rebranding theme and also to show their 3-D and design capabilities.


We asked Synergy Sign & Graphics owner Jim Dawson how he came up with this project and he responded: “Out of nowhere except my crazy head. I wanted to design something that reflected our recent Steampunk rebranding, and I came up with this idea.”

Thinking of a project is one thing, bringing it to life is another. “I started this project by planning out the contour layout for the gears and side beams in . Designing the project in AI is always our first step in our workflow of a project, as it is such a powerful drawing tool. Next, we imported the AI designs into our Enroute CNC software and put the CNC to work. We routed three sheets of Precision Board Plus PBLT-30 on our 5′ x 10′ MultiCAM 1000 and they came out absolutely perfect,” explains Dawson.



After the pieces were cut, it was time to assemble the behemoth. The rolled chain was linked together with 1″ PVC pipes cut to size and PVC splice connectors for spacing to keep the chain aligned.

One of the major standout features of this project is the finish. After seeing the finished picture and looking close, it was apparent that every square inch of the gearbox was textured with an extreme amount of care.

Two coats of FSC-88WB Primer/Filler, undiluted, were hand-brushed on. Jim decided against diluting the primer, purposefully keeping it thick in order to simultaneously add texture while priming.

“After priming and texturing the entire gearbox, we added base coats of Modern Masters black and black metallic. Next we did 3 or 4 coats of a combination of a wipe on/wipe off glaze along with a lot of dry brushing. The aged look was completed with an application of Modern Masters Iron Reactive Paint, which is a 2-part process consisting of the paint and rust activator,” stated Dawson.

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Jim also used denatured alcohol on a rag to fine-tune the appearance of the rust in many of the low spots. “One of the coolest things about the Iron Paint is that the rust is continually activated by water if you don’t put a clear coat over it, which we didn’t. When it’s set up for good in front of our shop, it will continue to develop real rust, continually looking more aged,” says Jim.

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Jim plans to also create a fictional story documenting the history of the gearbox and its recovery from the Titanic. The story will be inscribed on a plaque attached to the front.

All in all, we would like to congratulate Jim and Synergy Sign & Graphics on this awesome project!

Be sure to check out more info about Synergy Sign & Graphics here.