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Started by Bill Gill, July 15, 2022, 09:09:20 AM

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WP Rayner

This is an excellent thread Bill about a topic that many people don't give any thought to. Computers have made it very easy to produce signs and graphics, but the somewhat sterile perfection of computer fonts creates results that can lack character and realism.

Nice job on the Morgan... have no idea how you were able to achieve such a good result while both you and the Morgan were bobbing about! Well done...

Whisky Workbench
Stay low, keep quiet, keep it simple, don't expect too much, enjoy what you have.

Bill Gill

Thanks Bernd and Paul. I'm sure museum visitors found it amusing to watch the name get painted while I contemplated the consequences should I mess up on the museum's "flagship"  ;D

Bill Gill

Stuart made an excellent point on the previous page: Tracing prototype signs can be a way to accurately duplicate them and then scale them to fit a model. Here's an example of that. Everything fell in place to trace this sign for a period auto repair: The photo was taken perpendicular to the sign and sharply focused. The sign was in really good shape and the lettering stood out from the background. And, also important, the modeler did not want to change the name of the repair shop.The tracing below the original was made for another modeler who would turn it into a decal. It turned out pretty close for a first attempt.
Bell St Auto.jpg

Here are two more signs that suggest different approaches to replicating them.
wall signs.jpeg
EASTERS ICE CREAM SODA. looks ripe for tracing. You aren't going to find that lettering in any font. It's not quite a square on view, but that's easily corrected.

THE ANDERSON COMPANY sign is less certain whether tracing would be the most efficient way to copy it. There are fonts very close (but not identical) to the lettering on those two lines and Letterbashing fonts to match probably would be faster.

One more example where Letterbashing can prove useful. Uneeda Bisquit signs were ubiquitous across the country. Signpainters readily adapted the wording to fit the locations and sizes and shapes of the spaces they had to work with. If you have a good example of such a sign that you want to adapt to fit on something different than what the original was painted on, Letterbashing can be a very flexible way to do that beyond just cutting up the different parts and resizing them.

Bill Gill

Three examples of simple Letterbashing.

A modeler liked the looks of the prototype Welcome to Bellows Falls sign and that it fit the setting of his layout perfectly, except for the name of the town. He found and used a font almost identical to the lettering for his version in the middle. A little tweaking created the sign on the right.

The two signs on the hotel on my layout were pretty simple.

The wall sign lettering was first altered a little to look older than the font that was selected. Then the letters were all scaled to be 5 bricks tall (using mortar lines or siding seams as guides was a common signpainting technique) and finally the width of the letters were adjusted so they stacked nicely vertically.

The hanging sign lettering for AYER was similarly adjusted to look right stacked vertically. "Hotel" was letterbashed to fit the curve of the top of the sign. Notice that the letters are not tilted to match the curve, the vertical strokes are still vertical.

The STAR WOOLEN wall sign at the NEB&W had the same situation as the introductory LETTERBASHING sign on page 1,the need to adjust different width letters to look good between evenly spaced areas between windows. Although the only prototype reference photo available at that time had some really neat overlapping ghost lettering, it was too modern for the period of the layout.
Star proptotype.jpeg

Reluctantly, the ghost letters were omitted. Some thinking was required to fit the sign wording because the length of the model was selectively compressed to fit the location. "STAR WOOLEN MILL", "STAR WOOLENS", and more were tried until the words and the spaces worked out.
star woolen.jpg

Speaking of ghost lettering, the only reference photo of the sign on the gable end of the mill was completely unreadable. The model sign there was painted freehand and wound up looking a lot like the faded sign in the prototype. No Letterbashing involved.


This is all great stuff!
This website sells amazing fonts that closely replicate old lettering styles:


They also have great examples of how their fonts can be used.  Pricing is not cheap, but the fonts are really well done.  I have no affiliation with them - just a satisfied customer.
Eric Zabilka
Lexington, Kentucky


We probably should make this thread a "sticky" when it is complete. It is full of useful information.

Eric, are you still too overwhelmed with work to do any modeling?



I'm afraid so Russ.  I'm also caring for my mother with Alzheimer's, so there are significant demands on my spare time as well.
I don't know if this really counts as "modeling" in the way we discuss things here, but this is a library project I'm working on.  Straight off the 3D printer, with a paper overlay on the exterior walls to add the colors.

And now, back to the thread...
Eric Zabilka
Lexington, Kentucky


It counts. You probably could teach us a few things by describing what you did. -- Russ

Bill Gill

The non-lettered sign on the gable end was done pretty simply:
Using the club's only reference photo that showed that end of the mill, the area for the sign was masked off and lightly dry brushed with flat white craft acrylic. The dry brushing was concentrated along the top and bottom white border lines.

When that dried the top & bottom lines were masked and the center area was stippled with a stubby stiff brush and very little black craft acrylic.That created a black band with random white splotches and streaks.

Since the sign wording in the photo couldn't be determined, I used a very small stubby brush to continue stippling to enhance some streaks to suggest parts of letters. No attempt was made to represent any particular words or letters. The idea was to create a very faded old sign that had been repainted more than once, perhaps having said different things, all partially showing through - somewhat like the reference side view photo above.

The results seemed to work. Some viewers who look at the sign believe they can make out different letters and try guessing what the sign(s) may have originally said.

Bill Gill

Several posts earlier there was a black R with a red drop shadow and yellow outline. While letters that elaborate are not that common, knowing how to create them can be helpful at times.

Here's how it was done (As noted, I'm using GIMP terminology, but other imaging editing software has similar tools and techniques.)
Screen Shot 2022-07-28 at 11.48.19 AM.jpg
1. Select the font, size and color, type the letter.
2. Go to Select > By Color, click on the letter.
3. FILTERS > Light & Shadow > Long Shadow, chose length, angle & color of shadow 
4. SELECT > INVERT (Nothing will look different.)
5. SELECT > BORDER, type in amount you want. Here it was 0.004 in. (dotted lines for border should appear inside the letter, not outside of it)
6. BUCKET FILL > choose color for the outline, place BUCKET FILL cursor in border space and click to fill. May have to repeat for different parts of letter/word. Outline will be pixelated-jagged
7. May have to touch up outline with PENCIL or BRUSH tool with solid circle brush shape.


Ed Traxler

Lugoff, Camden & Northern RR

Socrates: "I drank WHAT?"

Bill Gill

Thanks, Ed. That's a really good guide to the process and the thinking that went into a lot of old signs.
I bookmarked that link.

Speedball lettering guides are also useful. There are many editions. Some used to be available to download for free online. Some of the older ones are similar to the link you posted. I have a 1965 edition and find it a valuable reference.