How to Paint a Large Gather Wood Sign

I absolutely LOVE changing out my wood signs for the seasons and holidays. As a DIY-er it's hard to justify going to Hobby Lobby or Joann and purchasing a cheaply made wood sign. Granted, they are definitely affordable, and way easier ... but, making something yourself for your home is the best feeling in the world (and you know that the quality is top notch!).

If you've been wanting a large wood sign for your home, read on and see just how easy it is to create one on your own.


Supply List:

  • 1/4 inch MDF (cut to the size you want -- I'm using the 24"x48" piece that I bought at Home Depot)
  • background paint color (I use Swiss Coffee by Sherman Williams from Lowe's)
  • Paint brush/foam brush/or paint roller
  • Sharpie water-based paint marker
  • wood for frame (I am using lattice piece found on the moulding aisle of the home improvement store)
It's been really windy at my house, so I opted to paint inside today. I laid my drop cloth down on the floor and painted my MDF board using a small foam roller designed for cabinets. I always leave about a half inch border around the edge of my wood unpainted. It helps the frame attach to the top of the sign easier, and I won't have paint on the sides that I have to worry about dealing with later. 

I have tried a lot of different paints for the background of my signs. While I love using chalk paint, I DO NOT like it as the background of my signs. It comes up easily if you have to erase something, and if you are using a stencil for your design it can pull up with the stencil if you aren't careful. With any of the chalk or clay based paints you are limited in colors. 

I like using wall paint for mine. It dries really fast, covers beautifully, and is available in virtually every color you can imagine! I stick with flat paint so that my design paint will stick well. I buy mine at Lowe's and use the Sherman Williams Showcase brand in the color Swiss Coffee. It's a beautiful neutral color that can pull warm or cool depending on the frame color you choose. 

Once your sign background is painted you will need to prepare your design. I have this "gather" design available as a FREE DOWNLOAD here for you guys. You can use anything design you create... or you can skip the next step and just freehand a design if you are artistically talented (I am not gifted in that way). I sent my finished design to Staples and had it printed as an architectural print. Their prices have gone up, so check what they cost in your area. Mine was about $7. Just know that the resolution is not great when you get anything printed at that size, but since we just need it to trace on to our wood, it works just fine. You can also print your design out as a tiled design on your home printer and tape your pages together. 

I trimmed my print from Staples to fit better on my board and taped it down. I designed mine so that the edge of the "g" and the end of the "r" will actually be hidden under the frame. I ALWAYS tape my pages down on the top edge. This one is curling on me a little, so I grabbed what I had nearby (my tape dispenser and can of paint) to hold down the bottom edges. You will see why taping the top is such an important step in a second ... 

Now comes the trickiest part. You have to transfer your design on to your wood sign. You have two options here that I have found work really well. You can either 1. Rub a pencil on the BACK of your design so that you add the graphite to the underside of your page (and cover the entire design), or 2. Use graphite tracing paper. I've done it both ways. For smaller designs I used to use the graphite on the back of the paper method. For larger designs I always opt for the graphite tracing paper. I got mine on Amazon. 

Lift up your taped down design. The tape on the top of your paper acts as a hinge for you to be able to check your progress. Slide the tracing paper underneath your design -- be sure the graphite side is facing your board. Yep, I've made that mistake... Then take your pencil and simply draw over the edges of your design. You don't have to press hard for the design to transfer, in fact, the lighter you do it the better. 

I like to check my design after I finish a section to make sure I didn't miss any parts while I was tracing. This is where that taped hinge is so helpful. Your design won't shift on you and you can lift your paper and check on your tracing job as often as you want to. It also allows you to reposition your tracing paper easily as you work. 

The downside to the tracing paper is that it can leave smudges on your background, but this is easily fixed once we are done painting the lettering... 

If you love to paint, you can absolutely use a small paintbrush and paint... I am not patient or talented enough for that... so I use Sharpie water-based paint markers. I get mine from Michael's or you can find them on Amazon. 

(You can see that my tracing lines are anything but perfect. It's okay though... we just need to get a rough design drawn on the board.)

The easiest way to do this is to work in very small sections. I traced the outside of my letters first, making sure that my lines are as smooth as I can get them. Then I go back and color them in with the marker.

Working in small areas at a time allows you to blend the tracing line with the coloring so that you don't end up with a noticeable line around your lettering. I also like to rest my wrist on a paper towel or scratch paper to keep the tracing lines from smudging as I paint/color the design. 

Once you are done with all the design painting, it's time for some touch up ...

All of those little black smudges from the tracing paper are easily fixed with some paint and a small paint brush. I'm using the same Swiss Coffee from my background to paint several light coats over any of the smudges or scuff marks on my background. Be sure to "feather" the paint -- meaning you spread it out on the edges so it blends in nicely. (I used the spoon to get the paint out of my paint can...)

Once it dries you won't be able to tell that you touched it up. That's the beauty of using the wall paint vs any other paint. 

All done! Now you just need to figure out what you are using for your frame and attach it. (Post coming soon.)

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